Music interview: Moshen Amini on performing with Talisk and Ímar and the importance of the Scots Trad Music Awards

Mohsen Amini
Mohsen Amini
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Mohsen Amini is no stranger to music award ceremonies. At 25, the Glasgow-based concertina virtuoso, who plays in the trio Talisk and the quintet Ímar, has a sizeable clutch of folk gongs to his credit. During 2016 alone he was nominated as Instrumentalist of the Year in the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards, became Musician of the Year in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and won the Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition.

In 2014 the newly-founded Talisk had already won a Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections, going on to collect a BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award the following year before becoming Folk Band of the Year in the 2017 Scots Trad Music Awards. And as Perth Concert Hall prepares to host those same Scots Trad Music Awards and Gala Concert tonight – the “folk Oscars” – both bands have again been nominated for recognition, with Ímar shortlisted with nine other contenders for the Folk Band of the Year Category and Talisk for a prestigious £25,000 Belhaven Bursary for Innovation in Music, the largest cash prize of its kind in Scotland.

Tonight’s awards bash, which sees the folk world turn out in best bib and tucker, will see live performances from such distinguished names as Croft No 5, Karine Polwart, Mànran and Gerda Stevenson. Between acts, presenters Mary Ann Kennedy and Kim Carnie will announce the results for the 17 award categories, public voting on which closed last Friday.

On this occasion, says Amini, who returns from touring Denmark with Talisk the day before the gala, he won’t be playing – “I’ll just be sitting back biting my nails”.

“They’re always really good for your career,” he says of awards. “When we started Talisk four years ago, we won the Radio 2 award and that pushed us into all these realty big festivals like Cambridge and Cropredy, so that gave us a massive step up. Then when I won the Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician in 2017, it was around the same time that we launched Ímar, so that helped push our album.

“Then when I got the Musician of the Year and Talisk won the Folk Band award, it made people stop thinking of us as young musicians. After a while you want to get away from being the young musician on the block.”

Between Talisk, with Hayley Keenan on fiddle and guitarist Graeme Armstrong, and the Scots-Irish-Manx Ímar (fiddler Tomás Callister, Adam Brown on bodhrán and guitar, flautist and uillean piper Ryan Murphy and Adam Rhodes on bouzouki), Amini maintains a gruelling schedule and in fact pulled out of a third band, the quartet Fourth Moon, at the beginning of the year.

His high-energy concertina attack is clearly in demand; however, his chops might just have ended up as karate ones. Growing up in Glasgow, the son of English and Iranian parents, there was no music at home, but a family friend was taking her daughter to an Irish dancing class. “I went along for maybe six months and at one of the competitions I was chatting to the musicians of the local Comhaltas [the organisation that promotes Irish music] and they told me they did classes. I thought I might go to Comhaltas for a night, not like it and just go to karate. Instead, here I am still playing 15 years later.”

Having recently launched two new albums, Beyond with Talisk and Avalanche with Ímar, Amini will play at Celtic Connections in January, before embarking on travels in Denmark, Ireland and America with Ímar, a spring UK tour with Talisk, then international festivals over the summer.

He’s clearly not one for the quiet life: “I absolutely love it. I’m delighted when I see people clapping along and smiling. Making people happy – it’s the best job in the world.”

The MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards are broadcast on 1 December on BBC Alba at 9pm. For details, visit www.projects.handsupfortrad.scot/scotstradmusicawards