The name Jennifer Cruickshank is synonymous with traditional Scottish music in the BBC, with a career spanning almost four decades from her first job in the mid 1980s as trainee audio engineer, to her current role as Producer of Radio Scotland’s weekly flagship traditional music programmes, Take the Floor and Travelling Folk.
Jennifer’s career has been mapped out for her since she fell in love with music whilst at school. When her friends were getting into New Romantic music of that time, Jennifer could be found practicing her accordion for hours, showing the same focus and commitment that has driven her highly successful career. As her friends were taking up weekend jobs in shops to earn extra pocket money, Jennifer was playing for local Scottish Country Dance classes. It was at this time that the idea of a career in music first occurred to a young Jennifer Forrest from Airdrie.
“Music was always a part of family life growing up,” says Jennifer, with both her parents having an interest in traditional music. Jennifer’s dad Ian Forrest was one of the country’s leading experts for installing MIDI systems into accordions, whilst her mum Morag from Portree on the Island of Skye was steeped in Gaelic music, having sung in a local choir.
Initially music lessons came in the form of piano tuition, however Jennifer quickly progressed to the accordion under the tuition of Wilson Wood from Whitburn. Wood at that time had a stable of exceptionally talented accordionists and installed a competitive edge that remains with Jennifer to this day. With Jennifer’s commitment, hours of dedication, combined with top level tuition, inevitably competition success would follow she was crowned “Senior Ladies Accordion Champion” at Perth Festival three times in a row before the age of twenty. “Wilson Wood was a huge inspiration to me,” Jennifer reflects, encouraging her to play accordion as her chosen instrument for Higher music, which was unheard of at that time.
Around this time, Jennifer was encouraged to attend and perform at local Accordion and Fiddle Clubs which gave her a platform to listen to others and also play in public on a regular basis. These evenings were also to shape Jennifer’s passion for Scottish dance music, being given the opportunity to hear so many of the great bands and artists of that time and ignite her desire to lead her own band on stage. “My mum and dad were incredibly supportive of my music” remembers Jennifer, driving her all round Scotland and paving the way for a future career in music.
At nineteen years of age Jennifer realised her most significant musical ambition by leading her own band in recording a programme for “Take the Floor” on BBC Radio Scotland. Little did she know as a fresh faced teenager stepping into the recording studio at Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow, that one day she would take the reins as the producer of that very programme. Over a dozen of these radio programmes together with a commercial CD were recorded by Jennifer and her band before recording took a back-seat to production.
In 1984 Jennifer joined the BBC and trained for three years in Glasgow. Here she worked on a variety of different radio, TV and outside broadcasts, gaining a wide range of experience on programmes such as Scotch and Wry, Naked Radio, Sportsound and recordings with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
In 1990 Jennifer married fellow musician Brian Cruickshank and relocated to Aberdeen, joining the BBC’s team at Beechgrove Terrace. She remembers this time fondly, “such great colleagues, too many to mention, and a great place to work. I learned so much.” With Beechgrove being smaller than BBC Glasgow, there were more opportunities to meet and work closely with others. The job also developed with Jennifer taking on a different role as a Production Coordinator. At this time she worked on The Reel Blend working closely with Robbie Shepherd. “I recorded everywhere with Robbie!” she laughs. In 2006 Jennifer took over as producer for Take the Floor and subsequently Travelling Folk was added to her portfolio in 2010.
As a musician she also travelled the world, visiting Trinidad and Tobago for St. Andrew’s night, as well as France, Canada, Germany and Indonesia. “These trips were all fantastic!”
Jennifer has seen many changes in broadcasting over the years, especially in technology and the shift to digital media. “As a producer, you need to be constantly creative, thinking about new ideas and formats, keeping things fresh and modern,” she reflects. Her work has taken her to Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Paris and the Czech Republic. The best part of her job, however, is working with artists in session: “I just love recording musicians and getting the best out of them,” she says. She feels lucky to have worked with many greats – the likes of Kenneth McKellar, Calum Kennedy and Sydney Devine.
She has worked with many presenters too, including, of course, Robbie Shepherd and Gary Innes on Take the Floor, Bruce MacGregor on Travelling Folk and with Barbara Dickson on Scotland on Song. She has also worked on special programmes such as the Commonwealth Games, Celtic Connections and the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year Competition which started with just a half hour feature on her Reel Blend show. “Since those early days some twenty years ago, the competition has grown to what it is now, and is totally deserving of that space.” Jennifer has several times been selected as a member of the adjudication panel, a role she relishes.
Jennifer is a proud mum to Callum and Iona who are both following in their mum’s footsteps as talented musicians playing accordion and fiddle respectively. Along with her husband Brian, they now play regularly together as “The Cruickshank Family Band”. “It is a wonderful thing for me that my children play music. I’m so lucky we can share this together.”
A real musical highlight occurred when the Cruickshank Family Band won Scottish Dance Band of the Year at the Trad Awards in 2019; an event that Jennifer has supported personally and professionally since its inception.
In terms of the future of broadcasting, Jennifer says: “It will keep evolving. It is so important to give musicians a platform on the airways. Radio exists so that we can showcase the best of talent and traditional music is absolutely thriving!”
Jennifer has no intention of hanging up her headphones quite yet as she nears her forty year service for Auntie Beeb. Jennifer concludes “I have loved every minute of my musical journey and to have sustained a parallel career in producing traditional music programmes is just a dream come true”.