New Gaelic channel for Scotland – BBC ALBA

It’s an exciting time in Scotland at the moment with the launch tomorrow of the new Scottish Gaelic channel BBC Alba. Hands Up for Trad is one of the lucky recipients with the Scots Trad Music Awards being shown on in the 3rd week of December. It’s our first year on telly – the thing we’ve been aiming for since the start.

Anyway the Gaelic channel will be an excellent conduit for all Scottish traditional music and culture. A real chance to get our music heard. There will also be export opportunities for these new programmes in the North American and Australasion markets which can only help publise Scotland’s traditions. It can only be good for the Scottish film and tv industry as well. An excellent opportunity to develop the sector.

The one downside is it is not on Freeview. Seemingly it costs 3 million to do this but surely this is the main vehicle for getting the programme watched. It is available on SKY (channel 168), freesat and hopefully soon Virgin Media – they’re waiting for a channel number.

You can catch the launch tomorrow (19 September 2008) from 9pm.

Here’s an interesting discussion on the subject at Foot Stompin‘.

Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast No 23 – Scottish harp music feature

Play Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast No 23 – Scottish Harp Music feature

I’ve put together a podcast featuring Scottish harp music. This really is a fertile ground for us in Scotland with lots of musicians creating exciting new music. The selection of harpists for this podcast demonstrates experience, youth and virtuosity.

The first CD I play is Catriona McKay’s Starfish. Catriona is an amazing musician who also performs with Fiddlers’ Bid and Chris Stout. She also plays lots of collaborations with musicians from other fields. My favourite collaboration was as part of our Distil project where she worked with electronic musician Alasdair MacDonald. Catriona was not scared to try new ideas and in this piece she played the harp with an electric fan! Brilliant!

Next up we have Ailie Robertson. Ailie just released her debut CD First Things First in June of this year. I first met Ailie a couple of years ago in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award. She was in the finals of this years Award and I was startled by her musicial progression from the semi-finals to the finals. She was good at the semis but she was fantastic in the finals. Her musicianship and arrangements were standout and they’ve made it onto this CD.

Alison Kinnaird is one of the pioneers of the clarsach. Her The Harper’s Land CD is noted as a major release and a force in bringing the Scottish harp to where it is today. In this track she plays the gut string harp – a very different sound from the wire strung harps on the rest of the podcast. Alison is also very famous for her Glass art and exhibits across the world.

Our next item is an interview with Corrina Hewat to talk about her new CD Harp I Do. The interview is very interesting and Corrina talks about her early years and the special contribution that Christine Martin made to the start of her career. Corrina and I both played in Seannachie over the years. When I left in 1991 Corrina took over from me and when we reformed the band in the late 1990’s for a tour of Germany (don’t mention the pigs) and Holland – Corrina and I rejoined. There were lots of hilarious moments in the German tour (apart from the pigs – only funny now!) including a night off in Laufin, a village on the Wine Strasse. We both had far far too much red wine to drink (Dave Milligan and Elspeth Cowie didn’t join in) and the morning after was dreadful. I remember having to stop the car because Corrina was so hung over she couldn’t stop crying! (You can tell I’m a man).

To finish up this podcast I play a track from Savourna Stevenson. Savourna (like Alison Kinnaird) is a trail blazer and her work in the 90s left some very special records. I really enjoy this Tweed Journey CD not only for her harp playing but the all round musicianship. When you hear this track you will not miss the brilliant playing throughout.

Where have all the bands gone?

Well what I actually mean is where have all the semi-pro bands gone? When I started playing in Scottish folk band Seannachie in 1987 the scene seemed to be full of semi-pro bands. We all had jobs and we played at night in the folk clubs and at festivals – mainly folk clubs. To me there seemed to be a lot of bands like this at the time with not so many full time outfits. The music was just as good as the pros just I suppose we played with a safety net. Times seem to be reversed and the caption ‘semi-pro’ (I think) now is a word for amateur. Do these bands still exist and am I missing them? When you look at the list of folk club entertainers there seem to be more solo artists/duos/trios than anything else.

