HE is at the helm of one of Scotland’s biggest festivals, masterminding an invasion of around 2100 musicians who descend on Glasgow every winter.
Now Donald Shaw, who is responsible for more than 300 events at Celtic Connections, has been presented with a major music industry honour - but for his work on two television shows, rather than the 18-day event.
Shaw, who is also a founder member of the folk supergroup Capercaillie, somehow found the time away from organising the UK’s biggest celebration of Celtic music to create the soundtrack for two hugely-different programmes set and made in his native west coast.
His work for the programmes, Hebrides - Islands on the Edge, the acclaimed BBC Scotland wildlife documentary series, and new CBeebies show Katie Morag has seen him named composer of the year at the annual Scots Trad Music Awards, which attracted almost 100,000 online votes and was broadcast live on BBC Alba.
Shaw assembled a star-studded team of musicians, including flautist and piper Michael McGoldrick and fiddler Aidan O’Rourke, to perform on the soundtrack of Hebrides - Islands on the Edge, which was some three years in the making and was narrated by film star Ewan McGregor.
The programme - filmed on Islay, Mull, Tiree, Coll, Barra, Lewis, the Uists, Rum and Skye - received such a huge audience reaction after being shown in Scotland in the spring it was eventually screened across the UK network by the BBC. Footage was also used in tourism campaigns by VisitScotland.
Some 26 episodes of Katie Morag, which features eight-year-old Glasgow youngster Cherry Campbell in the main role as the cheeky heroine, were filmed on Lewis, which is supposed to be the fictional island of Struay featured in Mairi Hedderwick’s picture books. The programme was launched last month.
Shaw, 46, who was in Aberdeen to collect the honour at the traditional music industry’s annual Oscars-style ceremony, has worked on a number of soundtracks before including the feature films Rob Roy, American Cousins and One Last Chance.
He has also collaborated with the likes of Nanci Griffith, Peter Gabriel, Bonnie Raitt, Craig Armstrong, and Soul II Soul during a 30-year career which dates back to the formation of Capercaillie when he was at Oban High School. Shaw admitted he had spent five years turning down requests to work on soundtracks due to his Celtic Connections commitments, but said the chance to work on the BBC wildlife documentary was too good to turn down.
He added: “It was a project I really wanted to do, there hadn’t been anything like it before.
“I just had to try to set aside the time over about four months after Celtic Connections.
“It was quite difficult and intense to do it, but we got a bit of extra funding to bring in more musicians and were able to produce a proper album at the end of it. But there was an element of having a day and a night job when I was working on it.”
Shaw, who will be at the helm of several major events in Glasgow next year to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, was one of the main winners at the annual awards, which also saw one of Scotland’s newest music festivals - where Capercaillie coincidentally headlined this summer - claim the “event of the year” crown.
The honour for the Tiree Music Festival, which was staged for only the fourth time this summer, came just weeks after it won a VisitScotland Thistle Award as the nation’s “best cultural event”.
Tiree’s event - the brainchild of Daniel Gillespie, frontman of the “trad music boy band” Skerryvore - fought off a challenge from two of Scotland’s smallest events, on another Hebridean island, Jura, and in the village of Moniaive, in Dumfriesshire.
Gillespie said: “The event has grown so quickly - when we started we had 600 people the first year and we were up to 1500 last year.
“Although we’re doing an extra day next year the capacity won’t be any higher as there is a limit to how much the public transport infrastructure and the island can handle. A lot of the feedback we’ve had is that people like it as a small festival.”
Simon Thoumire, founder of the awards, which were launched 10 years ago, said of Shaw: “It really is an incredible achievement to be at the head of an event like Celtic Connections, with the huge amount of administration that it involves, and to still be involved in so many creative projects.
“I know from being a musician myself that it is sometimes actually easier to focus on the admin side, as it is a bit more regimented, but Celtic Connections has grown to be such a huge event now that it makes take up at least six months of the year.
“He has done an amazing job at the festival since coming in seven years ago and really managed to steady the ship. The amount of pressure to be on an event and the demands from people must be tremendous.
