Mike Vass : String Theory

This is track no. 5 It’s a Bar from String Theory


I love looking at sleeve notes. That’s one of the things I look for when I buy a CD or purchase digital downloads.  It lets you see the talents involved in creating the recording and also the instruments used in the process. String Theory, a new album by Mike Vass has all that and so much more. With the sheer talents shared by both twins- Mike and sister Ali along with other musicians in the album, something like that makes you wonder. Who are these people and what is String Theory?

String Theory :A current favourite among scientists in search of an all- encompassing hypothesis is super string theory, according to which elementary particles are likened to the notes sounded by a violin string under varying tension.

String Theory opens with  Cavers of Kirkcudbright  , a jig that sways and enchants you with its clarity and high pitch piano hammering courtesy of sister Ali. It is a luminous track brought about by bright chord patterns and a time signature that reminds me of waltzing the green Scottish countryside.  Anna Massie provides that smooth guitar strums and every instrument in this track really go together. Continents Apart is a relevant track for these times. Kind of reminds you of long distance relationships. I love the way  Steve Fivey beats those drums. He really got me into the groove. Man’s Search is an interesting track because according to the info : inspired by Viktor Frankl’s best-selling book, was described as ‘utterly compelling’ and ‘one epoch-making composition’. ‘Man’s Search’ was subsequently featured by the Victor Frankl Institute in Austria to commemorate Frankl’s birthday. It is a track rich in atmosphere and almost trip hop sounding although this is purely acoustic. Here, the bagpipes of  Calum MacCrimmon stands out. Ali also provides that hypnotic piano in the background. The song moves from one structure to the next and like is never repetitive.

We move to the fourth track in the album called Fairholm Road, a slow tune showcasing the elegance of  James Lindsay on double bass and the Rhodes of  Angus Lyon. It almost have that 70’s vibes. The track moves from the spare quiet space into the expressive fiddle playing of Mike.   I had a great time closing my eyes and rocking my body to this one. It’s that moment when the music takes you over like a big hug.  It’s a Bar opens with a banjo and a minute later explodes into a full band set that just hammers into your mood with tis positive vibes. It changes pace in the middle then gallops into the brightness of the whistle. We hear the background vocals of  Megan Henderson and the rest of the band doing an onomatopoeia driven by a Jazz inspired beat. The next one is called  The 35 Year Waltz  which has that bright tin whistle coming in and out of the tune while other instruments embellish it like curtains bellowing on a sunny and windy day. Here Ali’s playing is very instinctive and instead of competing for the brightness of the whistle she settled for the laid back gentle playing that reminds me of deep water under. This track is written for Mike’s and Ali’s parents.

We move to Waking Life (Inspired by Richard Linklater’s film ‘Waking Life’) and its traditional style once again showcases the clarity of the fiddle.  I have been tapping my feet to this one since the first time I heard it.  The Shoemaker is one tune that makes you smile with the beauty of its simplicity. Here we hear a duet between Mike on fiddle and Anne on tenor guitar. I like the fact that most traditional pieces are named after people like for instance this ninth track called  Calum James MacCrimmon . Everyone here spars each other playfully with their style of playing and yet everything is held together tightly. This song is like a celebration of life if you really listen to it again and again it tends to get addictive. The album closes with  Three Trumpeter’s Waltz which embraces you with its solemn piano playing. It is one of the most beautiful piano pieces I heard for ages. Here we hear Mike contributing his vocals. His voice sounds like the breeze.
String Theory has all the elements of an excellent album. And it is truly a rewarding listening experience that makes you want to listen again and again.

String Theory on iTunes http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/string-theory/id416694806

Mike Vass : String Theory

Mike Vass: Fiddle, Vocals


Steve Fivey: Drums, Percussion

Megan Henderson: Fiddle, Vocals

James Lindsay: Double Bass

Angus Lyon: Accordion, Rhodes

Calum MacCrimmon: Whistle, Bagpipes

Anna Massie: Guitar, Tenor Guitar, Banjo, Vocals

Ali Vass: Piano

All tracks written by Mike Vass (mcps/prs)

Produced by Mike Vass

All tracks arranged by Mike Vass and the String Theory band

Recorded by Angus Lyon and Keith Byrd at Gran’s House

Mixed by Iain Hutchison at Glo-Worm

Mastered by Brad Blackwood at Euphonic Masters

Sleeve concept and design by Louise Bichan



Winner of the inaugural Neil Gow International Composition Award, Mike Vass is fast gaining a reputation as one of Scotland’s foremost tunesmiths. His compositions frequently appear in the recordings and performances of some of the UK’s top name acts; most notably luminaries such as Brian Finnegan, Corrina Hewat, and Mairearad Green.

Mike is regarded as one of Scotland’s finest fiddle players, in great demand as a performer, composer and teacher. He has toured extensively in the past few years with leading Scots Song band Malinky, in a duo with twin sister Ali, and with International super group Fiddle Rendezvous, featuring Bruce Molsky, Maryann Kennedy and Gerry O’Connor.

Mike’s New Voices Commission ‘String Theory’ debuted at Celtic Connections in 2010, and was described as ‘the most direct and honest since the idea was first conceived … precision, subtlety and attention to detail’. One of the highlights, the avant-garde piece ‘Man’s Search’ inspired by Viktor Frankl’s best-selling book, was described as ‘utterly compelling’ and ‘one epoch-making composition’. ‘Man’s Search’ was subsequently featured by the Victor Frankl Institute in Austria to commemorate Frankl’s birthday.

Mike was nominated as ‘Best Up and Coming Act’ in the 2007 Scots Trad Music Awards, along with pianist/singer twin sister Ali, and won ‘Best Folk Band’ with Malinky in 2010. A runner-up in the 2007 BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition, Mike was subsequently invited to tour with the 2008 finalists as an accompanist. Although barely 5 years into his career, Mike has already featured on more than a dozen recordings, including Volume 1 of The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill, produced by Dr Fred Freeman, and Malinky’s acclaimed fourth album Flower and Iron.


2 Replies to “Mike Vass : String Theory”

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