Ones to watch in 2022: Beth Malcolm, musician

With a new album in the pipeline and a string of live dates in the diary, the future’s looking bright for singer-songwriter Beth Malcolm. Interview by Jim Gilchrist

Beth Malcolm PIC: Graeme Rogers
Beth Malcolm PIC: Graeme Rogers

Back in April, when singer-songwriter and pianist Beth Malcolm videoed herself performing her award-winning composition Leavin’ Loch Leven for the Scotsman Sessions, she was fretting at the constrictions of lockdown and the absence of live music-making, while remarking that she reckoned all her pent-up frustrations would “translate into sheer joy when it happens”. Eight months on, back singing in sessions and providing backing vocals on other artists’ recordings, the Perth-raised, Edinburgh-based Malcolm is poised to embark on touring and on recording her own debut album.

Not that the past year got her down – far from it: “It was actually a very good year for me,” she says. “I think my confidence in my own sound and what I’ve been putting out there has really grown.”

Malcolm’s convincingly passionate delivery of her songs has enjoyed considerable video exposure, not least two brief but affecting appearances during last January’s online Celtic Connections, as well as an impressive rendition of her song Choose My Company with the fusion big band Fat-Suit and some notable appearances with Ross Wilson, aka Blue Rose Code.

“I got a little bit more attention because of the Celtic Connections opportunity, but now, with gigs starting to open up, I’ve been meeting a lot more people and singing on other people’s albums and I feel I’m now at a place where I’m ready to release a longer body of work, hopefully it’ll be late this year and I’m in preparation mode for that.”

She may be an adeptly genre-spanning contemporary artist, but Malcolm is firmly rooted in tradition – or, as she puts it, “a product of sheer indoctrination”. Her father, Jim Malcolm, is one of Scotland’s best respected traditional singers, as well as being an accomplished songwriter himself, and Beth frequently performed with him and her mother Susie.

Not that she didn’t ever rebel: “I think that part of having your parents singing and playing around you is that it’s quite natural to have a period when you become deeply unenthused by the folk scene and you go off and experiment with pop music. But that time was actually useful for me as an artist and I now feel, coming back to the folk scene, that I really do have my own sound worked out.”

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A background like hers, she agrees, was always bound to engender an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary. She draws inspiration from current songsmiths such as Kris Drever, Karine Polwart and the Poozies’ Sarah McFadyen, “so my vision for the album is to have lots of traditional-sounding instruments with what will be my own really modern Scottish songwriting, although there might be the odd nod to the tradition.”

Such a nod can be seen on her Scotsman Session, where she prefixes her own song, Leavin’ Loch Leven, with a verse from the late Jim Reid’s The Greylag Geese.

Leavin’ Loch Leven, which conflates the lochside natural environment with Mary Queen of Scots, who was imprisoned there, was clearly a song of good fortune for her, winning the In Tune with Nature award promoted by the traditional arts organisation Fèis Rois and the government agency NatureScot in 2020. Earlier that year she had collected a coveted “Danny” award at Celtic Connections. In fact that appearance on the festival’s Danny Kyle Open Stage was her last live gig until recently.

She’s now making up for lost time. While she maintains her day job as a history teacher – “a lot of my musical interests overlap with history, and teaching is a performance too” – she has become a regular sessioneer at Edinburgh’s Captain’s Bar, a popular singing session pub, has been in Glasgow’s GloWorm Studio recording harmony vocals for Adam Holmes’s next album and has also been working with electronic fusion outfit Niteworks on music to be released early this year.

She also hopes to join a German tour of young Scots traditional musicians, originally planned for next month but now possibly facing postponement until later in the year due to Covid: “The situation is still unclear but the tour will happen, whether it’s in February or not, and I’m really looking forward to playing with the likes of Ali Levack, Luc McNally and Andrew Waite. They’re all fabulous musicians.”

She is unashamedly enthusiastic at the prospect of making her first full album (she has previously released two EPs), with a view to going into the studio in the summer and releasing it by the end of the year: “It’s exciting. I’m really enjoying approaching young folkies and asking them to be involved, the same with filmmakers because I want to make videos accompanying some of the tracks.”

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Malcolm turned 24 on 30 November – St Andrew’s Day. “It’s a good time to reflect on the year gone by,” she says, “and I’m definitely raring to go.”

For further details, see www.bethmalcolm.com

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