“It’s a great achievement for the Tiree Music Festival to have done so well after just a few years. It’s a great example of how to build on what an amazing location like that can already offer visitors and it can have a massive impact on the local economy. It’s also been marketed extremely well since it was launched. Most of the people who go to it would not otherwise have been to Tiree.”
The National Piping Centre in Glasgow, which is hosting a new late-night club at Celtic Connections next month and is also a lynchpin of the city’s “Piping Live!” festival in August, was named venue of the year at the awards, which move around the country each year. The 2014 event will be staged in Inverness as part of the city’s Homecoming celebrations.
The piping centre was up against Shetland’s multi-million pound new arts centre, Mareel, the A’ The Airts complex in Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire, and Edinburgh’s controversial “house concerts” venue - which has been at the centre of a long-running feud between photographer Douglas Robertson, who has staged gigs in his converted studio for around a decade, and the city council. The winner of the coveted men’s gold medal prize at this year’s Royal National Mod, 19-year-old singer Robert Robertson, from Fort William, was named the up-and-coming artist of the year. Robertson, who also plays with the ceilidh band Skippinish, said: “It’s been an amazing year and I was really just enjoying the night, happy to be nominated, when I heard I’d won. I didn’t know what to say when I went up on stage, but it really is the cherry on the cake.”
Breabach, headliners at last weekend’s St Andrew’s Day celebrations in Edinburgh, won the coveted best live act award, while “Folklub”, a regular night staged at Glasgow music venue and cafe-bar Stereo, won the club of the year honour.
One of Scotland’s longest running folk acts, Blazin’ Fiddles, who were set up in the Highlands in 1998, were named best band.
It was a double celebration for founder member Bruce MacGregor, who was also honoured for his BBC Radio Scotland programme Travelling Folk.
However he said: “As a country we’ve been producing world-class traditional musicians for years, but I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve on television.
“We just one have programme we have at the moment, Transatlantic Sessions, but it is Irish and American musicians who are on it every week.”
The lifetime achievement award at the event was presented to folk song scholar Dr Emily Lyle, a key figure with Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies for several decades and editor of several key historic collections.
Thoumire, who led a small committee of enthusiasts to put together the first ceremony at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh in 2003, said: “With the live TV coverage and the scale of the event now, we are finding growing demand from different parts of the country to host the awards. We have already confirmed next year’s ceremony will be going to Inverness and have booked up the leisure centre there.
In her opening address at the event, Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, praised the contribution of major ambassadors for the traditional music scene, including Gaelic songstress Julie Fowlis, who was recognised at last year’s ceremony for her work on the soundtrack of the Oscar winning Disney-Pixar film Brave and rising stars Manran, who recently performed out in China during Alex Salmond’s major trade mission.
She said: “These awards come at a time when we are launched into a national debate about Scotland’s future.
“What I think absolutely everyone can agree on, is that Scotland’s traditional arts are not just a precious inheritance from our past but a vital part of that future.
“Scotland’s traditional arts and music are not archaic and parochial, but modern and international.”
Donald Campbell, chief executive of Gaelic media firm MG Alba, the event’s principal sponsors for the last five years, said: “The Trads recognise those that have achieved excellence and we are delighted to have been involved once again.”
Album of the Year: Room Enough For All by Battlefield Band
Club of the Year: Folklub (Glasgow)
Composer of the Year: Donald Shaw
Community Project of the Year: Gizzen Briggs (Tain Royal Academy)
Event of the Year: Tiree Music Festival
Gaelic Singer of the Year: Rachel Walker
Instrumentalist of the Year: Chris Stout
Live Act of the Year: Breabach
Scots Singer of the Year: Siobhan Miller
Scottish Dance Band of the Year: Trail West
Scottish Folk Band of the Year: Blazin’ Fiddles
Pipe Band of the Year: Ullapool and District Junior Pipe Band
Trad Music in the Media: BBC Radio Scotland Travelling Folk
Music Tutor of the Year: Corrina Hewat
Up and Coming Artist of the Year: Robert Robertson
Venue of the Year: National Piping Centre (Glasgow)
Hamish Henderson Award (for services to traditional music): Dr Emily Lyle