Discussions of Shetland Islands fiddling often begin with Aly Bain and proceed to Fiddlers’ Bid, the latter so famed that locals simply call it Da’ Bid. Both Bain and Da’ Bid deserve their accolades, though they would recoil at attempts to locate them in fiddle creation stories. The Shetlands fiddle tradition is ancient and is said to have originated with fairies (“peerie” folk) and trolls (“trows”). That said, Bain and Da’ Bid touched off a revival within the Shetlands analogous to that of Cape Breton Island in Canada. Travel up that way – as I did a few years ago – and you’ll encounter an array of amazing ensembles, only a handful of which are well known on the Scottish mainland. Among them is Fullsceliidh Spelemannslag.
Maurice Henderson is the link between Fiddlers’ Bid, Fullsceliidh, and the newer unit known as Haltadans featured on a new EP. He’s a member of all three, and Haltadans is essentially the 10-member Fullsceliidh Spelemannslag cut in half. Like most Shetlands lineups, Haltadans is fiddle driven. The strings of Henderson, Lois Nicol, and Ewen Thomson shape melody lines, and Grant Nicol’s guitar and John Clark’s bass syncopate their ringing strings. (Another Shetlands link: Thomson is a Fair Isle luthier who makes the instruments for many great Shetlands fiddlers, including Chris Stout.)
Haltadans’ music is lively, energetic, and danceable. Its 5-track EP opens with a set of reels and proceeds to a set of polskas. The polska – as opposed to a polka – is a Swedish musical form usually rendered in 3/4 timing. The second tune, “Eklunda Polska No. 3” was learned from Aly Bain – those connections again! Haltadans follows with a traveling tune, a lovely waltz, and a set that begins with an Irish feel, courtesy of Thomson’s tenor banjo, and finishes with a piece penned by Henderson within the band’s namesake stone circle.
About that name, it’s an Anglicized version of Hjaltadans, an ancient stone ring on the island of Fetlar whose outer ring is said to be the petrified remains of trolls, whilst the two in the center are a fiddler and his wife. The name roughly translates as “limping dance.” Lift a glass of winter cheer, play these five tracks with the volume cranked up, and you’ll probably be hobbling a bit when it finishes 22 minutes later.
— Rob Weir