Nova Scotia·Video

Documentary follows Cape Breton fiddler to Scotland

Star fiddler Colin Grant from Cape Breton embarks on a tour of Scotland in search of new meaning to his work. Joined by Scotland’s talented Ewen Henderson, the pair use the journey to create a new concert and put together a band of trans-Atlantic musicians to perform at the Celtic Colours Festival.

Colin Grant embarks on a musical quest with Scottish musician Ewen Henderson

Ewen Henderson, left, Colin Grant, centre, and Paul Anderson play at an ancient stone circle. (Bridge Over the Atlantic)

The documentary Bridge Over the Atlantic follows award-winning Cape Breton fiddler Colin Grant as he travels to Scotland to deepen his connection with traditional music.

Grant is one of today's finest proponents of Cape Breton fiddle. In 2017, along with Scott Macmillan, he was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award and their album GOOD2GO was nominated for the 2017 Music Nova Scotia Traditional/Roots Recording of the Year.

Scottish fiddler Ewen Henderson. (Bridge over the Atlantic)

For his musical quest, Grant teams up with Ewen Henderson — a fiddler with the acclaimed Scottish group Manran who has won five Scots Trad Music Awards and the MacDonald of Sleat Prize for Gaelic poetry.

Together, they set out to explore the connection between landscape and music; playing fiddle with Paul Anderson at a 4,000 to 5,000-year-old standing stone circle and visiting locations like the Queen's Lookout, and the famous Clachan Bridge in Argyll, that gives the documentary its name.

Paul Anderson of Tarland also guides Grant through how different styles of fiddle developed in different areas of Scotland. At a pub session with Grant and Henderson, he describes the Aberdeenshire style.

The documentary includes a visit to the Shetland Islands, where the fiddle style has similarities to what is played in Cape Breton. (Bridge Over the Atlantic)

"A heavy accent and a strong snap to the playing," said Anderson.

Anderson also shows Grant a treasured document; an original 1895 score handwritten by Peter Milne. He then surprises both musicians by taking out an ancient fiddle once owned by Milne. He hands the fiddle to Colin, who sight reads and plays an unpublished Milne tune on the instrument that may have been used to originally compose it.

"After a day full of highlights, we got to read some of Peter Milne's original manuscripts, and see some of James Scott Skinner's original manuscripts, and then play Peter Milne and James Scott Skinner tunes on Peter Milne's fiddle. For the fiddlers out there it's like finding the Holy Grail," said Grant.

Grant and Henderson travel to Glasgow to play with musicians from the Shetland Islands whose style has a lot in common with Cape Breton fiddling. As well, they explore the link between Gaelic song and fiddle music with Iain MacFarlane.

Colin Grant plays at a session in Tarland, Scotland. (Bridge Over the Atlantic)

Before travelling back home to Cape Breton, Grant plays a pub gig for his Scottish relatives and friends in the Highlands town of Newtonmore, the birthplace of his grandmother.

The Bridge over the Atlantic is an apt metaphor for the musical exchange that occurs in the documentary as Colin Grant brings Henderson, his sister Ingrid Henderson —who is a harp player — and piper Seonaidh MacIntryre back to Cape Breton to perform at Celtic Colours International Music Festival.

Scottish harpist Ingrid Henderson. (Bridge Over the Atlantic)

In Cape Breton, it's Henderson's turn to learn about how Scottish culture thrived on this side of the Atlantic. Their first Celtic Colours' gig is at a primary school where Henderson is surprised by the number of children who are step dancing and speaking Gaelic.

"Cape Breton is a truly special place. From the people, to the natural environment, to the music and the lust for life. It's still a very isolated spot, and I suppose it takes something as special as their love and passion for the music to sustain them here and keep them going. That can't help but rub off on you," said Ewen Henderson.

He also gets a lesson from Crissy Crowley in how the dancer leads the fiddler in Cape Breton culture and he meets legendary Gaelic piano player Mabel Chisholm McQueen.

In just a couple of days, these talented traditional musicians from both sides of the Atlantic pull together an unforgettable concert weaving both Scottish and Cape Breton traditions together for the Bridge Over the Atlantic Concert at the Gaelic Academy in Cape Breton.

"Now we've re-established the connection with people, with the music, I don't want to let go. I just want to keep that bond strong. So I don't know what we'll do ... A bridge might be a start," said Ewen Henderson.

Bridge over the Atlantic airs on CBC TV Saturday at 8 p.m. AT.

Angela Antle

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