Scots Trad Music Awards 2007

4 Dec 2007 in Highland, Music

Nevis Centre, Fort William, 1 December 2007

Red Hot Chilli Pipers

IT’S 7.13pm on a Saturday night. While most people are sitting down to their dinner at home, approximately 1500 people – dressed like they’re going to the Oscars – are still filtering into the Main Hall of the Nevis Centre, as Scottish folk orchestra The Unusual Suspects take to the stage.

Ushers frantically locate people to their seats, the film crew fiddle with the cameras, while backstage, co-presenter, Stuart Cassells, is applying the finishing touches to his hairstyle. Welcome to the 2007 Scots Trad Music Awards.

Now in its fourth year, the Scots Trad Music Awards orgnaised by Hands Up For Trad is widely recognised by fans and performers of traditional music (new, old and experimental) as a bona fide event. Fitting, then, that the Awards should take place so close to St Andrew’s Day, and if anyone thought the four-hour presentation ceremony and gala concert would be like pulling teeth, then they were certainly mistaken.

With a spicy mix of the good (Red Hot Chilli Pipers), the great (Shooglenifty), and the simply fantastic (Unusual Suspects), even those with a more tepid palate – whether it was the old-school (Marian Anderson Scottish Dance Band) or the new-school (Feis Rois) – couldn’t help enjoy sampling the range of diversity and entertainment on the Awards’ menu.

Before co-presenters Stuart Cassells and Mary Ann Kennedy could show off their genuine chemistry together, MSP Linda Fabiani (Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture) officially opened the event promising that she’d have “been here anyway, even if I hadn’t been invited.”

Following Fabiani’s rather long, but heartfelt speech about retaining and celebrating our Scottish musical and cultural identity, who better to get the party started than the Unusual Suspects, whose typically bombastic folk-jazz set the tone for the evening.

But it was brief. For as people began footstomping, the first three of more than a dozen awards were being presented. In this case, the Community Project of the Year (Scots Music Group), Event of the Year (The Royal National Mod) and Club of the Year (Glasgow’s Ceol s Craic).

There was a big Gaelic presence at the Awards, and it was Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes who enchanted next, before Dundee-born harp champion, Catriona McKay, stepped up (looking as glam as any young fashionable starlet attending the Brit Awards) to receive the Instrumentalist of the Year Award.

Mhairi Campbell thanked her husband and collaborator, Dave Francis, as she accepted her award (a silver trophy not unlike a house flower vase) for Citty Finlayson Scots Singer of the Year. But that was before Marian Anderson Scottish Dance Band cajoled a few brave audience members to get up and dance a wee jig to their bouncy yet inappropriate tune, ‘Summer Sunset’.

Before the interval,  John Purser picked up the gong for Services To Industry Award, the musicologist describing himself as an “inelegant surfer of Scotland’s beautiful music.”

The dashingly beautiful Maeve MacKinnon showed great dignity when she said she was “in no way” the best Up and Coming Artist of the Year. A worthy winner nonetheless, the Gaelic and Scots singer left the stage to the tune of Feis Rois, the young ensemble proving the future of folk music is, literally, in good hands.

Onto the second half, and Shooglenifty threatened to upstage everyone with a short, blistering set that scalded the earlobes of those brave enough to get close. The high point of the evening, the Hall of Fame Awards, then ensued. The inductees who could attend included fiddler Aonghas Grant (recalling a generation of trad musicians who “played without reward or recognition”); singer Sheila Stewart (whose family tradition of song and story is rooted in the oldest oral cultures in Europe); piper Iain MacFadyen, who said: “Winston Churchill said if you ever do a speech, take a piece of paper with you – they’ll think you prepared something.”

Cullivoe Dance Band took the Scottish Dance Band of the Year Award thereafter, but it was the Scottish Folk Band of the Year Award that had the nominees chewing their fingernails. Many expected critically acclaimed Lau to win it, but it went to older heads, Old Blind Dogs instead.

The BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2007, Catriona Watt, followed with a soft-as-snowflakes performance of Gaelic song. Zooming on, the Gaelic Singer of the Year Award went, somewhat unsurprisingly, to Julie Fowlis, who also scooped another high profile award – The Album of the Year Award (for Cuilidh). Unable to attend due to performing at the Barbican in London, the young and highly talented singer from North Uist did, however, send a voice-recorded message of thanks.

Later on, The Mid Argyll Pipe Band marched off with the Scottish Pipe Band of the Year Award, Fochabers Fiddlers taking the Strathspey and Reel Society of the Year Award. The lush, serene singing voice of Sylvia Barnes preceded the Venue of the Year Award (Stornoway’s An Lanntair) before the Kintyre School Pipe Band stormed the stage.

After a toast to departed friends, Morag Macleod – in keeping with the strong Gaelic theme – gave a powerful speech on receipt of the Hamish Henderson Services to Traditional Music Award.

No awards ceremony would be complete without Phil Cunningham, who commented that he “wouldn’t have worn this (pink) shirt” had he known he’d be accepting the Distil Composer of the Year Award. That said, the most eagerly anticipated award of the evening belonged to the Live Act of the Year. Sadly, Lau and Shooglenifty missed out again; Stuart Cassells exchanging his microphone for the bagpipes, as he and his Red Hot Chilli Pipers accepted the award before playing a short set that was entertaining, if a little cheesy.

Overall, then, a thoroughly successful and entertaining evening brought to a fitting finale by the Inverness Gaelic Choir. While disputes about the voting process (a public vote) may rage on, and while some may continue to regard the Awards as little other than shameless self-promotion, at the end of the day, the Scots Trad Awards is exposing traditional folk music to as wide an audience as possible – its nominees and winners’ names ingrained in a few more peoples’ minds than they were before Saturday evening. And that can only be a good thing, surely.

© Barry Gordon, 2007