Hands Up for Trad’s Women in Music and Culture 2023 list has been announced to celebrate just some of the women working in Scotland.
Launched as part of International Women’s Day 2023, we shine the spotlight on 15 women who all contribute towards Scotland’s cultural landscape through their work. Read the list here.
We asked Jane-Ann Purdy to tell us more about there work, influences and ambitions for the future.
How did you first get involved in the arts and who were your early influences?
That depends how far back you want to go! I started in television in the early 1990s after I completed my degree in Film & Media at the University of Stirling. My first job was as Muriel Gray’s assistant at her first production company Gallus Besom in Edinburgh. I knew absolutely no one in TV so I just phoned them up and offered to work for free. Amazingly they agreed straight away. It wasn’t long before they gave me a paid job though and I worked on several shows with Gallus Besom. I then moved to London for a time where I was part of the production team for two seasons of Eurotrash. Very nineties.
When I returned to Edinburgh I accidentally fell into journalism and my slightly random career pattern was well and truly established. I reviewed comedy for The Scotsman and worked on arts and media features for various publications into the early noughties. I also helped produce a couple of comedy shows at this time including two seasons of the Channel 4-sponsored So You Think You’re Funny at the Gilded Balloon. After a stint in corporate communications and web design I met my partner Douglas Robertson and was drawn into helping him put on his very popular house concerts.
We set up The Soundhouse Organisation in 2013 with the aim of founding a small to medium sized venue in Edinburgh – something we have so far failed to do. In the meantime, we began promoting regular gigs in The Traverse Bar and have put on hundreds of acoustic acts since then. Bands from all over the world playing jazz, folk, Americana and a few other genres have appeared at The Traverse, and a chosen few still get to play in our living room.
Shooglenifty asked me to manage them in 2014 closely followed by international fiddle band String Sisters in 2015. For no good reason other than ‘why not’ I said yes to both, despite having absolutely no relevant experience. From the beginning with Shooglenifty it was clear to me that the band had really not had the recognition they deserved and I began wondering if I could get a film made about them. In general, it’s clear that there is a lack of good documentaries about Scottish music, but that’s another story,
In 2016, the Shoogles hatched a plan to record their 8th album in Jodhpur with the Rajasthani musicians they had connected with on two previous trips to the Jodhpur Riff festival. We applied for funding to make the album and to film the process. We were very lucky to get the green light by Creative Scotland, however, as many of you will know, shortly after we found that the band’s beloved frontman Angus R Grant had only a couple of months to live.
That film became Heading West. It’s about how the band dealt with the loss of Angus, and also gets to stake a claim for the importance of Shooglenifty in the development of Scottish traditional music. It took a long time to complete and got its premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival just last summer. It’s currently doing the rounds of Scottish cinemas and has been very well received. I was very lucky that Don Coutts, someone I knew of from my past life in TV and a big Shoogles fan, came on board early on as director and stayed the course.
Meanwhile Douglas and I, as Soundhouse were being asked to programme for some Scottish festivals, including, in 2015, Edinburgh Tradfest. After the 2018 festival, its producers, TRACS, announced that they would not be able to continue. We thought that was a shame and asked if they’d mind if we’d take it on (again without any previous experience). They were delighted and so from 2019 Soundhouse has been the home of Edinburgh Tradfest. We are currently gearing up for the 2023 edition, which will be our best yet.
At a time which has been very challenging for many people working in the arts, how did you use the last 3 years to develop your creativity?
We got hit right away by the covid lockdowns, the first of which came a week before the press launch for Edinburgh Tradfest 2020. Of course at that point everyone thought it would last just a few months, but for us that definitely meant Tradfest was out (it happens at the end of April/start of May). It was a bit depressing but we decided to record a positive track and make a sunny video with many of the artists who would have been in the festival, and pay everyone their fees also. It was definitely a challenge finding a positive Scottish (maybe Irish) folk song but Wild Mountain Thyme certainly offered the many many people who viewed it a chink of light in those dark days.
As the pandemic rumbled on Douglas and I put our respective experience to good use – Douglas is a photographer (and I had that background in film production). We planned the first of two seasons of online gigs filmed at The Traverse theatre. These gave the bands something to work on and the audiences something to watch, though we maintain that there is no substitute for actual live music. More importantly for the long term we were able to give each band/artist a fully mixed live track and video for them to use as promo going forward. We were also able to add something to the archive of filmed performances, which as I mentioned before is sadly lacking at our national broadcasters.
For Shooglenifty we also had a problem as the band were working on completing an album that had been recorded in November 2019 and our launch was scheduled for September 2020. In the end we did the promo according to what covid regulations allowed. Knockengorroch first asked us for a video for their virtual festival in May 2020 and we went from there, eventually making three promos with all band members filming their own performances and me knitting it together after a crash course in editing. Luckily in August we were released from isolation to make an online album launch in a barn in Balquhidder with a proper filmmaker – Paul Jennings – and it was lovely being back together in the one room.
Coming into 2021 we really hoped that Edinburgh Tradfest would be back live and in person, however it was not to be. We didn’t really want to produce a whole 11 days of online concerts, particularly as audiences were starting to tire of this kind of content, so we decided to produce a podcast. Something, guess what, we had never done before. It was actually a lot of fun and I think we, for the most part, got away with it!
Something that was important for us with all this online content, by the way, was to give work to the technicians that had also lost many many jobs over lockdown.
We moved through all the stages of covid restrictions (thanks to our funders Creative Scotland and Wm Grant Foundation). So we went from producing ‘online only’ concerts, to outdoor gigs (co-promoting with Edinburgh International Festival), socially distant hybrid events, and finally back to live ‘in a venue’ with a vengeance for the 2022 edition of Edinburgh Tradfest.
We are delighted that our regular gigs in the Traverse Bar are now back on track, as are the audiences and bands. We were very lucky to be a nimble organisation at this time with few overheads. And to have the support of Creative Scotland who did so much to support the arts at a very difficult time.
Who or what interests you creatively?
Actually I’m getting back into writing and just dipping my toe in at the moment. As you can imagine I don’t have an awful lot of time, particularly right now with Edinburgh Tradfest coming into focus fast. I would also like to make another film or documentary series about Scottish folk, but need a bit of space from Heading West. The Shoogle doc was an enormous challenge, but something I’m immensely proud of.
What are your plans for the next year or so and/or what are your longer term creative ambitions?
If you have read all of the above, I think you can say that long term plans are not my forte, though I should say that founding a small to medium sized venue is still the ultimate aim for Soundhouse. It’s what Edinburgh desperately needs. We hope Heading West will be available on streaming platforms soon. And String Sisters will meet again after four years apart (they are based in five different countries) at Dublin Irish Festival in Ohio this summer. Can’t wait for that.
Find out more about Jane-Ann Purdy here.
Hands Up for Trad are an organisation who work with Scottish traditional music, language and culture. If you would like to support our work you can donate here.
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