Brewery’s new prize to help propel rising traditional music stars

Elephant Sessions members Mark Bruce, Alasdair Taylor, Seth Tinsley, Greg Barry and Euan Smilie at Belhaven. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
Elephant Sessions members Mark Bruce, Alasdair Taylor, Seth Tinsley, Greg Barry and Euan Smilie at Belhaven. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
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Scottish brewers Belhaven are to spearhead one of Scotland’s most lucrative cultural prizes to boost rising stars of the traditional music scene.

An annual bursary of £25,000 is to be offered to an up-and-coming act to help raise their profile, with the first award going to Highland group Elephant Sessions.

One of the most acclaimed live bands in the Scottish folk scene, they have wowed crowds at Celtic Connections, and the HebCelt and Glastonbury festivals.

They are planning to mount overseas tours in Europe, the US and Australia under the deal with the East Lothian-based brewery. It has already created an Elephant Sessions Ale, which will be on sale at festivals across the UK.

It will culminate with a slot for the band, who bill their sound as “neo-trad”, at a Belhaven party during New York’s Tartan Week celebrations.

Future winners of the prize – created after the band met representatives of Belhaven at the Lorient Festival in France last summer – will be unveiled following a public vote at the annual Scots Trad Music Awards, where Elephant Sessions won the coveted best album award last year.

Mandolin player Alistair Taylor said: “The idea of the bursary actually came out of talking with Belhaven, jokingly at first, about having our own beer, which we’ve always quite fancied.

“The bursary is totally career-changing for us. We’ve had a couple of albums out and have been touring for a few years, but we’re really starting to expand our market overseas. It will really help us go further afield and help with marketing and promotions.

“It’s going to be a really great thing for the traditional music scene which will help a lot of other bands in future.”

Belhaven said the initiative aimed to amplify emerging talent in Scotland’s folk and traditional music scenes.

Brand manager Gordon Muir said: “We celebrate Scottish culture at home and around the world and we hope the bursary will encourage artists such as Elephant Sessions to take creative risks and be innovative to appeal to existing folk enthusiasts while reaching new audiences.”

Simon Thoumire, founder of the Scots Trad Music Awards, said: “We’re very excited to be part of this new initiative. Elephant Sessions have had a great year and with this support they will go on to have an even better 2019.”

Iseabail MacTaggart, director of strategy and development at MG Alba, operators of BBC Alba, which broadcasts the “Na Trads” ceremony live, said: “We’re delighted for Elephant Sessions … who have delighted our audiences over the years. The bursary will add to the celebration of trad music that is ‘Na Trads’ and the development of the industry’s top talent.”