Hands Up for Trad’s Ignition Award is an award for musicians and bands who put the charge into the tradition. At Hands Up for Trad we like to celebrate innovation so we have brought forward this award to celebrate those musicians who take chances and in doing so make Scottish trad music an exciting place to be.
We asked pianist and composer Mhairi Hall the following questions.
When did you first start playing music?
I started learning the piano aged 5 years. I received classical lessons until I was 17. My earliest memory of traditional music was an occasional house ceilidh in Aviemore we used to go to with lots of self taught local traditional musicians. As a young child, I remember watching folk play the fiddle, spoons, button box, pipes, piano – it was very spontaneous, fun and hugely exciting. I then attended Fèis Spè through my teenage years, and got the chance to learn more about traditional music and Gaelic language. I was 15 when I became committed to playing traditional Scottish music on the piano and I joined the folk group in Kingussie High School. At the time (eeek 20 + years ago) there weren’t many pianists playing Scottish music that I knew of, so I had to muddle along and develop my own style, with the occasional help from my piano teacher at the time Paddy Neary and the wonderful Andy Thorburn. Coming from a classical background I was always drawn to playing the melodies, that was quite natural for me.
Did you make a conscious decision to be innovative with your music?
Not at all. I have always tried to make music I like, that pushes me in one way or another, and that reflects my life at that moment. I like creating interesting projects, that are quite often challenging to pull together but if they work it’s a real sense of achievement. I have always made a conscious effort to find people who inspire me, or who I admire and want to work with. I’m not afraid of asking folk I don’t know to get involved in a project… what have you got to lose?!
What are your main influences?
I was lucky to be brought up in a beautiful part of the world, and I have always been very influenced by the landscape, history of Scotland and the connected culture and Gaelic language. I loved playing the music of Scarlatti and Debussy when I was playing classical music. Recordings like Tracy Dares ‘The Crooked Lake’ and Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin’s ‘The Dolphins Way’ were big influences on me as a teenager, I wore out both of those albums learning the tunes and piano arrangements. I also took guidance from fiddle and piping ornaments when I was consiously developing my Scottish sound on the piano.
What music excites you that we should be listening to?
I’m seeking more calm music at the moment! Mostly I listen to the radio…
But when I’m driving I’ve been revisiting some classics (to me): Dervish – At the end of the day’ for great tunes and feel, Swåp – Mosquito Hunter for fab arrangements, Keith Jarrett ‘The melody at night with you’ – beautiful piano playing and colours, Jonsi and Alex ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ – a lesson in filling sound, Bo Kaspers Orchestra – Swedish pop for production.
Getting through one day at a time just now is good with my young children and the Covid lockdown!
What are your plans for the future?
Getting through one day at a time just now is good with my young children and the Covid lockdown.
Once this incredibly crazy, worrying time is over then I’m looking forward to hopefully performing some ‘Airs’ concerts with accompanying art exhibition by Beth Robertson Fiddes, as we had planned. It has been a really special collaboration working with Beth, and we are aiming to do more in the future which, I’m really excited about. I feel like I have struck upon some new techniques both on the piano and in the studio when making this latest record and I would like to develop it more.
There are a few other projects lined up too. Getting the right balance of playing concerts, doing studio work, and teaching is my ongoing plan.
How will you celebrate receiving Hands Up for Trad’s Ignition Award?
I hope the award that is being sent will entertain my children for an hour or two every day for the next few months? Too much to ask? Ok, a large glass of wine and an Easter egg will do then. Thanks guys, it means a lot. x 😊
Contact Mhairi Hall