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Issue 94 - A fiddle player for all seasons

Scotland Magazine Issue 94
September 2017

 

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A fiddle player for all seasons

Roddy Martine meets the sensationally talented Ryan Young

The intensity shows in his eyes. From the moment Ryan Young lifts his fiddle to his shoulder and begins to play, he becomes the tune. The emotion is electrifying. His vulnerability and engaging shyness disguises a steely commitment to the musical tradition he so obviously loves.

Ryan was brought up in Cardross, on the banks of the Firth of Clyde, in lower Argyll, where Scotland's great hero King Robert the Bruce passed his final days. He attended the local school and was offered music lessons. Although no one else in his family played musical instruments (he is one of four siblings), at first he thought it little more than a novelty. Then he heard the music of the legendary Aly Bain, who had learned his instrument from the old-time master Tom Anderson. It changed everything. Having enrolled at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, in Glasgow, Ryan had his first fiddle lesson. There followed four years under the guidance of inspiring teachers such as Marie Fielding and his talent was released.

The recipient of the The Keepers of the Quaich scholarship in 2016, he was also voted 'Up and Coming Artist of the Year' at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards in December 2016 and, over the past year, has shared the bill on stage with two of his greatest musical influences: supporting his hero Martin Hayes at Celtic Connections in January 2017 and accompanying the guitarist Dennis Cahill at the Feakle Festival in County Clare. As a finalist at BBC Radio Scotland's Young Traditional Music Awards, in both 2015 and 2016, and a Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Award winner, Ryan has since performed on BBC Scotland's Hogmanay Live show and at T in the Park in front of an audience of 80,000 -– while sharing the stage with Paolo Nutini and Phil Cunningham.

Physically slight, Ryan's youthful stage presence is captivating. He holds his audiences in thrall. His mainstream repertoire to date consists mainly of Scottish fiddle tunes he has come across in old books, mostly collected from the oral tradition. His performances, such as those under the famous Raeburn portrait of that late, great 18th-Century Scottish fiddler Neil Gow at the Keepers of the Quaich banquets at Blair Castle, end in standing ovations.

“I like to interpret the melodies in my own way,” he confides. “A lot of my friends compose their own tunes but just at the moment I don't see the point of writing my own as there are so many wonderful examples from the past; some are entirely forgotten. I'm never going to run out of them.” Ryan's self-titled first album, where he is accompanied by his friends Leo Forde, on guitar, and James Ross, on piano, was launched in August 2017 and brings Ryan's personal inventive twist to old jigs, reels, Strathspeys and marches such as The Irish Girl, The Rothiemurcas Rant, The White Houses of Shieldaig and The Cross of Inverness. Produced and engineered by triple Grammy award winning Jesse Lewis – who flew over specially from Boston, Massachusetts, to work with him – the album digs deep into Ryan's Scottish roots while borrowing from Irish fiddle styles.

Incidentally, the cover of his album was painted by his talented mother, Carol Dewart, who is an artist – thus indicating that creativity does indeed run in the family.

Along the way, Ryan has been fascinated by the fiddle styles of County Clare, although he does not consciously play many Irish tunes. “I've always been a fan of letting things happen in the moment,” he says. “Quite often I find that the tune I intend to play becomes more of a rough guide. It might not be obvious that I'm playing a particular tune until I tell you what it is." “There are some well-known tunes included on my recording, as well as my take on some lesser known gems I found hidden away. My only real ambition with music is to try and play from the heart. It is all about the music really – the tunes are all there in those old collections. I'm just giving them a voice.” There is a haunting melancholy, a sweet subversive sadness, in the Scots tradition that makes the sound unique and instantly identifiable. Ryan has mastered the genre.

Having graduated, he has since been touring and, when we met up at Cardross, had just returned from playing John MacColls' Farewell in Lismore. “It was great,” he says. “Particularly so because it was in Argyll and Bute, where I'm from.” Aside from teaching through the Glasgow Fiddle Workshop for Gaelic Music, Ryan now also instructs one-to-one private pupils, which he says he enjoys very much. However, his ambition, he insists, is to entertain at ceilidhs and festivals, and travel the traditional music circuit in the USA. There can be no doubt about it. The world awaits this 26 year old, with his boyish charm and God-given talent.