Scots Trad Music Awards: Landmark anniversary will reflect vibrant scene – Brian Ferguson

It may have been shifted to a Sunday, but I doubt that will dull the enthusiasm for the return of one of the biggest events in the Scottish music calendar this weekend.

The Scots Trad Music Awards will be returning to the Caird Hall in Dundee on Sunday.
The Scots Trad Music Awards will be returning to the Caird Hall in Dundee on Sunday.

Dundee’s Caird Hall has become something of a regular, if unlikely, home for the Scots Trad Music Awards – which will celebrate both its 20th edition and the first full-scale celebration possible since 2019 this weekend. For an event that had a relatively low-key start in 2003 and a run of ceremonies at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, “Na Trads” has long been a fixture of the social calendar of many a musician, as well as one of the most high-profile showcases for a scene that has been transformed almost beyond recognition over the last 20 years.

The event, which BBC Alba broadcasts live coverage of every year, has undoubtedly played a part in the growth in popularity of countless acts to have been nominated or perform at the event in that time. But Na Trads has also reflected the vibrancy of the Scots trad music world which feels in ruder health than ever before, despite the travails of the music industry and live entertainment in general.

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Much of that is down to the number of bands and singers who have steadily built followings capable of filling the country’s biggest concert venues. But credit must also go to the numerous festivals that have nurtured and developed these acts, as well as built their own devoted followings.

Although Glasgow’s Celtic Connections event has been probably the biggest single factor in the explosion of interest in trad music, the weekend-long extravaganzas in Shetland and Orkney have been running for a lot longer and are still going as strong as ever. Speyfest and HebCelt, in Fochabers and Stornoway respectively, both recently reached their 25th anniversaries in rude health.

There are plenty of bands who have endured over that period, most notably the Peatbog Faeries, Shooglenifty and Capercaillie. More recent festival favourites such as Elephant Sessions, Niteworks, Talisk, Manran, Breabach, Tide Lines, Kinnaris Quintet have themselves inspired a whole new crop of acts, including Heisk, Trip, Valtos and Eabhal.

The trad music scene has no shortage of top-classic singers to choose from, with Josie Duncan, Iona Fyfe, Beth Malcolm, Robyn Stapleton, Hannah Rarity and Kim Carnie among the breakthrough acts over the last decade. That is partly down to the success and profile of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award, which pre-dated the Scots Trad Music Awards by three years and also benefits hugely from its broadcast coverage.

While trad music acts have become well-practised at using their social media platforms to run campaigns around Na Trads, there is little doubt that many of them have gradually built their audiences thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and now TikTok, tools which were unimaginable when the awards ceremony got off the ground.

But if my previous experiences are anything to go by, competitive rivalries are normally left behind when Na Trads gets underway. With a full-scale shindig finally able to be staged again for the first time in three years, that will hopefully be the case this weekend more than ever before.

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