Iain Fraser celebrates a shared history between nations with internationally collaborative album Kōterana.
Scottish fiddler and fiddle teacher Iain Fraser is set to release his captivating new album Kōterana on Friday 14th April, exploring themes of faith and acceptance, and bringing together the history, heritage and music of four nations.
The record is based on the remarkable story of 800 Scottish Highlanders who followed Reverend Norman McLeod on a journey of no return in the 1800s. The congregation sailed across vast oceans, spending hundreds of days at sea, in search of a better life. The incredible journey lasted almost 40 years and spanned the globe, with Assynt-born McLeod setting off for Nova Scotia from Ullapool in 1817, before sailing to Adelaide in 1850 and finally settling in the village of Waipu, New Zealand in 1854.
Kōterana, which is the Māori word for Scotland, was originally written as a 35-minute piece of music by Iain in 2016, when he first came across the story of McLeod and his followers at a museum in Waipu, situated in New Zealand’s North Island. His new project is a development of this work, and sees the score split into 11 tracks and four separate sections. Each section contains music originally composed in the countries visited by Reverend McLeod and his people, and chronologically follows their emigration story from Scotland to Canada, Australia and eventually New Zealand.
As well as Clackmannanshire-born Iain Fraser on the fiddle, a host of international musical talent is featured on the album, including artists with strong links to Canada and New Zealand. Fiddle players Emilia Bartellas, from Canada, and Scotland’s Doug Dorward who both live in Ottawa, Canada-born fiddler Gillian Boucher who resides in New Zealand, and Anne-Marie Forsyth, who leads the Auckland Scottish Fiddle group, all played a significant role in bringing the record to life, adding the musical styles and techniques of their home countries, and creating an internationally collaborative body of work.
Each track on Kōterana tells a story, with Iain evoking powerful emotion in his music, contemplating the true devotion of these people who crossed oceans in the name of their faith almost 200 years ago. The one song on the otherwise instrumental record is Iain’s take on a Gaelic poem written by Skye-born John Gillies in 1857. Gillies wrote the poem about his connection to home after he emigrated to Otago, New Zealand, and sent it back home to Scotland.
Sung on the album by Gaelic singer Calum Alex Macmillan, the beautiful song tells the story of Gillies’ gruelling journey overseas, and his undying love for “Scotland of the tartans”. He sees his home country reflected in his new surroundings of forests and glens, and feels close to his roots although they are separated by a staggering distance.
Kōterana showcases skillful traditional fiddle playing on tracks such as Chagair Chagair Chagair a' Ghruagach (Soft, Soft, Whispers the Maid) and Sandy Cameron, as well as fuller musical arrangements featuring piano and flute on From Capes Breton to Good Hope. While Norman McLeod’s Welcome to Waipu is a fitting end to the album, its uplifting melodies and quickening tempo reflective of the joyful contentment felt by Reverend McLeod and his congregation as they finally found their sense of belonging.
Iain Fraser said: “Norman McLeod’s decision to leave Ullapool came at a time when many were forced to leave the Highlands due to the ongoing clearances of land. The journey he and his congregation faced was both spiritual and physical, and it highlights the sheer desperation at that time. This group of people were forced to leave their homes, family members and everything they knew, and put all of their trust in the Church. The incredible tale has linked the nations of Scotland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in history and heritage forever, and has been a huge source of inspiration for myself as an artist. Their story is one of grit and commitment, highlighting the true strength of faith. Thinking of the landscapes Reverend McLeod and his followers would have left behind, and what few objects they would have chosen to take with them, is what drove me to write this body of music. I wanted to celebrate the joining of four countries in one remarkable story, and shine a light on the heritage, beauty and musical traditions of each.”
Iain has had a varied and successful musical career. An accomplished composer, he has always been fascinated by the fiddle’s rhythmic and emotional capabilities, and draws upon its extensive repertoire in traditional music, ranging from 18th Century Scottish tunes to contemporary arrangements, in his work. As well as writing and performing, Iain has been teaching music for over 30 years. He was principal fiddle teacher in the Scottish Music Department of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for 10 years, before being appointed Head of Instrumental Music for the Scottish Borders Education Authority. He has also been actively involved and supportive of the Feisean movement for three decades, primarily with Fèis Rois, who commissioned his previous album Gneiss in 2022.
Also playing with Iain on Kōterana are fiddle players Pete Clark, Gordon Gunn and Sarah Wilson and Bernadette Kellerman on viola. Seylan Baxter and Wendy Weatherby are on cello, Signy Jakobsdottir on percussion, Donald Knox on guitar, Lorne MacDougall on pipes, Freya Rae on flute and whistles, James Ross on piano and Scot Wilson on bass.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Iain Fraser, (3) Lorne MacDougall (unknown/website).