New album is the latest step in Louise Bichan’s journey

New England-based Scottish fiddler Louise Bichan rolls out her new CD, "The Lost Summer," on May 8 at The Burren as part of the Brian O'Donovan Legacy Series.



 New England-based Scottish fiddler Louise Bichan seems to have a thing about journeys of discovery.

The epic travels of her grandmother, Margaret Tait, through Canada as a young woman provided the inspiration and the basis for Bichan's 2016 debut album, "Out of My Own Light." As part of the project, which also included a photographic retrospective, Bichan – a visual as well as a musical artist – retraced her grandmother's trip so that she could get recollections and anecdotes from surviving family members.

Not long afterwards, Bichan embarked on a quite different odyssey, leaving her native Orkney islands north of Scotland to attend Boston's Berklee College of Music, and eventually settle in Maine. 

Now, with her new album, "The Lost Summer," Bichan is showcasing her musical journey of these past several years, thanks to the many friends and acquaintances she has made during her time in Boston and elsewhere. 

Bichan will celebrate the album's release on May 8 at The Burren as part of the Brian O'Donovan Legacy Series. 

"The Lost Summer" includes Bichan originals and tunes from the Scottish, Orcadian, Shetland, and American traditions, as well as compositions by musicians such as late Cape Breton legend Jerry Holland, Irish uilleann piper John McSherry, and Bichan's fellow Orcadian fiddler Jennifer Wrigley.

Accompanying Bichan on the album at various times are people who have had a significant impact on her music, not to mention other aspects of her life. They include Ethan Setiawan (mandolin, octave mandolin, tenor guitar), with whom she plays in the duo Hildaland, and as part of the quartet Corner House, which began life in Boston's Brighton neighborhood. 

There's an atmosphere of ebullience on "The Lost Summer," as Bichan exhibits a range of music styles and genres, from Orcadian to Appalachian to jazz and newgrass. Which is not to say that her work on Hildaland's 2023 CD "Sule Skerry" or recordings with Corner House and other collaborations was lacking in spirit. Far from it, emphasizes Bichan.

"I've loved all those opportunities to get together and record, whether it's a few tracks or a whole album," she explains. "But there is something special when the project, the vision, is completely your own, and you pick the tunes and the people you want to play with you. 

"Most of all, I'm just very excited about where I've come since 'Out of My Own Light,' which really set me on a new path to being a diverse musician; and I'm so happy to involve some of the people who've been there with me on this musical journey."

Bichan says her time at Berklee, and in Boston, unquestionably helped put her on the path to becoming a confident, well-rounded musician. 

"Berklee played a huge part, and so did the New England fiddle world," she says. "It's not that I hadn't encountered other kinds of fiddle playing before, but when I came over here I had so much exposure to all these other styles and I had the freedom – and the encouragement – to experiment.

"What made a difference was finding people to play with, and not being scared to mess up occasionally."

She points to fellow students like Galen Fraser (Berklee) and Conor Hearn (Tufts) as among those whose friendship and shared interest in exploring the spectrum of music was invaluable ("We just used to go on these musical tangents; it felt good to have that spirit").

Berklee faculty such as Mimi Rabson, who helped Bichan find her way into playing jazz, and Joe Walsh, who worked with her on newgrass, were among her mentors.

"Joe was great because he gave me confidence to explore other kinds of music. He said, 'Look, you're good at what you do. And it's OK to be not quite as good at some of the other stuff you're playing.' It's hard to be that vulnerable sometimes, so to hear him say that was very important." 

Living in the US also brought Bichan in contact with Bruce Molsky, a prominent old-time/Appalachian musician who helped steer her toward learning clawhammer banjo. 

“What’s made this all such a great experience was not only being able to become familiar with other kinds of music, but to develop more of a grounding as a musician,” she says. “I wrote ‘Out of My Own Light’ without knowing a lot about chords; now, I am able to approach composition and arrangements from a stronger position.”

“The Lost Summer,” however, is not simply all about Bichan’s American experience. There are plenty of references and reminiscences among the 10 tracks that evoke her bonds – familial and otherwise – with Orkney and the Scottish music tradition. In fact, the title tune serves as a thematic crossroads and focal point. As Bichan explains, she wrote the piece in 2020, when a hoped-for trip home was scuttled by the pandemic and visa complications. “I was rather melodramatic, as you might understand. In retrospect, it was actually a great summer,” she says, although her return to Scotland had to wait a couple of more years. 

Far from a lugubrious lament, “The Lost Summer” comes across as an expression of inner resilience. Entering to a blues/rock-slide riff by Setiawan, Bichan establishes a grittily majestic groove, Dan Klingberg’s double bass lending support and Conor Hearn’s electric guitar helping to build momentum. Abruptly, it all falls away, and amidst the sudden decrescendo, Klingberg switches to an eight-note motif while clearing the way for Bichan to improvise. Gradually, the rest of the ensemble rebuilds the earlier theme, leading to another break in which Ali Levack delivers a flourish on whistle worthy of an Ian Anderson flute solo, until Bichan and the other musicians return for the denouement. 

Arguably the most ambitious track combines two similar tunes from different traditions: “Deltingside” (Shetland) and “Squirrel Hunters” (American). The former is propelled by Bichan’s duet with cellist Brendan Hearn, but the highlight here is a solo by Simon Chrisman on hammered dulcimer, which sets up the segue to the latter tune, introduced by Bichan and the clawhammer banjo of Brad Kolodner, who gets his turn in the spotlight – as does Setiawan on mandolin – during a sequence that draws on newgrass style before a brief encore of “Deltingside.” “Adam and Eric’s” (a Bichan original) also toggles between Celtic and Americana, as Bichan and Brendan Hearn play off one another in a series of improv breaks. 

 Jennifer Austin’s gentle piano settles in behind Bichan and her cousin, fiddler Alice Tait, on Jennifer Wrigley’s easy-going, laidback “The Watch Stone,” and then falls away as the pair harmonize, returning again when they transition into “Arnie’s 80th,” a jig Bichan and Tait wrote for Bichan’s great uncle. It’s an altogether sublime track that locates Bichan comfortably within her roots, and hearth and home, amidst her musical and personal travels. So does “The Little Cowpig,” which Bichan composed in honor of a beloved neighbors’ dog. Played solo by Bichan, it’s a quirky yet somewhat haunting medium-tempo tune, with hints of Shetland or perhaps Scandinavia.

Hallowed traditional tunes serve as the finishing touch for two sets: “Little Donald in the Pigpen,” a reel with Cape Breton and Scottish connections, which follows “Pinnacle Ridge” by Northumbrian musician Roger Peppé and Jerry Holland’s “Musical Chisholm Household”; and “The Holm Band Tune” from Orkney, after “The Auch Jig” – written by Bichan’s friend Siobhan Anderson – and John McSherry’s “Skipping Over the Bogs.”

While “The Lost Summer” is vastly different than “Out of My Own Light,” the albums do share a common feature: A photo of an old pier not far from where Bichan grew up adorns the front cover. But for “Lost Summer,” Bichan elected to render a portion of the photo in black and white, in stark contrast to the vibrant hues in the other part. It’s suggestive of constancy amidst change (or vice versa), or perhaps more relevantly, how a place where journeys begin has simultaneously existed as a place where journeys end. 

Bichan has been on a musical as well as a literal journey, one she feels is still in its early stages, but as she says, “I still feel a strong connection, in many ways, to where the journey started from.”

For tickets and other information regarding Bichan’s May 8 concert at Club Passim, see Her website is at