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Edinburgh Fringe 2012


Duncan Chisholm

Genre: Storytelling


Acoustic Music Centre @ St Bride's


Low Down

A four-part multimedia show blending original fiddle music with film and archive recordings that explores the importance of family history and where we come from.


In a world of increasing homogeneity, Duncan Chisholm’s Kin is an evocative reminder to treasure the local and the unique, particularly in our own families. The video installation with accompanying suite of live music celebrates the life of four grandparents: Duncan’s own grandmother, those of pipers Niall MacDonald and Rona Lightfoot (Niall Angus MacDonald of Eoligarry in Barra and Mòr Campbell from Frobost, South Uist) and traveller Essie Stewart’s grandfather, Ailidh Dall, a noted storyteller from Sutherland.

In the film each of the grandchildren returns to the place where their granny or grandad lived and talks about their memories of them. This is interspersed with archive recordings of each of the four grandparents talking about aspects of their own lives. The idea for the project came from a tape of Duncan’s grandmother recorded in 1967. She died before Duncan was born, but he was taken with the idea of retracing where she, and ultimately he, had come from.

Duncan’s grandmother lived an isolated life in Glen Affric in Strathglass, to the west of Loch Ness. On the tape she recalls how they only went to the shops every six months and were often snowed in for long periods of time, so when Queen Victoria died they didn’t even know about it.

Rona Lightfoot remembers how she would cuddle up in bed with her grandmother, even after she got married, and her grandmother’s wonderful garden, a rarity on South Uist, while Essie Stewart recalls the route her family would take as summer walkers.

It’s a simple premise, but what makes this special is how well it’s done. The video is beautifully shot with sweeping landscapes and slow shots of the four narrators gazing into the camera for so long that you begin to wonder if it’s actually a still photograph. Interspersed with these are old pictures and the archive narration, as well as a recording of a Gaelic tale by Ailidh Dall.

Duncan Chisholm’s music is always rooted in a sense of place and Kin is exquisitely composed and performed, with subtle accompaniment from Brian McAlpine on keyboard and Marc Clement on guitar complimenting Chisholm’s fiddle playing. There is also a beautiful sense of the past and present merging that matches the theme of the piece, as the pre-recorded video is accompanied live. One particularly beautiful moment is where an archive recording of Mòr Campbell singing a soulful Gaelic song is matched with soft keyboard playing.

St Bride’s was the ideal location for such an event with its excellent acoustics and tiered seating, so that everyone could see both the musicians and the screen.

Immaculately executed, Kin is a poignant reminder to remember our roots. Although it was a one-off concert at the Fringe, Kin will go on tour around Scotland this autumn and it is a must-see, outstanding live performance.


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