The Scottish folk community donned its very best bib and tucker at the weekend for the annual Scots Trad Music Awards, at which a record sellout audience of more than 1,000 celebrated the past year’s achievements, with a gusto and thirst to match the event’s unofficial status as the folk scene’s Christmas night out.
Scottish Trad Music Awards - Inverness Leisure Centre
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As the prizes were handed out, more than one speaker remarked on the continuing leaps-and-bounds progress of Scottish roots-based music over the awards’ 12-year history, and the event itself, from the glamorously attired crowd to the smooth, briskly paced production befitting a live TV event – broadcast on BBC Alba – presented a vibrantly gratifying contrast to stereotypes of yesteryear.
Even though it definitely feels like a proper, grown-up awards ceremony, though, it’s not lost its traditional soul. Organised by the Hands Up for Trad development agency, and primarily by its founding director, Simon Thoumire, the proceedings come complete with stylishly dressed tables, video montages of each categories’ nominees, and sparkly gold envelopes from which the winners’ names are revealed. Those envelopes, however, are filled at the kitchen table by Thoumire’s mum, and if his dad hadn’t braved the long, slow drive up a very snowy A9 the day before, those winners would have been missing not only their trophies but their free whisky from sponsor Glenfiddich.
Accepting the Club of the Year award, for the Tin Hut Sessions in rural Aberdeenshire, organiser Fraser Wilson spoke for most of the 18 prize categories – which range from Album, Band and Live Act to Community Project and Music Tutor of the Year – when he observed: “Any one of the nominees would have deserved this – but somebody’s got to win it.” Those final results are decided by an online public vote, with this year’s poll numbering over 100,000. The chosen ones included fiddler Duncan Chisholm, for his Live At Celtic Connections album; the Julie Fowlis Band; Instrumentalist of the Year Catriona McKay and Shetland dance-band institution Da Fustra. There was excellent live entertainment between announcements from a dozen diverse acts, including especially memorable performances from veteran groovemeisters Shooglenifty, Gaelic vocal quartet Cruinn, solo piper Stuart Liddell and Scots singer Siobhan Miller. Jim Sutherland, co-author of the spectacular multi-media show Struileag – Children of the Smoke, won particularly warm applause as Composer of the Year, a more than deserved accolade for one of the key innovators and instigators on the Scottish music scene. Among departed friends in whose honour a glass was raised, was Davie Henderson, longtime anchorman of the Shetland Folk Festival, who was remembered with a standing ovation.
In addition to the official accolades, top prize for best line of the night went to young Highland five-piece The Elephant Sessions, who concluded their acceptance speech for Up and Coming Act of the Year with a nod to the venue’s Aquadome facilities: “If anyone’s looking for us later, we’ll probably be in the flumes”. Mischa MacPherson, who topped the poll for Gaelic Singer of the Year, came a close second with her final thank-you, to “the person who decided it was a good idea to put chocolates on the tables”.
Probably Simon’s mum again.