Greg Lawson: Lev’s Violin – Celtic Connections – Glasgow City Halls – January 24, 2024

Written by on January 26, 2024


This was the story of a journey.

A journey taken by a violin that had a beautiful sound but had no name. It became a traveller through time, passing through the hands of many musicians, each of whom left their marks upon it. It was a recital that was part storytelling, a wee bit of a music lecture, some stand-up comedy, a book reading and lots of wonderful music.

GREG LAWSON took us on the journey. The nameless violin with the beautiful sound was declared worthless. Its origin was unknown, but there were many stories associated with it. Some were true. others not but they were colourful and wonderful. Eventually time caught up with the violin. It fell into disrepair and became unplayable. In 2021 Greg raised over £10,000 to restore it. He showed us slides, including interior shots, where the skills of the luthier were evident in the many patches.

The violin still sounds wonderful. Greg started playing, first some improvisation around the sound of a Tanpura drone. Then he talked about the difference between a modern score and the manuscript of the same piece by Bach, demonstrating the playing of each.

Helena Attlee, the author of the book ‘Lev’s Violin -An Italian Adventure’, gave a short reading from the book. She’d been at a Moishe’s Bagel gig in a small Welsh town, had been entranced by the sound of the violin and by Greg’s playing. She talked to him and learned that he had acquired the violin from a musician called Lev, who had smuggled it out of Russia. He believed it may have originated in Cremona, Italy, home of the luthier Stradivari. That set her researching the story and writing the book.

Most of the second half was music with Phil Alexander, another former member of Moishe’s Bagel, joining Greg on accordion. They played their way through a Macedonian tune, learned round a campfire. Armenian and then Klezmer music. Lev Atlas joined them to play his old instrument, talked about playing in an Armenian Wedding band and ended his selection with a Gypsy tune.

For the finale Greg announced that they would play a tune, they had discovered, that was originally an Armenian pop tune. But when they started playing, I thought he had been making a joke because it was the melody of the Scottish song Bonny at Morn. But no, they did play an Armenian tune after it.

It was a very different but wonderful evening and naturally I had to buy the book.




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