Posted by Karin Horowitz on 23 September 2013
VAMM is Patsy Reid, Catriona Macdonald & Marit Fält playing two fiddles and a Låtmandola. Patsy is the former fiddle player with Breabach, Catriona spent 12 years with Blazin’ Fiddles, and Marit also performs in a duo with the BBC Radio Scotland Young Trad Musician of the Year, Rona Wilkie.
Their self-titled first album was released in April 2013 and has had a warm reception. The musicianship is exceptional and the choice of tunes interesting and sometimes unexpected.
Bright Young Folk talks to Catriona and Patsy about their album, what led to it, and what lies ahead.
What first brought the three of you together? Have you known each other long?
Catriona Macdonald: I’d been thinking for some time that I would like to play in a smaller string group, after playing in Blazin’ Fiddles for 12 years. This would give the opportunity to create a new sound. I approached both Patsy, whom I had known since she came to some of my workshops as a teenager, and Marit, who had just finished studying on the Folk degree course at Newcastle University.
Patsy Reid: Yes, I attended Catriona’s fiddle summer school 17 years ago at Stirling University. We met up years later in 2010, both playing with the Unusual Suspects. I first met Marit as a guest fiddle tutor at the Folk degree.
When did you decide to come together as a trio? What were you hoping to get out of playing together that is different from your other musical ventures and activities?
Patsy Reid: We came together in April 2011. Catriona and I had just left bigger bands. We wanted to be part of a smaller group where good tunes, harmony and texture were at the forefront. Marit was just finishing off her degree and it seemed like the perfect time for all of us to concentrate on VAMM.
Do each of you have similar musical influences?
Catriona Macdonald: My musical influences are very varied and include classical and jazz, although my roots are in the traditional fiddle playing of the Shetland Islands.
Patsy Reid: To an extent we do. Born to Swedish parents and growing up in Norway, Marit obviously has rich Scandinavian influences and brings those to the band. Shetland fiddle player Catriona has always had an interest in Norwegian fiddle music and I have an interest in many fiddle styles, including Cape Breton and classical violin, which allows me to adapt to these many styles.
We find that our range of interests and influences complement each other and at the end of the day, we all love to play our instruments. The fiddles, viola and bass drone Mandola sound fantastic together and our contrasting voices gel as one.
What do you bring to Vamm from your other musical ventures?
Catriona Macdonald: A love of great melodies, and a big interest in harmony and part playing. From my days with the Blazers and String Sisters, I know how to play and communicate in front of small and very large audiences, a skill only learned through experience.
Patsy Reid: Marit’s fantastic and highly unique style combines fantastic rhythmic accompaniment with beautiful melodic playing. Playing a very rare instrument meant that at University, Marit was never actually taught by a Mandola player!
Her teachers included Karen Tweed and Ian Carr who despite playing completely different instruments, influenced her style hugely, giving her a genuinely unique sound and skill set.
Having played with Breabach for many years, I learned to play quite rhythmically to accompany the pipes and to simply add another dimension to the band. I have worked on many fantastic musical collaborations over the past few years including with Indian maestro Zakir Hussain, the Cecil Sharp Project and Folk Nations, where I worked with musicians from England, Wales, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. All of these experiences have helped shape my sound and bring ideas to VAMM.
Catriona has always loved and experimented with harmonies and her ability to weave in and out of the tune adds great depth to our music. Her time with Blazin’ Fiddles gave her a wealth of tunes and experience, as well as the ability to play foot-stompin’ reels. Her work with Norwegian fiddle player Annbjorg Lien has given her a unique blend of Shetland and Norwegian fiddle music, which obviously comes in handy when performing with VAMM!
You’ve said that “VAMM is an old Shetlandic word meaning to bewitch or entrance.” What made you choose it for the name of your band? Did you go through many alternatives?
Catriona Macdonald: We all wanted something short and catchy, but not necessarily a known word. So I looked in the Shetland dictionary and found VAMM which had a certain immediacy about it. We looked at others but the decision on VAMM was a quick one.
Patsy Reid: We think it’s a punchy, memorable name and we wanted our music to be entrancing. So far, we have had great feedback and people tell us the name is just perfect!
How did you decide which tunes to include on your album?
Catriona Macdonald: We all brought tunes to the project, and our only stipulation was that they should be not good, but great melodies. I think we managed that!
Patsy Reid: We started putting the material together for our first gig, at the 2011 Fiddle Festival in Edinburgh. Just like putting together any set list, we wanted the album to have a great sense of flow from one track to the next, whilst offering variation in style, tempo, feel and texture.
As for choosing the actual tunes, we all come up with ideas for tunes, whether they be traditional, modern, own compositions. If we feel the melodies are strong, we play a tune, irrelevant of its origin.
What plans do you have now that the album is out?
Catriona: We hope to tour and play the major UK festivals and start working on the next one.
Patsy Reid: We had a really successful album launch tour in May and we appeared at Towersey Music Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2013. We will next be touring the UK in November and we can’t wait to share our music with more people. We hope to see you at a concert soon!
Tour dates for VAMM:
15 November 2013 - Catstrand, Dumfries & Galloway
17 November 2013 - The Anvil, Basingstoke
18 November 2013 - Colchester Arts Centre
19 November 2013 - Maneros, London
21 November 2013 - Kings Hall, Newcastle
22 November 2013 - Tower Mill, Hawick
23 November 2013 - Angus Arts Centre
24 November 2013 - Craigie Chirch Hall, Perth
25 November 2013 - The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow
Photos © Alan Cole.See all of Bright Young Folk's text interviews.