STEVEN SPENCE – Spencie’s Tunes 5
Published by Steven Spence 2014, no ISBN: www.spenciestunes.com
76 pages softbound £10, CD also available
Shetland fiddler Steven Spence must have well over 200 compositions to his name by now. Here are thirty-five of his recent creations, plus one by accordionist Grant Crawford. They range from modern reels to old-time waltzes, with a typical Shetland mix of ceilidh music, Scots and American fiddling, and those magical tunes which, like the trowies, just seem to pop out of the ground in Shetland. Steven is from Unst, on the northern tip of the archipelago, and while some of his music is inspired by that island, many more of the pieces here sprang from special commissions. Weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, departures, and even charity auctions have spawned these melodies, often with precise instructions: a slow waltz, a march, a quickstep for the Canadian Barndance. The book contains clear transcriptions of each composition on a full page. The facing page generally gives the background, and a photo related to the tune. No accompaniment or arrangement is noted, but there is an accompanying CD where Steven is joined by several friends on accordion, piano, bass, guitar and drums, giving a good idea of how to play and back each piece.
Not every tune here appealed to me immediately, but after a couple of listens most of them won me over. The range of styles and moods here is enormous, from the beautiful simplicity of A Pig’s Trot to the bluegrass virtuosity of Isles Boy Meets City Girl (which incidentally is the only point I found where the performance on the CD doesn’t quite follow the dots). A Jig for Hamish is a modern Scots piece with both rhythm and lyricism. Da Alma Wedding Reel is one of several with a backwoods feel, while Terry’s Tune is unmistakably Shetland fiddle music. Being Bad in the Harcus Barn could be a James Hill hornpipe: it’s even written in Bb, a favourite 19th century key! Peerie Ertie’s 18th Reel was one of my instant favourites, very Shetland again, especially compared to the almost Irish sound of A Reel for Doreen. I’m guessing most of the titles were not chosen by Spencie, and it’s clear from the text that he’s matched the tunes perfectly to the recipients in many cases. With a preference for waltzes and reels, and a range of keys from A to Bb with most in G, this collection should suit most traditional musicians. The final page of Spencie’s Tunes 5 presents Grant Crawford’s Compliments to Steven Spence, a composition for Spencie from another fine composer, a good going contemporary reel well worth learning.