Fiddle Player, tutor and musical director Kevin Findlay has been the driving force behind the Tayside Young Fiddlers for over 15 years, taking the group from strength to strength.
His own fiddle playing career started through lessons in school. His interest waned in his teenage years, but resurfaced in his 20s through going to sessions in Dundee and Fife, before eventually getting into playing in bands and performing.
In 1990 he became a member of Boogalusa, a six piece band specialising in Cajun and Americana. Highlights of the 30 years they’ve spent playing together include extensive touring in Europe, TV and Radio appearances at home and abroad, and two releases on Glasgow’s Klub Records label.
Kevin’s other projects include folk rock ceilidh outfit The Mad Parrot Ceilidh Band, specialising in as they put it: “Particularly loud traditional gatherings”. With them he’s toured the world, reaching as far afield as Oman. He was also a frequent guest with celtic rock band Dunragan, including six consecutive appearances at T in the Park.
In 2017, Kevin was a recipient of the Dundee Musicians’ Award, which is awarded annually to outstanding Dundee-based musicians to support the creation of new work. He used the award to create and release The Lochee Sessions – a collection of 36 original tunes for fiddle and melody instruments. The collection is named for his local area on the west side of Dundee.
His work as tutor and musical director with the Tayside Young Fiddlers started 15 years ago, in 2005. Started in 1993 as an offshoot of the Dundee Strathspey and Reel Society, Tayside Young Fiddlers – as the name suggests – exists to nurture young people from Dundee and the surrounding area’s interest in traditional Scottish fiddle music.
Under Kevin’s guidance, the group has gone from strength to strength. Since he took over, their membership has more than tripled and held steady, with a regular influx of new members each year.
One of his first moves was to shake up their repertoire to include contemporary material he’d encountered at gigs and sessions, creating and scoring arrangements accessible to all ability levels. As he said: “Through playing gigs and sessions, I’d seen that the music has come forward so much – this was an amazing thing to see, and it’s great to be able to take that to the kids”.
Added to this, he began to bring in guest tutors from all corners of Scotland, exposing the group to a huge range of styles and ideas. Over the years these have included: Ross Couper, Adam Sutherland, Charlie McKerron, and Douglas Montgomery, to name but a few.
Another important ingredient has been the creation of regular performance opportunities for the group. They’ve appeared at many local events, and have staged concerts of their own, including collaborations with the National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music, New York State’s Strawberry Hill Fiddlers, and the Northumbrian Ranters.
The effect of all of this is clear to see. Every year, events like Alasdair Fraser’s Isle of Skye fiddle camp, and Hands up For Trad’s Tinto summer school, have a strong Tayside Young Fiddlers Contingent. Some members of the group have even gone on to further study and work within music; including Patsy Reid with a prolific career as a performer, tutor and producer, and Laura McGhee, now based in Nashville who has performed with the likes of Shane McGowan, Pete Seeger and Runrig.
Tayside Young Fiddlers celebrated their 25th anniversary in January 2018, with a concert in Dundee’s Bonar Hall, alongside Patsy Reid, Sheena Wellington, Steve Byrne, and the MacKenzie Caledonian Pipe Band. The event proved to be a celebration for more than just this reason though, when in the run up to the gig the group received the Dundee Musicians’ Award, and Hands Up for Trad’s Landmark Award.
Under Kevin’s dedicated guidance, the Tayside Young Fiddlers have flourished, and the future looks bright, with plans for more recordings, performances and collaborations in the pipeline.