Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

I was wondering about this and couldn’t seem to find the answer online.

Is the bouzouki a common instrument to find in traditional sessions in Scotland? Is there any inherent reason, provided that standard session etiquette is adhered to, that a bouzouki wouldn’t work or be welcome in a Scottish trad session?

Thanks
GJ

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

Probably less common than in Ireland, at a guess, but absolutely no reason a (competent) bouzouki wouldn’t be very welcome, I should think.

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Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

There are quite a few people that I know playing various of the bigger stringed instruments such as bouzouki, cittern, octave mandolin, and are very much accepted and welcomed. One of the up-sides of having to play one at a time in Zoom sessions and the like is that you can hear much more of what they are playing if they are the lead player compared with what you might hear in a live session. Those that I know do prefer to play the melody, an octave down, rather than be looked upon as being "backing" or "chord players".

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

Bouzouki would be very welcome in any session I’ve been at in Scotland, but common, no. Bouzouki-type stringed instruments were very common in 1980s folk bands - Battlefield Band, Tannahill Weavers [ even in the 1970s ], Ceolbeg, Alba, now and again in Silly Wizard, Crannachan and others.
Here are a few I’ve posted on "Youtube" :
https://youtu.be/TskZ0YwPyUs


https://youtu.be/9YlvPd6DUT4


https://youtu.be/g3fq1fZtIWk


https://youtu.be/OErAle0IWcQ


https://youtu.be/Dafmcv3Ptyo


https://youtu.be/WD-U1shXalk

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Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

I have a couple of those. I suppose the correct term for mine are octave mandolins although I will refer to them as mandolas. They are tuned GDAE though and not CGDA. One of them has the G and D courses both tuned with one high and low octave. I purchased them in the early nineties at Edinburgh Folk Festival.

They were much more popular back then but one of the main reasons I don’t take them to many sessions is due to their portability and larger size. The mandolin and fiddle are much easier to carry around. That’s one of the reasons I don’t play the guitar so much either now although that’s much less of loss in sessions I’m sure.

Anyway, I still enjoy playing these from time to time and will bring it to a session occasionally. I too prefer playing melody and they are a nice change from the tenor banjo. ๐Ÿ™‚

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

Good to see a "Kenny Cameo"!

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

This is timely thread indeed.

I’ve just picked up these instruments and realised that they had gone "sharp" with the warmer weather. So, I’ve retuned them . My guitar and also the tenor guitar was the same and I’m just going to check the banjo now.

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

Jim Sutherland, of Easy Club fame, also comes to mind. Great backup on Gordon Duncan recordings.

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

I’d forgotten about Jim, although he was always a great tune player - never ever heard him "backing" :
https://youtu.be/P08TjAQr4uI


PS - the only 2 musicians I ever encountered in Scottish music playing Greek round-backed bouzoukis, as opposed to flat-back or cittern / mandola style instruments, were Sean O’Rourke, with "Alba" and Dave Stuart whom I seem to remember had one while playing as a duo with Tony Cuffe. Both around the mid / late 1970s. Stefan Sobell’s instruments in particular were very popular at that time.

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Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

Kenny -

Thanks for that old Easy Club video. Rod performed in Vermont at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival back in 1993, and I got to know him a bit. Lovely man, and great talent.

I owned a Sobell cittern from 1983 until around 2005 or so. I don’t regret selling it, as I wasn’t playing it anymore. But a brilliant instrument it was.

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

Thanks for all the feedback! Really interesting comments and great videos to get stuck in to. Much appreciated!

The reason I was asking is that I’m from Glasgow but live in Scandinavia where the trad sessions tend to be more Irish. I’ve just started playing the bouzouki and I realise that I want an instrument that will work both here and back home. I’m considering going all in and ordering a handmade instrument so it was helpful to get that cleared up before I do so ๐Ÿ™‚

Interesting that you should mention the Stefan Sobell instruments. I’m relatively new to this but they are clearly highly revered instruments. I was just looking at his website the other day and saw that he’s taken a break from mandolin family builds to concentrate on guitars.

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

The catch all acronym which used to feature a lot on this site was CBOM (Cittern, Bouzouki, Octave mandolin(or mandola) ).
I’ve not seen it mentioned as much in later years which might confirm that such instruments have become less fashionable in sessions.

There will, of course, be various reasons for this. However, as others have suggested here, I’m sure this reason is NOT that such instruments are unwelcome.

Possibly, as I suggested, some other melody instruments are more portable. If you intend to concentrate on "backing", the "one backing instrument is enough" argument will likely apply in many sessions and if there’s already a guitar or another CBOM instrument then this could limit your options.

Personally, I love the chunky sound of these instruments and enjoy listening to and playing melodies on the lower octaves. I’d love to see them make a big come back in Scottish sessions.

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

Nice to see Stewart McIsaac there @Kenny!

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

I play a few Scottish tunes at home on my octave mandolin, like "Waulking of the Fauld" and "Braes of Locheil." The sustain is great at slower tempos, and the distinctive "chorrng" sound of double course strings has a nice reedy quality, almost a little like the pipes.

As a melody instrument, I think the long scale is a bit of a disadvantage in playing the faster tunes like reels unless your hands are fairly large and nimble enough. I’d rather play reels on mandolin (or flute) where the "action" is quicker under my fingers. I still love the OM for the slow stuff though.

As a chordal accompaniment instrument, my carved archtop OM has a somewhat dark tone that’s easily buried in the mix if there is a guitar player present in a session. And there is almost always a guitar player. A flat-top bouzouki typically has a brighter, zingier tone with a better chance to be heard alongside guitar.

If there is any major disadvantage to an OM or Zouk as accompaniment for Scottish tunes, I’d blame it on the guitar players. If we could get rid of the guitar players (and I say that as someone who also plays guitar), I think we’d see more OMs, Zouks, and Citterns in both Irish and Scottish trad. ๐Ÿ™‚

Re: Bouzouki in Scottish traditional music?

I’m sure I remember Hudson Swan playing round back bouzouki with the Tannahill Weavers in 1979 at Cambridge.