RANT: “fresh, enduring and compelling”

Jessica Harris is at the Midlands Arts Centre for a Scottish spectacular.

A decade on from its first performance, and with three albums under its belt, RANT describes itself as being at the forefront of the Scottish fiddle scene. Its performance at MAC last Saturday certainly backed this up.

An ensemble of four fabulous Scottish women, musicians Bethany Reid from Shetland, Anna Massie and Lauren MacColl from the Highland peninsula of the Black Isle, and Gillian Frame from Arran, used their fiddles to deliver an instrumental performance that was layered, ever-changing and which felt very alive.

Drawing on both traditional and new, the repertoire covered music from the highlands and islands of Scotland, and from Scandinavia, along with some of the group’s own music. Rhythms changed from jigs to reels and back again. In a different venue, we would have been up and dancing. But there were also slower numbers where melodic phrases were backed up by harmonies sometimes concordant and sometimes wonderfully dissonant, and where soulful melodies were accompanied by string-plucking that was haunting and delicate.

In East Chuch, written by Lauren and dedicated to a small and atmospheric church in Cromarty, the voices of the four fiddles came together in rich harmonic tones that were evocative and hymn-like. The Road West had a much more contemporary feel, atonal and dynamic in tone. The performance finished with a set of reels drawn from Irish American music, which started out at a fast pace and got ever faster. The band’s encore, an Aly Bain number, was a superb finale, leaving us wanting more.

In MAC’s small Hexagon Theatre, the event felt up-close and personal, and the synergy between the four musicians was clear. So were their skills in audience interaction. As Anna invited the audience to participate, the sense of apprehension was tangible. But her dry humour won through and soon we were whooping and hollering at just the right moments. The music was interspersed by anecdotes that were both witty and revealing.

A tune called Shelly was named after a snail that crawled across the wind-screen as the band drove through the rain. Another story told by Gillian recounted how her family left the midges of Arran behind on its annual camping trip, only to head for Skye, also renowned for its midges. But, as they drove, they listened over and over to Scottish fiddle playing, and her love for it was born.

RANT’s music is fresh, enduring and compelling. The band tours regularly so catch them if you can – rantfiddles.com. For further information on events at MAC visit macbirmingham.co.uk.