Music I’ve Loved : 2

“Hector The Hero” – Aly Bain (violin/viola) & Ale Möller (cittern)

Aly Bain has been Scotland’s finest fiddler, in my opinion, since the 1980s. He grew up in love with the Shetlands and the North and has brought an utterly gorgeous lyricism to both interpreted and composed slow aires. His style, along with that of Martin Hayes who specializes in Irish music, is what keeps me going with my own playing in terms of having an impossible rainbow goal over the next horizon. Aly also sounds great, and very precise, with faster stuff like jigs, reels, and horpipes. He often collaborates with other trad musicians of a certain caliber, and so I have chosen a few old favorites to illustrate the variety of his range.

Ale Möller grew up within the Scandinavian musical traditions and for awhile busied himself with jazz before becoming a well-respected multi-instrumentalist and interpreter of various European musical dialects. Here, he plays a beautiful 10-stringed cittern with taste and creativity. (Listen to the impossibly expressive closing chord as an example.) Citterns are outdated, very tenor relatives of the mandolin family, although they have been enjoying a sort of renaissance within trad circles. This one features five courses of doubled strings, each tuned to same note to give a very full-bodied sound. Ale is a skilled accompanist. I lust after this instrument but control myself. 🙂

Hector the Hero – Many traditional Irish and Scottish tunes have interesting provenances which become all the more fascinating once petty considerations such as factual accuracies are dispensed with over time. The story with this one goes as follows: Hector was an upstanding itinerant who some powerful locals had it in for and so they spread malicious accusations abroad to impugn his reputation and no doubt protect their own necks in the process. An unwitting judge declared Hector to be guilty and deservant of hanging, which was scheduled at an adjacent village at 4PM next afternoon. A well-meaning person interceded on Hector’s behalf, providing the judge with compelling redemptive testimony, who issued a last-minute stay of execution. The local officials were aware of this possibility, however, and arranged to have all the clocks forwarded fifteen minutes such that the emergency rider carrying news of the Hector’s reprieve arrived just on time to witness Hector’s innocent corpse swaying from a great tree limb in the wind. This melody has great pathos, tragedy, beauty, and seething anger within it, especially eloquent when Aly switches to a grating, scratching, mournful viola for a few bars around 1:42 on the recording.

Bonaparte’s Retreat – An inordinately high proportion of Scots and Irish musical lore concerns itself with legendary battles, including defeats, which were common. This tune has to do with some hare-brained Irish conscripts who were helping out Napoleon’s advance upon the English which didn’t work out. Still, one hears a valiant regalness within the failed effort. Aly Bain’s cover of this popular tune seems easily the most poignant and heart-tugging to me. Some other renditions have turned out downright joyful or playful, which is not the correct sentiment. I love the way the bowed string bass sets the powerful drone at the very outset, and the steel lap guitar punctuates a few notes with a flourish. A second violin is used mostly as a drone too, if you notice the bowing. And the whole effort happens in the comforts of a home — a musical parlor. This is aptly Scottish! A friend of mine, Denis, and I, used to have a go at both of these tunes as a violin duet in his own cozy parlor up north. He would often harmonize a third below me. Great guy. He was also a luthier and learnt how to build his own fiddles. He passed just last year, nearly age ninety.

“Bonaparte’s Retreat” – Aly Bain (violin) & friends


Note: A previous article about Music I’ve Loved can be found here.

Handy INDEX — scan through all available ||SWR|| articles


    1. I think that speaks well of the music, though perhaps more neutrally about Glasgow. 🙂 Speaking of Avalon, it’s been told that the dead King Arthur was removed there to “heal” under the mystical care of Morgan.


      1. King Arthur did such a tremendous
        service in holding back the Saxon
        invaders back in the day, yet despite
        all that one is soon to be crowned 👑
        as Liege Lord of all Britain! 🤔 🕶️

      2. yes, Chuck and Co. are about a millenia behind the times. I would also point out that the royal attire has taken a decided turn for the worse since the Round Table.

  1. The story of hector is incredibly sad and very upsetting
    However, one shouldn’t be shocked, consider all the injustice happening around at ‘our time’.

    Wonderful post to read this evening. Thank you.


    1. Yes, know what you mean. Sophisticated inhumane scheming seems to go back centuries and millenia. But I like that the melody commemorates what happened, and nowadays we don’t think of the nameless perpetrators, but it is Hector who gets celebrated in lore. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kat. Glad you liked it.


    1. There you go! 🙂 I did some reading before my first trip to Ireland, late 80s. I’d noticed that they do not use music for entertainment there so much; nor did they use pubs for drunken preludes to mating, or worse. Instead music was a form of communication for shared cultural depths, and pubs were for socializing — entire families went, kids and all. At the golden period, before O’Carolan, fully 50% of the island could play a musical instrument! What an expressive, non-superficial cultural life!

      Glad you enjoyed, Mitch. 🙂


      1. About half my ancestral roots are celtic (Scotts, Irish, Welsh), so maybe there’s a bit of invisible handed-down cultural sense. I felt a an immediate sense of connection with celtic folk music from the moment I first heard it.

    1. Yes, I agree very much. Music and cuisine 🙂 are great ways to learn about crossing cultural boundaries and appreciating the rest of the world. Thanks for commenting.


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