Na Trads: Fisherman honoured for protest song at Scottish music awards gala
A Hebridean fisherman has been honoured at Scotland's annual traditional music Oscars for a protest song about attempts to introduce new controversial curbs on his industry.
Donald Francis (DF) MacNeil, from Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides, made his recording debut as he joined forces with the Celtic pop-rock outfit Skipinnish on “The Clearances Again.”
Their efforts were recognised at the annual Scots Trad Music Awards in Dundee, where the protest song – instigated in response to the Scottish Government’s plans to create highly protected marine areas where fishing would be restricted – was honoured as the best original work of the last year.
The song was written by Skipinnish co-founder and fisherman Angus MacPhail.
He was also named best new writer at the awards in recognition of his regular column in the Oban Times, in the inaugural year of a new journalism prize created in memory of Sue Wilson, a long-time critic and writer for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday.
The event, which saw leading Scots trad acts like Julie Fowlis, Duncan Chisholm, Iona Fyfe, Blazin’ Fiddles and Trail West recognised, featured a musical tribute to BBC Scotland presenter Robbie Shepherd, who passed away in August.
The Clearances Again reached number four in the mainstream UK download charts when it was released in April, with its lyrics subsequently quoted by all the main parties during debates at Holyrood. Weeks later, the government pulled the plug on the plans and pledged to consult further with the fishing industry.
However a new version of the song with Gaelic lyrics penned by MacPhail’s mother Flora and featuring guest appearances by many of Scotland's leading Gaelic singers, including Julie Fowlis, Karen Matheson, Kathleen MacInnes and Mary Ann Kennedy, was released last month with a new video to keep the pressure on the government.
MacPhail, from Tiree, said: “We’re thrilled to have been recognised and we’d like to thank all those who took the time to vote for The Clearances Again.
“We set out to write and record a song that would send a message to politicians, loud and clear, that Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) would devastate our coastal communities, their economies and their way of life. We know that message was heard and the Scottish Government took action.
“I have known DF for many years and understand what fishing means to him, his family and his community.
“Therefore, it was an honour to present The Clearances Again from his perspective, telling his story to illustrate what was at stake so listeners could understand the depth of feeling and dismay at what was being proposed.
“We are grateful to DF for allowing himself to be the subject of the song and for putting his fine voice to it as lead vocals – it was the only way it could’ve worked with such impact..”
MacNeil added: “This has been an amazing journey and I’m delighted to have contributed to a piece of work that secured this award. It’s a worthy winner.
“Angus wrote a beautifully powerful song that made a real difference in securing my way of life and that of my children and grandchildren.
"The Clearances Again expertly illustrated the real life implications of Holyrood policy on our communities and I believe the powerful writing and beautiful music meant the song spurred on many who wanted to join our fight.”
The awards saw Julie Fowlis, who is originally from North Uist, named musician of the year. Skye singer Eilidh Cormack was named Gaelic singer of the year, while Iona Fyfe, from Huntly, in Aberdeenshire, was named Scots best Scots singer at the awards, which are known as “Na Trads.”
Tiree outfit Trail West were named best live act while the Orkney Folk Festival took away the best event prize.
Traditional arts Donald Smith, the founder of the Scottish Storytelling Festival, which has been running since 1989, was honoured with the Hamish Henderson Services to Traditional Music Award.
He said: “Hamish Henderson burst the dam of nay-saying and repression in Scottish life. He's a life force who lets everyone into the flow. Hearty thanks to everyone behind the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards for reminding us that we're putting our steps in the footprint of giants.”
Singer-songwriter and broadcaster Frieda Morrison was recognised for services to the Scots language, while broadcaster, author and poet John Urquhart was honoured for his services to Gaelic.
FULL LIST OF WINNERS
● Album of the Year, sponsored by Birnam CD: Black Cuillin by Duncan Chisholm
● Musician of the Year sponsored by The University of the Highlands and Islands: Julie Fowlis
● Citty Finlayson Scots Singer of the Year, sponsored by Traditional Music and Song Association: Iona Fyfe
● Gaelic Singer of the Year, sponsored by The Highland Society of London: Eilidh Cormack
● Live Act of the Year, sponsored by Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust: Trail West
● Folk Band of the Year, sponsored by Threads of Sound: Blazin’ Fiddles
● Scottish Pipe Band of the Year, sponsored by The National Piping Centre: The Peoples Ford Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band
● Scottish Dance Band of the Year, sponsored by National Association of Accordion and Fiddle Clubs: Iain MacPhail
● Up and Coming Artist of the Year, sponsored by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland: The Shands
● Event of the Year, sponsored by VisitScotland: Orkney Folk Festival
● Original Work of the Year, sponsored by Musicians’ Union: The Clearances Again by Donald Francis MacNeil and Skipinnish
● Community Project of the Year, sponsored by Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland: Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail
● Trad Music in the Media, sponsored by Glasgow Caledonian University: Travelling Folk, BBC Radio Scotland
● Music Tutor of the Year, sponsored by Creative Scotland's Youth Music Initiative: Domhnall Bàn MacDonald
● Club of the Year: The Gaitherin South Sessions, Glasgow
● Venue of the Year: The Tolbooth, Stirling
● Composer of the Year, sponsored by PRS for Music: Heidi Talbot
● Graphic designer of the Year: Somhairle MacDonald
● Traditional Music Enabler of the Year: Mhari McLeman, Shetland Folk Festival
● Photographer of the Year: Euan Robertson Photography
● Stage Technician of the Year: Gary Craig, The Ceilidh Place
● The Sue Wilson New Writer Award, sponsored by Songlines Magazine: Angus MacPhail
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