THE idea of the carrying stream – the passing on of the tradition from one generation to the next – is such a powerful force in Scottish folk music. It is the musical equivalent of the oral tradition, but perhaps should not be seen as being separate at all. Music, song, stories and legend are all part of that tradition. Bringing elements of these together helps widen our understanding of the past, the present and the roots of the tradition.

Taking inspiration from tales of yore is not a new concept but it is something that can allow artists the lyrical scope to produce work that is elevated above the norm.

For fiddler and composer Lauren MacColl, inspiration from stories familiar from her childhood has led to work that is breathtaking in its ambition and execution.

Raised in the Black Isle, MacColl was from an early age aware of the prophecies of the Brahan Seer – the semi-mythical Coinneach Odhar who lived in the 17th century – and had long toyed with the idea of writing music tied to his legend.

However, it was Feis Rois who finally stepped in and commissioned MacColl to write the work which would become The Seer. “It was the second one of Feis Rois’s commissions following John Somerville’s The Voyage Of The Hector,” says MacColl.

“That was very much a west coast story, though. So they were very keen to commission something that was more of an Easter Ross tale. Most of the prophecies of the Brahan Seer were from the latter part of his life when he was based in that area. That was the story they wanted to work with.

“They were tales I’d grown up hearing so when they asked me to do it it wasn’t a new concept. I’d been thinking about writing music based on the Brahan Seer for a number of years beforehand.”

MacColl has long been a mainstay on the scene. Winner of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk award in 2004, she is a fiddler of rare expression and vibrancy. She has played with a number of bands – Rant, Salt House, Rachel Newton – but working on large suites of music was a new discipline.

“I’d never written more than a minute-long tune before so the idea of a 45-minute piece of music was a bit daunting to be honest,” says MacColl. “But having immersed myself in the words and the prophecies of the Brahan Seer there was so much imagery and so much to draw inspiration from that it all started to come naturally.”

FOR MacColl, the prophecies aren’t just about the Seer and the second sight and, indeed, ancient Scotland.

They also offer a glimpse behind the curtain of our modern world and the forces that appear hellbent on destroying it. “There are big parallels with today, I think,” says MacColl. “So many of his prophecies can be taken in so many different ways.

“And they remain relevant centuries on. You will always be able to find something in his words.

“The lovely symmetry I find with that is with the music. The way people pass the music on from person to person and how the traditions evolve. I love that parallel between his words and the music, the way they have these same evolving strands. So one person can draw something from a piece of music that another might see a completely different way. I think it all ties in together quite well.”

MacColl is herself part of that living tradition. She learnt music through Feis Rois, although her grandparents were both big fans of traditional music and her great grandfather and great uncle were fiddlers – she now has both their fiddles – and music was a constant in the household growing up.

“I was taken to Aly Bain concerts from when I was very young,” says MacColl. “I was always into the music but I was initially more into the highland dancing, although I got into the fiddle when I realised it was a bit less competitive!”

MacColl has many reasons to be grateful for the feis movement and testament to that legacy is the make-up of the band who are currently touring The Seer. MacColl is joined on the road by Megan Henderson, Bethany Reid, Anna Massie, Signy Jakobsdottir, Rachel Newton and Mairearad Green. Of those, the latter two are friends of MacColl’s dating back to their time as children at Feis Rois. “I met Rachel and Mairearad when I was about nine years old,” says MacColl. “And I think that’s a really nice strand. I would never have thought in a million years that this is where we would end up – working together and writing for each other. It’s an amazing legacy of the feis movement that they support musicians not just when they’re young and learning an instrument but throughout their careers.

“It’s a great progressive way of thinking. Hopefully the real legacy of this commission, as well as getting people to hear the music, will be to pass on these stories to younger folk and the tradition keeps going. What’s been really lovely about this tour is that people have been coming to me with their stories. We were in Lewis the other night, where the Brahan Seer was supposedly born, and people had their own stories from there.

“I think a project like this you get a lot back from the audience because they feel a personal connection. They may have been told these stories when they were growing up so it feels quite personal for a lot of people which is a really nice thing.”

For MacColl, the carrying stream amounts to more than simply just passing on the music.

SHE is a regular tutor at major feis events and is delighted to give younger artists the benefit of her experience. “I’m usually there at the summer schools a couple of times a year and I also help with their weekly classes in Dingwall,” says MacColl. “The feis will always be a big part of my life and I’ve a lot to thank them for. They have such a great ethos in terms of inclusion and equality so I’m right behind them. It’s great at breaking down all sorts of barriers. The class I teach on a Friday for instance is mainly for retired folk who’ve came to music a wee bit later in life. It really is everyone’s music and that’s the great legacy of the feis.

“Folk music has always been of the people and for the people, so that’s what it’s all about for me.”

MacColl’s Seer tour finishes this Saturday in Wick. But she has plenty more plans for the future, including new albums from Rant and Salt House, and a new solo project. “I’ve just came straight off the back of recording the new Salt House album which comes out in the spring,” she says. “And Rant recorded an album in January which will come out in November, so there’s been a lot of recording this year. I’ve also got the Black Isle Fiddle Weekend at the start of July which I’ve run for nine years, so it’s a busy spell.

“But I’m also starting to think ahead about another recording in my own right as well. So I’m constantly looking forward to the next thing.”

The Seer is at An Tobar, Mull, this evening and then Sutherland Sessions at Bonar Bridge tomorrow evening before finishing on Saturday at Lyth Arts Centre, Wick