ONE OF THE YOUNGEST PERFORMERS at this year's Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, 16-year-old Shetland fiddler Maggie Adamson, is anticipating her gig tonight with no little excitement, but an impressive absence of stage fright.
"I've never really got nervous about playing on stage," she says. "I just go out there and enjoy it."
She has ample grounds for confidence, having earned her place on the bill by winning a coveted Danny Kyle Open Stage Award at Celtic Connections 2008, before taking Shetland's hotly fought Young Fiddler of the Year contest last April. The latter accolade came on top of seven prizes won at the National Association of Fiddle and Accordion Clubs' festival in March, including those for best overall junior fiddler and original composition, adding further to a trophy cupboard whose contents already included two junior All-Scotland titles.
In addition, last year saw Adamson releasing two albums, in her partnership with Shetland guitarist Brian Nicholson, and appearing at such leading UK folk gatherings as the Gosport Easter Festival, Orkney Folk Festival and Hebridean Celtic Festival. Between times, she also graduated from the National Children's Orchestra to the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.
Yes, Adamson's talents extend across both folk and classical music, despite the singular pre-eminence of traditional fiddle playing in her native islands – which is what originally inspired her, aged eight, to take up the instrument. "Nobody else in my family plays, but I'd seen other Shetland fiddlers at concerts, or playing in people's houses, and I decided I'd like to try it – it just looked really good fun, and I really liked the tunes," she says. "I just took to it – even though I play accordion and piano now as well, I still enjoy the fiddle the most. I've always done the traditional and classical stuff together. I find each side helps the other, with things like technique and expression."
Many in the folk world harbour mixed feelings about the competition scene, but Adamson has no such qualms. "I love going to competitions," she says. "It really brings on your playing, because it gives you a goal to work for and makes you practise – plus, you get to meet loads of people. The Shetland scene's pretty competitive, too, with so many young fiddlers around – even more so than on the mainland when we're playing against each other, but it's also really friendly and co-operative. A lot of musicians play in five or six different bands, and people are always ready to help out if someone can't make a gig. It means you get to play loads of types of music – you might be in a blues band one night, a traditional Scottish dance band the next."
All of which is grist to the mill of a player whose Bebo page lists AC/DC, Status Quo, Stephane Grappelli and Maxim Vengerov as "music I lik". As a fan, too, of Cape Breton music, she's chuffed to be sharing the bill with Jerry Holland, elder statesman of that island's fiddle tradition. "I just enjoy trying out as many different styles as possible," Adamson says.
The choice of material on those two CD releases last year, Tammy Norie and Anidder Een! ("The Puffin" and "Another One!" in Shetland dialect) reflects this breadth of taste, taking in swing, gypsy jazz, ragtime and Hungarian material as well as traditional tunes, plus several fine Adamson originals.
A key factor in developing Adamson's cosmopolitan musical palate has been Shetland's annual folk festival, renowned worldwide for the diversity of its programming. "Every year they bring up so many bands from all over that you've never heard of," she says, "and what's brilliant is that you don't just hear all the different music they play, you'll actually get to sit and have a tune with them, or have them show you how they do things: that's been a big inspiration for me."
Adamson takes her Highers this summer, then hopes to study at the RSAMD in Glasgow after sixth year. "I want to do the classical course rather than the Scottish music one," she says. "I just think the type of tuition I'll get that way will be really useful, and I can keep doing the folk stuff on the side. Beyond that, I have no idea: I'm just going to see how it goes." Given the already formidable scope of her musicianship, she certainly won't be short of options.
• Jerry Holland & Friends and Maggie Adamson, tonight, 8pm, St Andrew's in the Square, Glasgow, tel: 0141-353 8000.
What other people are saying
"A definite crowd pleaser, Maggie promises to be a star of the future, with already enough talent to challenge many professional players."
– The Orcadian
"At 15, this Shetland fiddler has more attack than the entire Scottish three-quarter line." "
– Alex Monaghan, Irish Music Magazine
"Arguably the most talented and exciting young fiddler in Shetland today... quite awesome."
– David Gardner, expert