Youthful connections to the auld traditions

CAUGHT in the act are the latest bunch of alarmingly talented young singers and musicians to cut a live album under the auspices of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland. Launched during the freshly subsided Celtic Connections spree, TMSA Young Trad Tour 2007 – Live captures the winner and finalists of last year’s BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician competition on stages from Fochabers to Hawick, during the TMSA autumn tour which is now an annual event.

The result is some quality music-making, from the fine Gaelic singing of the 2007 competition winner, Catriona Watt from Lewis, to the fast-rising young Border fiddler Shona Mooney, who won in 2006, plus an impressive clutch of finalists such as piper Calum MacCrimmon, now a member of the powerful Highland band Breabach, and guitarist and fiddler Innes Watson, these days cropping up in the Fred Morrison Band, the Border Fiddlers and the Lori Watson Three.

The TMSA’s national director, Kay Thomson, herself a singer, regards the new recording as the best yet since the association started touring and recording the competition finalists four years ago: “I think it’s nothing short of staggering,” she says, “the level of musicianship and professionalism, and I think it shows promise of a real future for traditional music in Scotland.”

No-one would doubt it, though one can’t help noting that several of these formidable young talents attend or have attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, currently the subject of no little concern as it looks for staff cuts in a bid to make savings of 600,000. The head of its unique Scottish music degree course, Brian McNeill, recently left, amid circumstances which remain unclear, although the subsequent appointment of renowned composer and broadcaster Phil Cunningham as artistic director might suggest that his predecessor’s sudden exit was unconnected to the redundancies now being sought. However, the fact Cunningham has been appointed on a part-time basis continues to provoke murmurs of concern – though the RSAMD’s principal, John Wallace, recently issued a strong statement reiterating the establish- ment’s commitment to traditional music.

Thomson welcomes Cunningham’s appointment: “I think all of us are relieved and delighted that someone with the stature of Phil Cunningham has taken the post, albeit part-time, and we can only hope that someone with his profile may help there to be more funding forthcoming for traditional music.”

And she cites the phenomenal success of Cunningham’s Scotland’s Music series on BBC2 last autumn. Indeed, such was the response to one particular sequence, when Gaelic singer and folklorist Margaret Bennett talked to Cunningham about losing her son, the brilliantly innovative musician Martyn, to cancer in 2005, that she has been moved to release a three-track CD, Love and Loss.

The disc (available from Coda Music, Edinburgh) features two previously unreleased songs with Martyn himself accompanying them. Listening may move you to tears, but in a good cause: proceeds will endow the Martyn Bennett Memorial Scholarship at the RSAMD.

&#149 For further details, see www.tmsa.org.uk. There is a Martyn Bennett Trust fund-raising concert at George Watson’s College, Edinburgh, on 1 March, featuring Margaret Bennett, James Ross, Aillie Robertson, Amy Geddes, among others. For details, call 01875 835229, or e-mail