Feature / Kevin launches fiddle DVD and tune book

One of Shetland's leading fiddle players, Kevin Henderson, is back home and launched a new tuition DVD and tune book. Photo: Neil Riddell/Shetnews

ONE OF the isles’ leading fiddle exponents, Kevin Henderson, has launched a new DVD enabling people to learn the instrument in the distinctive Shetland style.

Kevin, who made his name in various guises as a member of Fiddlers’ Bid, Session A9, Boys of the Lough and more recently the Nordic Fiddlers’ Bloc, launched the 100-minute tuition DVD at Mareel on Sunday.

He was joined by Orkney-born guitar wizard Kris Drever and a phalanx of upper –crust Shetland players – Maurice Henderson, Ewen Thomson, Grant Nicol and Lois Nicol – for an afternoon session in the venue’s café-bar as this year’s Fiddle Frenzy drew to a close.

Now based in Norway, Kevin is enjoying a few days off the touring treadmill and is back in Shetland for a week to attend his school reunion.

He lives in the county of Telemark, between Kristiansund and Oslo, with his young family and regularly tours in the US, Scandinavia, UK and elsewhere in Europe.

Kevin picked up the fiddle aged nine and was taught by Willie Hunter before turning professional in 2002.

A tuition DVD had been in the back of his mind for a few years so it was “perfect timing” when Sandwick-based filmmaker JJ Jamieson got in touch.

Jamieson had previously put together a similar tutorial film for Shetland knitting with Hal Tindall – drumming up interest from as far afield as the US and Japan.

“There’s quite a lot of outlets available for teaching various genres and styles of fiddle music, Scottish, Irish, bluegrass, country, whatever, but there’s nothing for Shetland music out there,” Kevin told Shetland News.

“Shetland fiddle music is pretty well kent around the world and folk’s always interested in learning the style, so I’ve always had it in the back of my head about doing something.

“It was perfect timing, really, when he got in touch. JJ is amazing, quirky ideas and he’s got an amazing eye for things like yun.

“The way he set it up, it’s got a front-on visual and a shot of the fingers, and also he’s done it so the music’s available all on the same screen, so it’s a really effective way of learning, I think.”

The DVD was filmed at Jamieson’s house in Sandwick, and Kevin found it to be “pretty challenging to teach to a camera”.

He drew upon his experience doing workshops and teaching at various festivals, including some eight stints teaching at Harald Haugaard’s International Fiddle School in Germany’s Nordfriesland, as well as fiddle camps in the US.

Kevin also teaches on Skype when he’s not on the road, but doesn’t take on regular pupils because it would be unfair for them to “have a couple of weeks of lessons and then three weeks of nothing”.

While it has become “kind of standardised” over the years, Kevin says the Shetland style of playing retains a unique character.

“I wanted to demonstrate the different type of tunes we have in the tradition,” he says. “There’s a wedding march, then the reel – the most common type of tune found in Shetland, so I did a couple of reels – and also I did have to do some trowie tunes. Just to keep Maurice happy!”

He relished Sunday’s rare opportunity to make music with Kris again: “I’ve kent Kris for 14 years, I think, now and we played together in Session A9. We’ve always got along great – I love his music, he’s a brilliant musician, and it was great to play with him. It’s been a while, too long.

“I also had Maurice, Lois, Grant and Ewen joining me. I’m a huge fan of their music as well – they’re all just great folk.”

Ewen features on the DVD demonstrating how tunes are playing with accompaniment. He also handcrafted the fiddle Kevin plays: “I like to point people in Ewen’s direction because he’s an amazing fiddle-player.”

Kevin is also happy to have unveiled a new Shetland tune book transcribing his own 2011 album ‘Fin Da Laand Ageen’.

It includes the bowing and ornamentation used on the album because often he finds written scores are “very hard to get stylistically – music’s a lot more than just notes on a page.”

“There’s quite a lot of books been released that don’t have bowings, and that’s a peerie bit of a shame for folk that’s not familiar with the tunes,” he said.

“I spent a lot of time working out how I actually bow. It’s not something I’ve thought about an awful lot, because it’s just done naturally.”

This year also saw Fiddlers’ Bid celebrate quarter of a century together.

“What a thought!” says Kevin. “It’s crazy to think we’ve been together for 25 years. Some nonsense we’ve been up to!”

The last couple of years have been quieter for the band aside of a few Irish festival appearances – their most recent album, ‘All Dressed in Yellow’, came out seven years ago.

But fans will be pleased to hear that the Bid have been working on new material which should see the light of day in the next year or two.

“We’ve been pretty busy with other projects, so it’s hard to coordinate it all,” Kevin adds. “It’s getting there, but time goes by so bloody quick. It’s time for a new one.”

April saw the UK launch of the Nordic Fiddlers’ Bloc’s second album ‘Deliverance’. The group will be busy launching the album in Scandinavia in September before more dates in the US and the UK in October and November.

It seems safe to say it won’t be too long before Kevin and his trusty fiddle are back on a Shetland stage in some guise or another. 

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