Year of the singers: Napier and Fyfe both up for Musician of the Year at Trad Awards

Findlay Napier and Iona Fyfe have both been nominated for Musician of the Year at next month’s MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards in Glasgow. Interviews by Jim Gilchrist

Findlay Napier
Findlay Napier

Not long to go, now, before the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards on 4 December, the Scottish folk scene’s glitzy annual jamboree, though curtailed audience-wise this year due to Covid restrictions. Interestingly, two nominees in the Musician of the Year category happen to be singers, from different generations and backgrounds, easing themselves out of the pandemic-related doldrums.

For respected Glasgow-based singer-songwriter Findlay Napier, lockdown didn’t curtail writing or – thanks to the wonders of internet communications – the making his newly released fourth album, It Is What It Is, created by himself and producer-keyboardist Angus Lyon at the latter’s Gran’s House studio in the Borders during the first and second easings of lockdown. Napier wrote the poignant title track around a piano phrase from Lyon, then it and other tracks gradually gained bass and drum tracks sent respectively by Euan Burton and Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbott, with artists as far apart as Canada and Denmark contributing backing vocals or the slide guitar and snappy brass that punctuate the song, Piece of My Heart, which Napier co-wrote with Boo Hewerdine. Nearer to home, his wife, fiddler-singer Gillian Frame, also contributed.

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The 43-year-old Napier regards it as “weird” that, unlike previous albums, this one doesn’t have a particular theme – “Just Angus and me in the studio. In a way it’s a duo album.”

Iona Fyfe PIC: Elly Lucas

Napier also recently brought out Quantum Lyrics, a highly enjoyable science-orientated EP with Oxford singer Megan Henwood. The EP, which they’ve been been touring, with a last gig in Aviemore on 7 December, opens apocalyptically with a song about 1800 – the “year without a summer”, caused by the massive eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora. A primer for Cop 26? “That was just luck. The point is that it was about a natural disaster, but we are our own natural disaster.”

Of his nomination, he says, “It’s not easy at all being a musician at the moment, so even being nominated is a real honour. Musician of the Year? At first I thought … really? But I’ve had a career making music for 20-odd years so I am a musician.”

Also Glasgow-based but raised in the ballad heartland of Aberdeenshire, 23-year-old Iona Fyfe (who appears on Take the Floor on Radio Scotland on 27 November) was Scots Singer of the Year in the 2018 Trad Awards. “It gave me a sort of legitimacy – not that I didn’t have legitimacy before,” says Fyfe, an assured interpreter of traditional song who studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. “But I am a musician. I’ve played piano all my life. I just dinnae dae it publically because I think it’s a wall between me and the audience, which is why I work with folk like Michael Biggins or Graham Rorie.”

Despite suffering from the debilitating condition fibromyalgia, Fyfe has had a pretty busy lockdown. As well as being a board member of the Musicians’ Union, she is an energetic campaigner for broader recognition of her native Scots tongue, lobbying politicians for a Scots Language Act, and recently featured in the Wall Street Journal, in an article about the resurgence of interest in Scots. Determined to promote use of the leid in genres other than traditional, earlier this year she recorded a contemporary-sounding single in Scots, The Cauld, released online and played by Mark Radcliffe on Radio 2.

She hopes to record two very different albums in the new year, one of traditional songs collected in the North-East by the American folklorist James Madison Carpenter, the other in the same contemporary vein as The Cauld – “Sangs that tak the Scots language but wheech it right out of the folk-trad genre.”

With live performances from Ímar, Dàimh, Hannah Rarity and others, The MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards will be held at Glasgow’s Engine House on 4 December, and broadcast on BBC Alba at 9pm that evening. See www.scotstradmusicawards.com

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