Folk, Jazz etc: Surprise promises and some departures as 2010 reels into the past

THE year now departing has been one of ongoing creativity on Scotland's folk and jazz scenes, despite ever-fluctuating fortunes economically, not to mention the odd stranded musician thanks to that Icelandic ash cloud.

• Blues guitarist and singer Tam White, pictured in The Village, Leith, died in June

One might say the well - an tobar in Gaelic - didn't run dry, and the analogy became near-literal in two notable events.

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In the spring, a Scottish Arts Council Tune-Up tour celebrated Tobermory's ever-inventive An Tobar arts centre by putting two of its commissions on the road - fiddler Aidan O'Rourke's eponymous An Tobar suite and jazz pianist Dave Milligan and his Trio's Shops sequence.

And as the year drew towards its close, there was the launch of an astonishing online resource in the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches archive, a deep well of tradition indeed, providing free access to some 11,500 hours of recorded song, tunes, stories and memories from the archives of the School of Scottish Studies, the Canna Collection and BBC Scotland.

There were anniversaries - ten fruitful years of the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School, and a high-spirited 15th birthday for what has become the biggest event of its kind in the Western Isles, the Hebridean Celtic Festival.

There were also farewells - in June the sad loss of Edinburgh's blues-shouting stonemason Tam White at the age of 67, and this month saw the McCalmans trio give a sold-out performance at the Queen's Hall after 64 years of ebullient harmony singing.

Alan Reid, the sole remaining founder-member of another veteran folk outfit, the Battlefield Band, also retired, although the current "Batties" play on.

Other losses related to straitened economic times. The Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland, active in grassroots traditional music-making, made its four full-time staff redundant, following the loss of core funding from the Scottish Arts Council two years previously, while more recently The Lot venue in Edinburgh's Grassmarket announced it would close at the end of next month.

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One of The Lot's most memorable gigs this year featured two powerful American-based talents, drummer Ari Hoenig and guitarist Gilad Hekselman, with Scots bassist Euan Burton. The two New Yorkers returned the transatlantic favour by joining Burton and his regular pianist Tom Gibbs in one of the most engaging home-grown jazz albums of the year, Forgotten Things.Other Scottish jazz offerings included Tommy Smith's magisterial Torah with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and saxophonist Martin Kershaw's acclaimed Hero As Riddle tribute to sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, jazz and string players sounding as lyrical and as edgy as Paolozzi's own creations.

On the folk side, Bonnie Rideout's Scotland's Fiddle Piobaireachd Vol 1 was a memorably beautiful excursion into a little-explored area of Scottish music; White Nights, from the harp and fiddle duo of Catriona McKay and Chris Stout was another winner; and the year kicked off with the Imagined Village's Empire & Love, with its inspired melling of English tradition and contemporary multiculturalism.

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As for the nuts and bolts of cash support, earlier this month saw the culture minister, Fiona Hyslop, announce a 250,000 funding boost for the traditional arts sector, to be dispensed through Creative Scotland, which finally emerged this year as successor to the Scottish Arts Council.

And also this month, giving the annual Sabhal Mor Ostaig lecture at Skye's national centre for Gaelic, Creative Scotland's new director, Andrew Dickson, appeared to fly in the face of economic despondency by announcing a 1 million cross-disciplinary artists residency programme across Scotland, including a significant Gaelic arts residency at Sabhal Mor. Called Creative Futures, the programme would be "unrivalled in Europe", according to Dickson.

A merry Christmas then, although folk and jazz musicians won't really see what's in their stockings until February, when further details of Creative Futures will be announced.