Richard Ward has played a vital role in both SC&T (Scottish Culture and Traditions) and the Traditional Music Forum (TMF) over the years – in the process, he has found both friendship and a sense of community.
Richard’s love of folk music began in high school at Dingwall Academy, where he played guitar and sang – inspired by the likes of Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan. He studied law in Edinburgh, and, after a brief stint working VSO in Kenya, landed in Aberdeen in 1979 to work as a solicitor. He soon ventured out to the famous Aberdeen Folk Club, where would go on to spend many an evening! He particularly remembers a standing-room-only gig with Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicoll. Throughout the early 80s he was often found playing in traditional music sessions in pubs and bars across the city.
In 1990, following a festive drink or two at his wife’s work’s Christmas party, Richard was persuaded to join a ceilidh band as their new guitarist. He recalls, “just a week after our first rehearsal together I was on stage at the Beach Ballroom with my eyes glued to the sheet music – in an effort to keep up with the pianist, who liked to play multiple chords in a bar! A little different to my usual folk songs,” he laughs. He enjoyed playing with the Auchterby Band for many years and watched the ceilidh scene in Aberdeen grow.
In 1997 he started attending adult community education classes through the newly-formed SC&T, established to provide a programme of evening classes in traditional instruments, song and dance. He later joined the board in 2002 at a time of transition when SC&T had been encouraged to formalise and become a limited company with charitable status. With Richard’s background in law, he played a vital role at this stage in the organisation’s history. He then became Chair in 2009 and steered the organisation through its third phase of development, becoming a SCIO in 2015. Richard officially retired from the chair in 2018, but remained on the board. Unforeseen developments during the pandemic saw him return as temporary acting chair this past year.
Richard has attended and arranged many workshops and classes for SC&T over the years, and notes the 20th Anniversary Festival in 2017 as a highlight. He also recalls being very excited to host the late Rick Taylor, multi-instrumentalist and wonderful teacher from Skye, for a workshop. “Unfortunately, I broke my arm not long before the workshop was scheduled to take place,” he laughs. Undeterred, he still took part and played the cojon with his stookie!
To quote board member Laura Harrington, “Richard has been a wonderful founding member and leader within SC&T since the beginning. His dedication, can-do attitude and welcoming nature are hugely infectious for all of us that work with him. He has held a number of board positions within the organisation and every one of them he has given his all to ensure that the organisation thrives. Seldom without a smile and an encouraging word, he’s a true ambassador for SC&T!”
Richard was also a founding member of the Traditional Music Forum (TMF) when it was first constituted back in 2009 and spent ten years as secretary, helping this umbrella organisation become a SCIO in 2014. David Francis, who first met Richard in the Aberdeen ceilidh scene of the 1990s, writes, “Richard is a great supporter of the Traditional Music Forum. His work as a lawyer and as a musician and trad music enthusiast made for a great combination in helping to guide the Forum through its early years and on into becoming a well-established organisation.”
Richard reflects that the TMF has been a great way to meet others and share wisdom across the whole spectrum of traditional music in Scotland. This year a group of teaching organisations is coming together, under the auspices of the TMF, to reflect on the future of community music education, especially in light of both the challenges and burgeoning interest in online learning in the context of Covid-19.
As we recover from Covid-19, Richard reflects that “it is absolutely vital that organisations such as SC&T support their teaching artists, to ensure that musicians can make a decent living.” Adult teaching, he reflects, must be self-financing.” Funds are available for special projects, but this is in addition to ongoing work,” he explains. Smaller classes are often subsidised by larger classes, and this might look different if a mix of online and in-person classes are offered into the future.
For the past few years, SC&T has been awarded funding from the local authority to work with vulnerable communities in partnership with other organisations, which is a new direction for the organisation. It has also run a youth programme for a few years and has recently been awarded substantial funding from Creative Scotland to run an extensive Young SC&T programme in 2021-22. “This is daunting but definitely an exciting way forward,” he suggests, “young people are our future!”