John Lilly and Chris Scruggs set to make a return to Thomas Fraser Memorial Festival Burra Shetland 2010
As the 2010 Thomas Fraser Festival is gearing up, I attempts to explain why the UK’s love of Country music can perhaps in good measure be traced back to this one mans passion.
The Festival is being held from 11th to 14th November. Award winning yodeller Jimmy Rogers and Hank Williams aficionado, John Lilly from West Virginia will be returning as a climax to his November Scottish Tour. Meanwhile Chris Scruggs, riding high on the success of his latest album ‘Anthem’ is making a welcome return as a solo artist . A full line up will be released soon. Here is some back ground on one of the UK’s most important Heritage Music Festivals.
This growth of interest in Thomas Fraser’s music now manifests and focuses its self in dramatic fashion at the annual Thomas Fraser Memorial Festival, bringing home many of Shetlands scattered musicians to perform with their family and friends (it seems like every-one’s a musician on Shetland) and the family and friends of Thomas himself. These days the festival and Thomas’s name attracts many of the great names of Country Music to perform with them all to. Some of whom are the descendants of the people Thomas loved and promoted through his song and home spun recordings all those years ago. The likes of Rick McWilliams, living descendant of Jimmy Rogers is a regular guest, and representing an other important dynasty Chris Scruggs picture right who appeared last year also..
The world wide Thomas Fraser phenomenon, would I’m sure have baffled the unassuming Shetland Fisherman Yodeller in his own life time. After all he never performed out of his native Shetland isles, in fact he rarely performed live for any audience even in his home of Burra, the collective name for two small islands, which huddle on the Atlantic side of the Shetland mainland, in the full face of all prevailing weather. Burra’s situation also offers untrammeled direct radio reception from The America’s. An important plus to anyone in the newly electrified 50’s Shetland with the acumen to build a crystal radio. A seminal fact I’d argue, that would influence the history of Country Music in The UK as whole, but crucially would develop in a young Thomas Fraser, as a deep love of the masters and founders of Country Music . What he may, I hope, have been aware of in his life time, was at least some of the effect of passing on his love and his authentic guitar and vocal styling to his contemporaries on Shetland. The result being, he fostered that deep love and knowledge of Country Music in them and through them to future generations across those remote Islands, and with their respective travels, seeding the rest of these British Islands as they to went about their ways.
Many of Thomas’s prodigies, like Arthur Pottinger (pictured right) who Fraser also recorded, joined and formed Ceilidh Bands which travelled south to the mainland and soon introduced this new music to their repertoire and began to foster and help spread their love for Country Music to a wider public, now also able to tune in on mass to those radio hits from the former colonies across the Atlantic. How much this migration south actually did influence the process is open to conjecture. A question which still does lie in fascinating evidence and microcosm in modern day Burra itself. Any visitor to Burra will find a population from 8 to 80, in the main committed to a love of Country Music, and to the Thomas Fraser legacy and all of them who knew Thomas and did travel with his music in those early day will argue fervently that his and their legacy is of inherent importance and they were indeed at the cutting edge of a new wave who’s sea change and subsequent ripples are still very much in evidence today.
The modern rise of interest of Thomas’s home recorded sparkling renditions of classic golden era Country Music, is now well cataloged. These recording where shared only with family and friends at the time but are now available to all, remastered and released lovingly by those said family and friends. Now four volumes (with a fifth on its way ‘Just Call me Lonesome’ to be released at this years festival, with 25 more unreleased tracks), throwing his own passionate light and individual accent on songs by the likes of Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams and Hank Snow, can be obtained in all modern formats, but no longer on reel to reel, unless you might know where of an original recording may lie ready for re-discovery and distribution, they are still showing up and returning home from far and wide. Arthur Pottinger The Setter Sessions 1962 recorded by Thomas, is available now too.
I have to say on a personal level, its one of the privileges of my life to be witness to and involved with (in small measure) the growth of worldwide awareness of Thomas’s music and through that process becoming friends with Thomas’s family , with the added bonus of getting to visit them and the wonderful Burra from time to time. I do strongly advice that any fans of these recordings should make the pilgrimage, see where and how they made, and celebrate them with the people who were party to the process originally and influenced by them latterly. Why not make it this year, but you better be fast as this Festival does always sell out every available ticket.
CD, Ticket and Travel information here www.thomasfraser.com
Find more on Thomas Fraser with The National Theatre’s Thomas Fraser Story goes to Celtic Connections. Rob Ellen catches up with writer and performer Duncan Mclean Click Here
Thomas Fraser Festival, Burra, Shetland, 14th November 2009. Scott Icenogle (bass and vocals), Dave Tanner (vocals and guitar), and Chris Scruggs (lead guitar) perform Don Gibson’s Oh Lonesome Me. Shaky camera, great performance!
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