Whistle and piping star who had help from Edwyn Collins to kick-start career crowned Scotland's best young musician

Ali Levack won the award after the final of the competition in the City Halls in Glasgow.
Ali Levack won the award after the final of the competition in the City Halls in Glasgow.
Share this article
0
Have your say

A dazzling new whistle and piping star whose band had help from Scottish pop legend Edwyn Collins to record an album has been crowned Scotland's young musician of the year at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow.

Ali Levack, 26 from Maryburgh, near Dingwall, in the Highlands, has become the 20th winner of the award, which is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious in the Scottish music industry.

Ali Levack has already been making a name for himself in the Scottish music scene with the band Project Smok.

Ali Levack has already been making a name for himself in the Scottish music scene with the band Project Smok.

Organised by BBC Radio Scotland and traditional music promoters Hands Up For Trad, the awards were shown live on Gaelic broadcaster BBC Alba for the first time in their history.

The prize includes a recording session with BBC Scotland, a coveted slot to appear at the annual Scots Trad Music Awards, and invitations to perform at other major events like the BBC Proms in the Park.

Levack, who won the award two years after reaching the final, is a “distant relation” of Collins through the singer-songwriter’s family in Helmsdale, in the Highlands.
Collins and his wife Grace were in the audience to see Levack claim the title on the final night of the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow - two years after previously reaching the final.

Levack has been winning huge acclaim in the Scottish traditional music scene for Project Smok, a trio he formed just over two years ago with guitarist Pablo Lafuente and bodhrán player Ewan Baird.

Ali Levack is the 20th winner of the  BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year title.

Ali Levack is the 20th winner of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year title.

The band got free use of Collins’ purpose-built studio in Helmsdale and the singer even agreed to re-record his classic hit A Girl Like You for the album, which the band named Bayview after the singer’s Helmsdale home.

Levack, who began piping lessons at the age of nine after being encouraged to take up the instrument by his grandfather, Donald McKillop, moved to Plockton when he was 15 to take up a place at the National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music.

He has been based in Glasgow since moving there to study piping at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

He said: “I got to the final two years ago, but I was a bag of nerves and I’d been out the night before. I was like Cinderella this time. I’ve invested a lot of years into this competition. I’ve just put everything into winning it.

"I first entered it in 2012 and didn’t even get through to the semi-finals. I made it to the semi-finals the next time but didn't get any further, then I got to the final. It’s been almost like a ladder.

"I've know about the award for the last 15 years since I was at Plockton - I can remember thinking: 'I've got to win that.'

“The award means so much to musicians in terms of the recognition that comes with it and how it helps to carve out a career. I’m hopefully go on to launch a solo project alongside Project Smok now.

"Edwyn is a very distant relative of mine and he's been helping me a bit over the last 10 years. I invited me down to see his studio in London when I was 16.

“We decided to name the album Bayview after Grace and Edwyn’s house in Elmsdale as they gave us the studio time for free. I actually used the same microphone to record the whistle for the album as Edwyn did for his vocals on A Girl Like You. We even got him on the album to sing on our cover of it.

"The opportunities Edwyn has given us have really helped shape the band over the last couple of years. We wouldn't have been able to make the album without him."

Collins first saw Levack perform as a teenager at the Highland Games in Helmsdale.

The singer said: "I thought he was fantastic the first time that I saw him. Ali is an amazing musician, he is just incredible. He wanted to do a cover of 'A Girl Like You' for his band's album and I agreed to do new vocals for it."

Levack was competing for the honour with singer Josie Duncan, from the Isle of Lewis, accordionist Padruig Morrison, from the Uists, fiddler Mhairi Mackinnon, from Perthshire, guitarist, mandolin player and singer Calum McIlroy, from Aberdeenshire and singer Cameron Nixon, from Aberdeen.