This is turning around in my head as I write this. Maybe I’m wondering ‘where have all the bands gone?’ As I write this I’m struggling to think of lots of bands that are currently out there on the scene. I don’t think there is the money out there to pay medium or large fees that are required to book a band. A typical folk club will pay max £200 which does not go a long way event before deducting travel expenses.

It’s interesting when I discuss Scottish music with people because we’re always talking about the buzz around at the moment. How everyone has a feeling of Scottishness and the music is thriving. However when you get to the nitty gritty of it there is not enough gigs around to make a proper living. Musicians are moving more and more into teaching as that is where the cash is. Are we going to have a catch 22 situtation with lots of kids being able to play the music but not being able to hear it live where it is at its best.

What’s the answer? How do we fight our case in a busy world full of 24hr tv and Wiis?  In the end musicians play music because they like performing in front of an audience. The buzz and the sharing always does it for me. We need gigs and lots of them. How are we going to get them? I think greater investment in the cultural sector would be a start. In countries like Germany and France there are always festivals on the weekends. The promotors are always sponsored by the goverment (or local goverment). Free concerts always work for me where the public can walk in and experience something new.

I seem to have taken on a big subject and I don’t have all the answers… We do need more gigs as that is how we will get more bands who will help send out the message about Scottish music.

Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast No 22



Play Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast 22
I can’t believe it – September is here! How many days to Christmas???????????? Anyway on with the podcast.

The first track I play is Nusa by Nusa on an album called – you’ve guessed it Nusa! I think this is one of the most orginial tracks of the last few years. Nusa are made up of Rory Campbell (pipes) and Malcolm Stitt (bouzouki, guitar) and on this album they featured DJ Extra. On this track DJ Extra takes one of Rory’s favourite Tannahill Weavers LPs and uses it in a scratch kind of way (I don’t know what this is called). It is an amazing sound though and makes for a very original recording. I don’t think the band fulfilled their potential in the end but in many ways this music is still not to be beaten.

The next track is by Fiona MacKenzie from her Elevate CD. This is a lovely album full of great songs with lots of singable hooks. I think they were aiming more at the pop world with this CD and I hope they succeed. Fiona sang in the premier of my Music for a New Scottish Parliament way back in 1999. She made a lovely job of “And Freedom Be Our Guide” which was written by me and Aonghas MacNeacail. She couldn’t make the next performance unfortunately which was recorded.

After this we play a new compilation CD by Aly Bain entitled The Best of Aly Bain. This is a lovely compilation although I would rather hear a new Aly Bain CD. I’ve alway’s loved Aly’s playing – his tone is my favourite fiddle tone especially on slow airs. I spent a bit of time with Aly over the years firstly on the TMSA Young Champions Tour way back in 1990. It was fun times and also included musicians Martyn Bennett, Scott Gardener, Bruce Lindsay and others. The accompanist was the legendary Violet Tulloch. He has also been very good to me over the years and in the ninties he let his manager Liz Wright try to get me gigs while he paid for the running of the office. It was also his influence that would have got me onto the Shetland Sessions and Transatlantic Sessions TV programmes.

Another compendium now from fiddler John McCusker. He has put together his last two CDs Yella Hoose and Goodnight Ginger onto one disk. Again like Aly’s CD I would rather see something new but it is still great to listen to John’s music. I play on both of these CDs and I smile when I remember the recording process. I’m very much a go for it kind of musician and never play the same thing twice but John kept giving me a row when I deviated or made a little mistake! John’s been very busy this year touring with Mark Knofler all over the world. He’s great fun and always makes me laugh!

Alyth McCormack’s CD An Iomall was like Nusa a bit of landmark for me. She and Jim Sutherland (the producer) really modernised Gaelic music on this CD. I believe there was a second CD made for her recent support tour with The Chieftains in the USA but it as not been released over here yet. Alyth was the singer who took over from Fiona MacKenzie in my Parliament piece and did a fine job which you can hear on the CD.

We finish up with a track from a new album called Experience Scotland – a CD which is all about that. The company that made it licensed tracks from lots of different record labels including Foot Stompin and have come out with a very varied and interesting CD. I chose the track from Scottish Women singing Hey Donal. I’ve alway’s loved this song and it brings back memories of Karine Polwart teaching it to kids at Tinto Summer School. The harmonies in this recording are brilliant.