A Chat With...Heather McAslan
This week, we are chatting with ace pianist, mandolin player and dance caller, Heather McAslan
Instrument(s): Piano, mandolin
Best known as: I’m probably best known as a dance caller, actually! I’ve worked a lot as a ceilidh/contra caller up and down the UK, and in the US too.
Your band(s) or collaborations that we should know about: A fiddle/piano duo show with Mari Black for a Scotland tour in Feb 2024. Edinburgh Contra Dance – a roughly quarterly community dance in Edinburgh. Scotch and Sawdust – my new bluegrass trio project.
Sub-genre: Anything that’s dance-based, really. Mainly American/Scottish.
Number of years on the folk scene: 5
Greatest achievement or claim to fame: It might sound cheesy but I count my greatest achievement as getting to play with so many wonderful musicians and people.
What are you currently working on, and what’s in the pipeline for the coming year?
I’m looking forward to a tour with US fiddler Mari Black in Feb 2024 – we always have a lot of fun together when we get to be on the same continent! I’m also working on material with a new bluegrass trio, Scotch and Sawdust. I’m excited about how we’re sounding and we hope to hit the road this year too!
If someone is reading this who hasn’t listened to any of your music before, where should they start?
I don’t have any of my own recordings at the moment, so the best thing would be to find me at a show, a dance or a session and join me for a tune/dance!
What’s on your playlist at the moment, and why does it appeal to you?
Matt Flinner’s The View from Here and Calum Stewart’s True North both make me want to dance. Still as Your Sleeping by Karine Polwart and Dave Milligan is just beautiful.
Which folk albums, in your opinion, should everyone listen to at least once, and why?
Neil Pearlman and Kevin Henderson – Burden Lake. Interesting, groove-y and I love that the fiddle and piano feel like equal partners.
Elmer Deagle – Elmer Deagle. A trad mandolin album by a multi-instrumentalist from Prince Edward Island, Canada. It’s not easy to get a hold of but it’s worth it, the playing on it is phenomenal!
4Square – Fuel. The arrangements are so clever, but they never get “in the way” of the music.
Where are you most ‘at one’ with your instrument?
Two places: on my own in a dark corner, or anywhere playing with people I trust.
Please tell us about your practice regime, or how you keep developing as an instrumentalist.
I have two types of practise I think about. “Real practice” which is slow and deliberate and honing the parts of a tune/my playing that I want to improve. I always try to be working on something just at the limit of my current ability in this way. And “Jam practice” where I focus on learning tunes at tempo by ear, improvisation, and keeping up my stamina for sessions/dances.
What’s the most nerve-wracking thing you’ve done (musically), and what did you learn from it?
I played at Bromyard Folk Festival with a trio called Understory, and we hadn’t had a chance to practise the whole set together, so the first time we played it was on stage. I learned that it IS possible, but not ideal!!
What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a musician?
Being a musician is more about listening than playing.
What’s your dream band line-up (dead or alive)?
Dolly Parton and Kermit the Frog. Both legends with incredible humanity and I think they would be a blast to play with.
To satisfy the instrument/equipment geeks amongst us, please tell us a little about the gear you use to make music.
I play a Weber mandolin that I was given by a fellow mandolinist and which I am extremely lucky to have. It was made by Bruce D. Weber in 2010, before he moved on from the company. It’s mellow and incredibly responsive, but has great bark and chop too, it’s perfect as both a trad and bluegrass instrument. I use a Blue Chip TAD60 pick which a friend and I both purchased as a late night dare to see if they really are worth the $$…it’s all I use now so I guess it is!
My touring keyboard is a 20 year old Korg which has no fancy tech in it but is a total workhorse – and just about fits in my wee car.
Find out more:
JCM, Heather McAslan
Scotch and Sawdust
Matt Flinner, The View From Here
Calum Stewart, True North
Kevin Henderson & Neil Pearlman
4Square, Fuel album preview