Scotland is very fortunate in the depth and strength of its traditional musicians. At any given time, there are several generations working in the music sector and as the workforce naturally changes through time, older musicians have different priorities to their younger colleagues. In order to better appreciate these differences, Hands Up for Trad are asking musicians who have been working within the sector for a good few years the following questions.
Thanks to Gillian Fleetwood for sharing her thoughts with us. Gillian plays Scottish harp and sings. Over the course of her career so far she played and released music with The Duplets, State Broadcasters, Henry and Fleetwood and Agnes Obel, among others, and she is happy to say this has brought many good adventures. Her first harp tutor book will be out soon.
Why did you become a musician?
I love playing and singing and couldn’t see myself doing anything else, so it didn’t leave me with many other options! It’s also amazing to feel like I was and am part of a really fantastic network of traditional musicians – it’s not always easy, self-employment can be really daunting sometimes, but I love it.
What has changed about your music as you get older? Do you think about it differently?
I do, I don’t know that it’s a better approach necessarily but I am more analytical of my writing now.
What are the different aspects of your work?
I took a conscious decision to do less performing for a while and take stock a wee while ago. I think we can all get caught in the cycle of being constantly on the go, and I find that touring makes it really difficult to think about where you are, so I’ve been really grateful that I also love teaching and am able to do that while writing more, experimenting with different musical approaches and technologies and writing my teaching book. It feels like the right decision for what I needed.
What are your priorities as a musician?
Development, fun, experimentation, inspiration.
What are the major challenges you’ve faced making it as a musician?
One of the biggest challenges has been finding that the irregular time commitments are hard for me. I have a really rare type of diabetes that means I have to be very strict about some major things. Touring and traveling can be really difficult, but I have always found ways to make it work. It’s really satisfying to know that there are ways to work through challenges- which are usually connected to being organised and more assertive than I used to be. I also had to learn to be more communicative and honest about what I need. I’ve learned that I always like to help people out when asked, and so I had to get better at asking for help too.
Who are your influences and is there anyone in particular who is driving your work at the moment?
I’m really grateful to have grown up with some amazing role models in the Scottish folk and harp scene, particularly the fantastic women – Sileas (Patsy Seddon and Mary MacMaster), Corrina Hewat, Savourna Stevenson, The Bumblebees and loads more. But I was and continue to be influenced by loads of music, and songwriting outwith the folk scene and was a huge Prince fan from early on. Also, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Dorothy Ashby. I could ramble on for ages!
What’s the best advice you have ever had?
Forward! In ALL directions!
Also – add a wee bit of vinegar to vegetables, just when you’re about to eat them. I’ve never found a veg that wasn’t even more delicious with a wee bit of nice vinegar.
What is next for you?
I’m finishing my harp teaching book at the moment, which is very exciting. I have found loads of arrangements I’d totally forgotten from ages ago in piles of loose sheets of paper. So I’m editing that together, looking forward to having fewer loose sheets of paper everywhere and to promoting a book with some fun arrangements, technical exercises and I plan to do video to go with it all a bit further down the line. Then I’m running a workshop called Drills, Skills and Thrills at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival on the 1st April.
Listen to Gillian’s music http://soundcloud.com/gillian-fleetwood
Visit Gillian’s website and buy her music https://gillianfleetwood.com/
Thanks to Gillian for taking the time to answer these questions. Read all our A Life In Trad Music articles. If you would like to keep up with all Hands Up for Trad’s news and events join the Hands Up for Trad newsletter. Remember and support musicians by buying their records and going to their performances.
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