Traditionally when you think of Scottish music, the sounds of bagpipes will probably start filling your brain. It certainly wouldn’t cross your mind that banjo-playing would be a feature of the country’s music scene. After all, the Scots are not exactly famous for their bluegrass tradition. However, this niche genre is growing in prominence in Scotland thanks to the music of the Edinburgh-based group, Blueflint.
The band is the brainchild of childhood friends Deborah Arnott and Clare Neilson. Having lost touch after hanging out as teenagers, the pair met again years later through mutual friends. They were both learning the banjo separately at the time and started playing together and Blueflint was born.
In the beginning it was just Clare and Deborah, playing the clawhammer and bluegrass banjos respectively. But in 2008 the group expanded. “We started off as a duo” Deborah explains. “A year before the release of the first CD we started playing as a five piece”. One of the musicians to join Blueflint was Clare’s brother Roddy Neilson. He plays the fiddle with the group and is from a traditional background, having previously played with folk group Peatbog Faeries. Clare says Roddy adapted to the group straight away. “He joined up and got right into the genre of what we were doing.” Hugh Kelly plays the double bass with the group and adds an extra depth of sound to the rich music produced by Blueflint. The group also occasionally bring in a drummer to play with them at particularly big gigs.
Blueflint released their debut album ‘High Bright Morning’ in 2009 and are planning to bring out a second CD entitled ‘Maudy Tree’ on 10th October of this year. Following its release the group will play a tour of the UK and Ireland during October and November. Although at the minute the group may only be well-known in certain circles Blueflint are doing everything they can to make a name for themselves. “The aim is for us to be self-sufficient” Deborah says. “Hopefully the next CD will raise our profile a bit”. Clare is confident that with the launch of the second album their music will reach a wider audience outside of the country. “The first CD certainly consolidated our profile to an extent in Scotland but I think now we’re reaching out into England and Ireland as well”.
Blueflint are unusual in that they blend together a mix of different instruments from a range of genres. No one would think that banjos, a fiddle and a double bass would work well together but they do. Deborah also plays the ukulele and the sounds produced by the band are unique to anything you might hear elsewhere. This makes it difficult to pigeon-hole Blueflint in one particular genre and it works to their advantage. By not really slotting into any one category the musicians increase their appeal to a wider audience. “We’re not a traditional bluegrass band” admits Deborah. “It ( their music) doesn’t fit into the bluegrass genre, it doesn’t fit into the folk genre, or indie- it straddles them all!”
Despite this inability to slot into the bluegrass category, the group have played their fair share of festivals in the past and have already acquired a regular following. “We do find people come up to us and say we’ve seen you before and really looking forward to seeing you again” explains Clare. “I think in Edinburgh because we’re a local band people do know about us”. With the impending tour in October and November the group are due to play dates across the UK, starting in Scotland before moving on to Ireland and finishing up in London. Clare is enthusiastic about going back to Ireland. “We’re really looking forward to Ireland. We did a bluegrass festival there a couple of years ago now down in Waterford. We just had a really good time- it had a really good atmosphere”.
If you are interested in learning more about Blueflint check out their website and if you want to see them in action watch the video of their CD Fundraiser.