A look back on some of my favourite experiences in my career so far...
1. Music For Youth Schools Prom
Royal Albert Hall, London (November 2013)
First on my list of highlights is one of the many great experiences I had playing with the North East Folk Collective, which was a youth band based in Aberdeen that was directed by the fiddler, Sharon Hassan.
In 2013, we were given the opportunity to play at the Music For Youth Schools Prom, which was held at the famous Royal Albert Hall in London.
Photo: NEFCo at the Royal Albert Hall
It was great to have a nosey about the hall, and being part of the evening concert was very exciting. Damian Lewis was there, and I distinctly remember a band with a washboard player dazzling the audience with a number from The Jungle Book.
As well as performing at the Schools Prom, we did some touristy things around London; We saw Wicked in the West End, visited the Science Museum, and we browsed a few of the musical instrument shops on the famous Denmark Street, aka "Britain's Tin-Pan Alley".
Photo: me playing a 1912 Gibson F4
I got to play a 1912 three-point Gibson F4 mandolin, which was awesome. I recall being shocked by its £4,000 price tag, but this was before I learned about the Gibson mandolins that sell for £120,000...
2. Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail
Between finishing my studies at North East Scotland College in Aberdeen and beginning my studies at the RCS, I spent part of my summer on the Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail. The Ceilidh Trail was established in 2000 and offers young people a paid summer job in the form of a four-week tour. I met lots of great musicians on the Ceilidh Trail, many of whom turned into lifelong friends! I enjoyed it so much the first time took part again in 2017.
Photo: Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail 2016 (me, Rachel Clemente, Megan MacDonald, Chloe Bryce, and Callum Convoy)
In my time with the Ceilidh Trail, we played in some really great settings, including Cambridge Folk Festival, Celtic Connections, Eden Court (Inverness), Aberdeen International Youth Festival, the Glad Cafe (Glasgow) and the Tolbooth (Stirling). My favourite of all was the Old Church, Abbey St Bathans, where the owner had horses named after cars and dogs named after holidays!
Video: Ceilidh Trail finale concert 2017 at Eden Court, with Ruairidh Gollan, Isla Ratcliff, and Neil Sutcliffe.
3. Ethno Sweden
In 2017, shortly before my second year with the Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail, I visited Sweden with my two good pals, Megan MacDonald and Chloe Bryce, to take part in Ethno Sweden. Ethno is an organisation that hosts residential music camps all over the world, and Ethno Sweden is the oldest branch.
Photo: Chloe and I outside the Petrus Bakery in Stockholm
We spent around 10 days in Rättvik making music with people from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, India, Chile, Zimbabwe, France, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Estonia, Cambodia, and New Zealand. We performed at the Bingsjö festival, and to an audience at the amphitheater in Rättviksparken.
Photo: After the final concert at Rättviksparken, before the leaving party. I'm not sure who I am embracing in the top left...
Taking part in Ethno Sweden was an impactful experience to say the least; I made some great friends and learned lots about different cultures and ways of life and how although they may seem unknown at first, they're not all too different from what we already know.
Photo: Ethno Sweden 2017
Photo: Chloe, Megan and I with Satyendra (the selfie king) and Amulya from India
4. 'Brave in Concert' with BBC SSO
(Celtic Connections 2019)
While I was living in Glasgow, I often had the opportunity to play at the acclaimed Celtic Connections festival. The most interesting gig I was involved with was Brave in Concert with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 2019.
It was an unusual gig (I'd never had a TV monitor at my feet during a gig before) and I learned a lot from the experience. I had never followed a conductor before, and I think most of us in the small section of folkies were in the same boat. As if that wasn't enough pressure, we had to make sure all of the music synced up perfectly to the film, something that was never intended when the film was produced, and this required absolute precision.
Above all, being involved in Brave in Concert was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed playing within a small section of soloists, with Tom Oakes (guitar), Chris Stout (fiddle), Jarlath Henderson (uilleann pipes), Fraser Fifield (whistles), Robyn Ada McKay (whistles), Lorne MacDougall (bagpipes), and Eilidh MacKenzie, Peigi Barker, and Iona Fyfe (voices).
Photo: 'Brave in Concert' @ Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Celtic Connections 2019
5. BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year (2020)
Although 2020 was a fairly rubbish year, it marked one of my biggest achievements so far - reaching the final of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition.
Photo: Semifinal weekend, Biggar, South Lanarkshire
After making it through the semifinal weekend in South Lanarkshire, myself, Cameron Nixon (voice), Mhairi MacKinnon (fiddle), Padruig Morrison (accordion), Josie Duncan (voice), and Ali Levack (pipes/whistles) competed in the final, which took place at the City Halls in Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections.
We all had the pleasure of working with the house band, which consisted of Mike Bryan (guitar), Mhairi Hall (piano), and Paul Jennings (percussion). After spending hours on chord charts and arrangements, having them realised by the house band was incredibly rewarding, and Mike, Mhairi, and Paul were all extremely supportive throughout the competition.
Photo: BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2020 Final (City Halls, Glasgow)
6. Piper Alpha Memorial Service
(July 2019, 2020)
Over the last few years, I have taken an interest in the story of the Piper Alpha disaster.
Piper Alpha was an oil production platform off the coast of Aberdeen which was tragically destroyed on the 6th of July 1988, claiming the lives of 167 men. A gas leak onboard the platform triggered a series of devastating explosions, and the platform quickly became engulfed in flames. 61 men were able to escape the wreckage of Piper Alpha, by jumping into the sea, lowering themselves from ropes. or even jumping 175ft from the helideck.
In 2019, I was introduced to Steve Rae, a contact of my dad and a survivor of the Piper Alpha disaster. After speaking to Steve about my plans to carry out a research project on Piper Alpha, and my idea for a composition piece based on it, I was invited to play a piece of music at the 31st anniversary memorial service. A service is held each year in the rose garden at Hazelhead Park in Aberdeen, where the Piper Alpha monument is situated. I was asked to play a lament during the reading of the names of the 167 men who were lost. It was an incredibly moving experienced and I was honoured to have been asked.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, having an in-person memorial service wasn't possible in 2020, however, the Pound for Piper Memorial Trust organised a fantastic virtual service instead. I was delighted to be involved once again, and this time some of my own music based on the Piper Alpha story was featured.
I am currently in the writing process of the composition piece, and look forward to sharing it in the not too distant future.
It's been fun to look back on some of my favourite musical memories, and if you would like to see what I get up to next, subscribe to my mailing list and social media!