Published: 13/01/2014 09:40 - Updated: 13/01/2014 10:01

Friends from the north light up Highland winter

Northern Lights
Northern Lights

FOR harp player Ailie Robertson, there are no international boundaries when it comes to music.

It is a belief that was reinforced just last week when she and her band Outside Track found themselves in India, playing to 1500 people at a festival in Mumbai.

"I don’t think they had ever seen anything us before," Robertson laughed.

"They’d never seen step-dancing or violin played in a traditional fiddle style, but they loved it. I think it was just something completely different for them."

The Outside Track themselves are a band who blur musical borders. Formed in 2005 at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in Limerick, its members include musicians from Ireland, Canada and Scotland in Edinburgh-raised Robertson and fiddle-player Fiona Black from Evanton.

Now Robertson is set to hit the road with a brand new band in Northern Lights, which again brings together musicians from different nations.

Where The Outside Track sit firmly in the Celtic genre, Northern Lights also adds in a Scandinavian influence thanks to Nikolaj Busk (accordion and piano) and Ale Carr (cittern) from Danish band Dreamer’s Circus.

Flutist Brian Finnegan from the band Flook and concertina player Niall Vallely from Buille bring the Irish influence, while fiddler Donald Grant of the Elias Quartet joins Roberston in providing the Scottish element.

"Because travel is now so easy, there is so much collaboration between musicians from different countries. It’s such an exciting way to get new ideas and expand your creative horizons," Robertson explained.

"Everyone involved in Northern Lights is a multifacted musician. We all have music from our own countries, but we are all really into improvisation and I also have a classical music background, so it will be interesting to see what will come out, whether it’s more improvised or trad sounding, more classical or a big mix of everything."

In fact, the band is so new that at the time of speaking, Robertson is not entirely sure what will be played on the band’s debut five date tour, which takes in shows in Gairloch, Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh before culminating with a Glasgow show at the Celtic Connections festival.

Each musician has written a new composition specifically for the ensemble, and were to bring them to the other members of the band during a week’s residency in a small Highland studio in the first week of January, the first time all six will have been in the same place at the same time.

Ailie Robertson.
Ailie Robertson.

"We’ve all written our pieces, so that time will be so we can experiment and see what we can do to make them even more exciting," Robertson said.

"I suspect that even within those five concerts, things will be changing all the time.

"During those five dates we are going to be recording all our show and we hope to have a live CD at the end of it."

It might be seen as bold for a band to get together just weeks before their debut at one of the biggest festivals on the Celtic music scene, but for Robertson this is a challenge to look forward to rather than be afraid of.

"Every other band you go and see is so polished and has rehearsed what they do over and over again that sometimes that spontaneity is lost," she said.

"Celtic Connections is really supportive of new work. That’s one of the things that I really like about the traditional world. You have old music sitting very comfortably beside completely new music."

Currently studying for a PhD in composition, Robertson remains committed to Outside Track, but also hopes that Northern Lights is not a one-off experiment. With the Scottish tour about to kick off, there are hopes for future tours in Ireland and Scandinavia.

Robertson also promises that despite immersing herself in her composition course she has no plans to abandoning performing.

"I think the two sides will always go hand in hand," she said.

"I’m always going to be a performer."

• Northern Lights appear at Gairloch Village Hall on Wednesday 15th January, The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, on Thursday 16th January and Eden Court’s OneTouch Theatre, Inverness, on Saturday 18th January, all at 7.30pm.

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