Published: 28/02/2014 15:12 - Updated: 28/02/2014 15:27

Calum comes home with some Breton infuence

Heikki Bourgault (left) and Calum Stewart.
Heikki Bourgault (left) and Calum Stewart.

FOR a musician brought up just along the Moray coast, Calum Stewart is bringing a mix of Celtic influences to Eden Court this weekend.

The Garmouth-raised musicans own instruments of choice are the uilleann pipes and wooden flute, both more associated with the Irish rather than Scottish tradition, while joining him will be his musical partner, guitarist Heikki Bourgault from Brittany, where Stewart has lived himself for the last few years.

Yet there are clear connections between the music of the three Celtic nations and was a strong motivation in Stewart relocating to the France.

"I needed to get away for a little while and explore something new and Brittany seemed a good place to go," he explained.

"Breton and Scottish and Irish musicians share a lot of the same types of tunes, so it seemed not that far away in terms of culture.

"The music myself and Heikki play is based around our instruments, uilleann pipes and flute and also the guitar, but we try and push what we do with original compositions as well. Our two main influences are Scottish and Irish music — predominantly Scottish from my part.

"Breton music is there to a lesser extent, but the main influence, is the way Heikki colours the tunes with his guitar. Because of his background in Breton music, he has access to a different palette."

To the fore though will be the uilleann pipes, an instrument Stewart fell in love with at an early age.

"One of my earliest musical memories is the sound of the uilleann pipes on a record by The Chieftains, but I never actually saw them face to face until much later on because they are quite a rare instrument," he recalled.

Stewart began his playing career on the whistle and recorder, but fortunately for Stewart, they share the same fingering as the uilleann pipes and the wooden flute as opposed to the Highland pipes, which is a different fingering.

"Also I was brought up in a house full of fiddlers — my mother and my sister both played — and playing strathspeys and jigs on the whistle was more my thing than the Highland pipes, which had a different repertoire," he added.

"The uilleann pipes are a very versatile instrument. The Irish have a long history of taking on instruments and making them their own, so, being from the north-east of Scotland, I’m quite happy to take an instrument that was developed in Ireland and take it into my repertoire.

"The first thing that Highland pipers especially would say is that the fingering is very complicated, but for me, it wasn’t difficult at all and the first time I played I managed to get a couple of tunes out of it.

"There is something powerful about the uilleann pipes that speaks directly to you no matter what culture you are from. Without sounding too cliched, it speaks across borders."

Like many traditional musicians, Stewart has played with a variety of collaborators ranging from Gaelic band Manran and Black Isle fiddler Lauren MacColl to The London Philharmonic Orchestra and The London Symphony Orchestra, but for the moment is happy to concentrate on his partnership with Bourgault.

"I really try and limit myself because I would rather do one thing well rather than lots of things, although there are plans to do things well. But there are only 24 hours in the day," he said.

Even so, he will still find time to go back to school, this time as a performer, when he comes home.

"I like to do that when I’m back in the area so the kids can widen their interest and maybe get a feel for traditional music," he explained.

It seems to be working, he added.

"I get messages fairly often asking where they can get a wooden flutes or set of pipes," he said.

"People are really keen to learn these instruments."

Calum Stewart and Heikki Bourgault will be at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, on Friday 28th February at 7.30pm.


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