“I would like to dedicate this honour to my schoolfriend Jennifer’s husband, Kim Torp-Petersen. He died died in a tragic accident in January of this year. I don’t know what I would have done if they hadn’t given me accommodation in Edinburgh so often.”
Music has been in Alison Mackinnon’s life as far back as she can remember, “there was always music in the house!” She grew up in Skye, where her father’s side of the family was from. Her mother was from Shetland, where her father used to run concert parties in Lerwick, and later in Stromness. Alison herself has given many years of her life behind the scenes organising the gigs and concerts that we all love so well, finally stepping down as a director of the TMSA in December 2020.
The first time Alison set foot in a folk club was in Dundee in the 1970s. She ventured out to Woodlands Folk Club with her flatmate at that time, Frieda Morrison. She thinks that Sheena Wellington might also have been there that first night, although they didn’t meet properly until a little later. Alison moved to Aberdeen in 1978, and one of the first things she did in this new city was to find Aberdeen Folk Club, which soon became her home from home. She is still very close friends with Janice and Kath Clark from that time, who introduced her to the traditional music community in Aberdeen. She soon joined the club’s committee.
“I could tell you every guest they ever had over the years!” she laughs. As part of the Aberdeen Alternative Festival, Alison was part of organising a number of live concerts, which included the likes of Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Runrig at the Capitol Theatre, Phil and Aly, Caithness band Mirk, Ceolbeg and Silly Wizard.
After moving around for a number of years with her work in employment services, Alison moved back to Skye in 1999 before settling in Inverness in 2000. It was at this time that she joined the TMSA; first as a branch rep for Inverness, and later as convener, taking on that mantle from her dear friend Anne Neilson.
During her time with the TMSA, she is most proud of her work on the re-publication by Harper-Collins of Norman Buchan’s seminal ‘101 Scottish Songs,’ also known as the ‘Wee Red Book’ – out of print for about 40 years – to celebrate the organisation’s 50th anniversary. This was accompanied by a series of three concerts at Celtic Connections, which Alison put together with the help of Anne, “who knew absolutely everybody!” Over three years, there were three concerts – 60 songs and 20 singers each year. “All those songs and all those singers and there was never a double. No-one argued over the songs either. It was incredible!”
Another highlight for Alison was the 50th Anniversary concert ‘The Carrying Stream’ on the opening night of Celtic Connections in 2016, directed and hosted by singer Siobhan Miller. Stalwarts of the Scottish folk scene were there in plenty – Arthur Johnstone and Brian Miller, Sheena Wellington and Barbara Dickson to name but a few, alongside younger performers. “It really was a night to remember,” she says.
Alison also took the lead on a revised reprint of ‘The Little Book of Scottish Folk Songs’. First published as ‘The Scottish Folksinger’ in 1973, this book is a perfect introduction to the world of Scottish folk songs.
Over the years, Alison reflects that the biggest change she has seen has been seeing younger people get involved, such as Siobhan Miller, Natalie Chalmers, and more recently, Iona Fyfe. “Fresh new ideas are vital, but it’s also great that there are still people who have been involved since day one – all the way back in 1966!
Her friend Margaret Bennett writes, “Alison’s lifelong devotion and commitment to traditional music and song is exemplary. She tirelessly worked behind the scenes encouraging young musicians and promoting events. Always willing to ‘go the last mile’, Alison spared no effort to ensure a bright future for the music and songs we love.”
While there is not currently a branch of the TMSA in Inverness, Alison is a lifelong member. She often attends events hosted by the “fabulous” Aberdeen branch, who – during the pandemic – have been hosting zoom concerts and sessions. While there is no more organising on the cards for Alison, she will continue to support live music wherever she can. “I’m just so lucky to know so many people through music. It’s a wonderful sense of community, and I’ve made lifelong friends. Music will always be there.”