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Issue 45 - Where to discover folk music...

Scotland Magazine Issue 45
June 2009


This article is 9 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Where to discover folk music...

Scottish folk music has evolved from Scotland's culture and history and has an identity all of its own. Dominic Roskrow reports.

Big woolly jumpers, unkempt beards, overanguished singers declaring their troth to a love they have left behind... yes, folk music rubs shoulders with the likes of Keith Chegwin, mullets, the Birdie Song, Dun Roamin and tank tops at the high end of the naff top 10.

Or at least it did, because something very strange has been going on. Folk, its roots stretching far back in the culture and history of not just Scotland but Great Britain and Ireland, and its tentacles stretching out to a worldwide diaspora stretching from Australia to the United States, has been reinventing itself.

Indeed now some of the world’s hippest new bands have their roots firmly in the tradition, and across the British Isles all sorts of exciting acts are rising up to bring a song-writing and story-telling tradition to a new generation.

Never more was this the case than in Scotland, where for several years now the like of Runrig and Capercaillie have fused traditional Celtic folk into contemporary modern idioms and produced distinctly Scottish but highly energetic and stylish music at the same time. They have been joined in recent times by a new wave of folk artists that have moved the cause forward while still paying homage to all that has gone before.

Scottish folk music has its roots in various traditional styles but the modern version of it has been borne from the folk boom of the 1960s.

Somewhat ironically the folk scene that grew up in the hippy era took as its reference points American music, and the burgeoning scene that came from the hippy movement. But cast further back and it’s clear that that scene in itself had derived from the music brought by exiles and ex-patriots from Scotland and Ireland who had settled across the world in the wake of social upheaval and tragedies such as the Clearances and the potato famine respectively.

Arguably Scottish folk developed from two distinctive historical threads. The first is from the Gaelic tradition, which continues to thrive in the Highlands and islands and stretches back centuries.

One of Scotland’s great cultural events in the Mod, a celebration of all aspects of Gaelic culture but particularly music and poetry, held every October.

But the Lowlands has a strong folk tradition, too, with links to the folk scene of the north of England and developed with a strong identity of its own.

Such cultural traditions have grown stronger in recent years and they have been integrated into a contemporary context so that today it is not uncommon to hear traditional jigs and reels played on pipes, fiddles and accordions mixed in with electric instruments and guitars.

To get a full feel for the pure diversity of styles under the folk banner it’s well worth checking out the Celtic Connections festival staged in Glasgow every January and bringing together some of the world’s best acts.

On a more local level, many pubs and bars have folk nights and you’ll be able to find somewhere to go pretty much any night of the week. Throughout the year there are festivals and special events featuring live folk acts and in centres such as Glasgow there is barely a week without a special performance or two. There are far too many to list them all so here’s a guide to some of our favourites.


The Royal Oak, Infirmary Street Not far from the Royal Mile this pub has sessions every night and some afternoons and is a meeting placer for some of Scotland’s top acts.

Tel: +44 (0)131 557 2976 Sandy Bell’s, Forrest Road Asmall pub and not much to look at but this pub has a legendary history and attracts some of the most respected folk musicians in the country.

Arguably one of the best live venues on the planet.

Tel: +44 (0)131 225 2751 WHERE TO BUY...

Coda, Bank Street on the Mound Covers an eclectic mix of music but with a heavy emphasis on folk. You can listen to pretty much anything they stock before you buy, and the enthusiastic staff are only too happy to share their knowledge with you and guide you in the right direction.

Tel: +44 (0)131 622 7246 GLASGOW WHERE TO HEAR...

Glasgow hosts a large number of festivals and special events and is a thriving base for great music. Scores of bars host sessions and there are plenty of good gig guides published in the city to pick from. Special mention nevertheless goes to the following.

West End Open Mic Nights The West End of Glasgow is a diners’ and barfly’s paradise an bars there have been partaking in Open Mic nights, when on a given evening musicians turn up for sessions and perform.

There’s an emphasis on Scottish music and if you’re lucky you may get the chance to hear some of the greats performing acoustic versions of their best works.

Laurie’s Acoustic Music Bar, King Street, Merchant City Laurie’s is at the heart of Glasgow’s folk scene and has been a home to traditional acoustic music for many years. But it’s not scared of opening itself up to new trends either, and among other events stages an Americana evening occasionally.

There’s a ceilidh every Saturday.

Tel: +44 (0)141 552 7123 Oran Mor, Great Western Road There’s something for everyone in this converted church site. The large pub area is a comfortable place to enjoy a drink or two, there’s a good selection of whisky and there are events on several floors, including some great folk sessions and performances from touring and international acts.

Tel: +44 (0)141 357 6200 ABERDEEN WHERE TO HEAR...

Aberdeen Folk Club The Aberdeen Folk club is said to be the oldest folk club in Scotland and it meets weekly for a free session at which you can contribute or simply watch. Its meeting time was Wednesday evenings at the Blue Lamp at Gallowgate but if you’re visiting the city contact the club in advance to find out what it’s up to. The Lemon Tree, West North Street The Lemon Tree is a sizeable venue that stages a mix of arts and music events and among these are regular folk events as well as concerts by performing international artists.

Tel: +44 (0)1224 641 122 INVERNESS WHERE TO HEAR...

Hootananny, Church Street Amusic lovers’ paradise, with three main areas and a mix of music from contemporary in one bar to the Ceilidh Cafe Bar, where traditional folk sessions are held four nights a week and there are weekend ceilidhs. The venue attracts quality acts and serves cask ale and Thai food. Almost a recipe for perfection we think.

Tel: +44 (0)1463 233 651 Ironworks, Academy Street This is a sizeable venue – it has a capacity of about 1,000 for standing gigs – and stages some of Britain’s top touring acts. But it also regularly stages folk evenings and events, and a full list of forthcoming shows can be found on the website.

Tel: +44 (0)871 789 4173