Cassells pipes up for Trad Awards

WHEN the inaugural Scots Trad Music Awards were dispensed at the Queen's Hall in 2003, they were hailed as the "trad music industry's answer to the MTV Awards".

As he puts the finishing touches to the third event, Simon Thoumire stands by that description. "I still believe they are because, like the MTV awards, they are about bringing the music into the public eye and celebrating it," says the delighted organiser.

This year's ceremony, on Saturday at the Queen's Hall, will once again celebrate Scotland's rich and diverse musical heritage and in so doing, create a high-profile annual event that puts traditional music firmly centre stage.

"The way the awards have grown and grown since that first year is just amazing, the votes have increased 100-fold and come from all over the world.

"We now get thousands upon thousands of votes. In the first year I was able to look at them as they came in to get an idea how it was going; now there's no point - they come in crates."

The first Trad Awards recognised nominees in 15 different categories. Then, winners included Karine Polwart (Best Scots Singer), Phil Cunningham (Best Instrumentalist) and The Battlefield Band (Best Live Act). The 2004 awards boasted an additional three categories and saw the likes of Dick Gaughan (Scots Singer of the Year) and Blazin' Fiddles (Best Live Act) honoured, while this year's bash will include for the first time the inducting of six performers into a newly created Trad Hall of Fame.

Thoumire explains: "Being nominated for an award is great for the performers and if they win it can be a real boost for their careers. To have an award behind you is a big selling point."

And Edinburgh is well represented at this year's awards, with no fewer than eight local acts and venues up for a gong.

Musicians Aaron Jones and Aidan O'Rourke are both nominated for Instrumentalist Of The Year; the Stoneyport Agency is up for the Services to Industry Award; Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham are in contention for Live Act Of The Year, while George Watson's School Pipe Band hope to march away from the ceremony as Scottish Pipe Band Of The Year. Finally, Sandy Bells and The Royal Oak are both in the running for The McEwan's Sessions Venue Of The Year Award 2005.

Compered by BBC Scotland's Mary Ann Kennedy and Iain Anderson, an exciting bill of performers have been lined up to play this year, including Blazin' Fiddles, the Maggie MacInnes Band, Jim Malcolm, the Kirkwall City Pipe Band, The Occasionals and Stuart Cassells and his band.

Cassells, who won the 2005 BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year, can currently be heard on the soundtrack of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, providing the pipes on Do The Hippogriff, which is played by the Weird Sisters during the Hogwarts' Yule Ball.

"We'll be performing a couple of sets from the new album, which is due out in January," says Cassells, after a whirlwind year in which he not only landed the BBC accolade and the Harry Potter film but also found himself performing with The Darkness.

"It's been a brilliant year. I'm just wondering when it's all going to stop because I seem to have been so lucky," he laughs.

"Goblet of Fire came about after I performed at a big dinner for the Fellows of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. One of the Fellows is Patrick Doyle the composer, who was in charge of the music for this Harry Potter film. When he was looking for a bagpiper he remembered me."

Cassells, who was the first student to leave the Royal College of Music and Drama with an honours degree in piping, also played on One Way Ticket To Hell, the new album by The Darkness - he met Dan Hawkins and the glam-rockers when his own band, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, played T in the Park.

He says: "At T in the Park we were invited by The Darkness to play with them on the stage. They were just laid-back guys and we got to know them. Then I met them again at a festival in Spain and they asked me to play a bit on their new album, which was released on Monday."

Right now Cassells is channelling all his energies into Saturday's awards ceremony, although he admits he is nervous about entertaining an audience of his peers. "It's great that we now have the Trad Music Awards and people are being recognised for their achievements throughout the year," he says. "Hopefully in the future I'll be nominated for one myself.

"And although it's a fantastic honour to be asked to play at the awards, it's also nerve-wracking because there's not a harder audience you could ask to perform in front of than one of your peers and promoters."

• Queen's Hall, Clerk Street, Saturday, 7.30pm, 12-15, 0131-668 2019