Gavin Pennycook - Celtic Nyckelharpa

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Music samples


(November 2010) 12 tracks: The Gallowglass * The Pinch Of Snuff * Captain Campbell * Planxty Madam Maxwell * The Flowers Of Edinburgh * The Orphan * The Cuckoo's Nest * The Musical Priest * Munlochy Bridge * The Braes Of Mar * The Rights Of Man * Langstrom's Pony.

Probably the first full CD of Celtic music played on the Swedish keyed fiddle, the nyckelharpa.

The nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle) dates back to at least the 1400s. It was once played across Scandinavia and northern continental Europe, but only survived until modern times in Sweden. Since coming close to extinction in the early 1900s, it has been enjoying a revival.

Strangely for an instrument that suits a type of music so well, the nyckelharpa may never have been used in Irish or Scottish music until the end of the 20th Century. It has started to feature more recently, with versions of Celtic tunes recorded by players including Ruth Morris of Bellevue Rendezvous, Cris Sanderson and Olov Johansson.

Gavin learnt to play fiddle and whistle as a child with Frank McArdle of St Roch's Ceili Band and Irish Minstrels Comhaltas in Glasgow.

All tunes are traditional Scottish and Irish, except Jamie Shearer by James Scott Skinner, Planxty Madame Maxwell and Charles O'Connor by Turlough O'Carolan, and Captain Carswell by Willie Lawrie.

Gavin Pennycook (nyckelharpa, fiddle, octave-strung fiddle, Galician bagpipes, whistle) with Rob Truswell (guitar), Esther Kuck (bodhran), Chris Wright (cittern, guitar) and Richie Werner (djembe).

"I first heard the nyckelharpa and Swedish music on a mix tape sent to me in 1994 by a Swedish friend, Emelie Cajsdotter. Shortly afterwards I had my first chance to try a nyckelharpa, at a session in O'Connor's pub in Uppsala. In 2007, I finally got my own nyckelharpa, an instrument by the renowned Swedish maker Olle Plahn that I spotted on eBay. It's a chromatic nyckelharpa, with 4 played (3 melody and 1 drone) strings plus 12 sympathetic strings. The standard Swedish tuning is ACGC, but I tune mine ADGC like a viola - much easier for a fiddle player! My style of playing is an adaptation of my fiddle playing, very different from the Swedish nyckelharpa style." (Gavin Pennycook)

"Dynamic yet subtle, with a deep resonance of tone which really lends itself to the airs, bringing a freshness that makes for compulsive listening. Hugely recommended..." (Living Tradition)

"A master of both Scottish and Irish styles... an intriguing album and a very successful project..." (Irish Music Magazine)

"The nyckelharpa coexists in the highest well-being and behaving in Pennycook's hands, as if it always been in place in this context... it feels just perfectly natural...." (Timo Kangas, Lira magazine, Sweden)

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