Callanish Stones

The Callanish Stones

Making a noise for trad music

Celebrating Scotland’s heritage is about so much more than battlefields and archaeological digs, with VisitScotland launching a marketing campaign to promote our nation’s vibrant traditional music scene.

Mention the theme for the “Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology” to most visitors and they’ll begin to imagine the historical sites and epic battles that shaped Scotland’s past. From the Callanish Stones to Skara Brae and the battlefields of Bannockburn and Culloden, Scotland’s landscape is steeped in the history of her people.

Yet our nation’s proud history isn’t simply forged in claymores and broadswords – music plays a crucial role in Scotland’s heritage. There’s far more to Scottish traditional music than the bagpipes and chanter though; listen to a Shetlander playing a fiddle or Julie Fowlis singing the Gaelic songs of her beloved Hebrides and the hairs are almost guaranteed to stand-up on the back of your neck.

Tune into Another Country or Travelling Folk on BBC Radio Scotland or The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe on BBC Radio 2 and it’s impossible to escape the influence of Scottish musicians. Traditional music didn’t end in the black-and-white era of The White Heather Club – it’s alive and well and thriving throughout Scotland.

As part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, VisitScotland has launched a marketing campaign to encourage “millennial” Scots – people who were born in the late seventies and early eighties and who came of age around the time of the millennium – to engage with traditional music and to travel to the events and festivals taking place across the country to experience the vibe and energy that this music scene offers.

“Of all aspects of our rich Scottish heritage, I think it must truly be in our music that we see the true spirit of Scotland come to life,” explains Malcolm Roughead, chief executive at VisitScotland. “Scotland is home to a fantastic array of music festivals that provides a platform for our exciting and evolving traditional music scene. We want to share this incredible part of our culture with our young people and show the changing face of traditional music, in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

“This year, Scotland will celebrate both our tangible and intangible heritage – everything from our buildings and archaeological sites to our diverse stories, traditions and culture – of which our traditional music is a key part. With millennial Scots already spending £267m each year travelling in Scotland, there is huge market potential for our traditional music events to tap into.”

BElladrum 01Between 2013 and 2015 there were an average of 177,000 trips each year from across the UK to music festivals in Scotland, which together were worth £65m to the economy. Over the same period, an average of 402,000 trips were made to music concerts each year, generating a combined £117m.

“Scotland is a connected country,” explains Simon Thoumire, creative director at Hands Up for Trad, a project that was launched in 2002 to promote Scottish traditional music. “People, young and old, understand our culture and feel close to it. In our bones, we all understand trad music and its amazing energy and we all know how to dance a Dashing White Sergeant.

“We welcome this campaign from VisitScotland. Trad music is the spine of Scotland and it is an amazing tool to connect our young people with our culture and heritage.”

One of the jewels in the crown of Scotland’s traditional music scene is Celtic Connections, the 18-day festival that runs in Glasgow from the end of January to the start of February. This year’s festival brought together 2,375 artists from 50 countries, playing 800 hours of music at 300 gigs in 20 venues.

More than 110,000 people attended this year’s Celtic Connections, the tenth year in a row that the festival has smashed through the 100,000-milestone figure. The gathering will mark its silver anniversary next year [2018] and its artistic director, Donald Shaw, is aiming to hold at least one show at the city’s Hydro arena, the largest entertainment venue in Scotland, with seats for 12,000 music fans.

In excess of 80% of its events were sold out this year, with the tally of 176 full houses rising by 69 over the previous year, demonstrating the enduring popularity of Scottish traditional music.

“When I look at Scotland’s trad music scene, I see young talent grabbing the spotlight with both hands,” says Alan Morrison, head of music at Creative Scotland. “We have fantastic young singers, fiddlers, accordionists, pipers and instrumentalists of every type and all of them are leading our cultural heritage towards a bright future.

“Creative Scotland is committed to funding the next generation of trad culture, ensuring that our young musicians get the space to perform at festivals here and abroad, step up to the next level by recording their debut album and receive opportunities to collaborate with established names from the folk sector.

Belladrum 01“It’s only a matter of time before young gig-going audiences realise that their peers on the trad scene are among the coolest and most exciting musicians that this country has to offer.”

Ruairidh Graham, the drummer from Isle of Skye-based band Niteworks, adds: “Scotland has experienced a sea change in musical culture, and the lead on this has undoubtedly been the trad and folk scene.

“In our lifetimes, we have been fortunate to have witnessed the evolution of the trad music scene from small, niche corners, to being front and centre of the country’s musical landscape. This has had a huge impact, particularly amongst a young generation of musicians who have gained the confidence to take pride in their musical heritage, and to experiment with it in various ways.

“We are fully supportive of VisitScotland’s campaign to recognise the value that traditional music adds to Scotland, and to promote the variety of amazing festivals dotted around that are supporting artists and musicians, young and old, to revel in our shared musical heritage.”

Niteworks has provided the electronic-Celtic fusion soundtrack for a promotional film for the campaign, which will run across social media platforms such as Facebook, Spotify and Unruly. Supporters of the campaign include BBC Alba, the broadcaster’s Gaelic-language television channel.

VisitScotland highlights the continued growth of the traditional music scene, with bands such as Manran, Niteworks, The Peatbog Faeries, Skerryvore, Skippinish and Treacherous Orchestra attracting a growing audience of young Scots. The agency points to the influence of the late composer Martyn Bennett, the inspiration behind so many of Scotland’s young artists, who provided the Celtic fusion soundtrack for stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill’s film The Ridge, which has been viewed almost 50 million times on video sharing website Youtube.

To find out more about the traditional music marketing campaign, go to

Get your trad on

TradFest – April – Edinburgh
Mull Music Festival – April
Shetland Folk Festival – April/May – Lerwick
Knockengorroch World Ceilidh – May – Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway
Orkney Folk Festival – May – Orkney, Stromness
Islay Festival of Music & Malt – May/June
Oban Live – June – Oban, Argyll
Eden Festival – June – Dumfries and Galloway
Keith Music Festival – June - Keith, Aberdeenshire
Fèis an Eilein – July/August – Sleat, Skye
Tiree Music Festival – July – Tiree, Hebrides
ButeFest – July – Rothesay, Argyll
Stonehaven Folk Festival – July – Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire
Hebridean Celtic Festival – July – Stornoway, Hebrides
Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival – August – Beauly, Inverness
Piping Live! - August – Glasgow
Skye Live – September – Portree, Skye
Blas Festival – September – Highlands
Bowfest – September – Inveraray, Argyll
Jura Music Festival – September – Jura, Hebrides