How did you get involved in Scottish music?
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by scottish music from a very young age. My dad played the accordion and my mam plays the piano so I always wanted to play along with them in the house. Listening to my dad playing with ‘Da Fustra’ scottish dance band (which he led for 20 years), and sitting listening to Willie Hunter playing at the Shetland accordion and fiddle festival or Bryan Gear playing at the local accordion and fiddle club was so captivating and inspiring for me. When it came up that I could get lessons at the school I chose the fiddle. I had been getting piano lessons for two years and already had an understanding of how to read music so it made translating it to the fiddle that bit easier. I was taught by Trevor Hunter for 4 years at primary school then I went to my auntie, Judi Nicolson, for 4 years once I got to high school. That’s where I learnt the North Eastern style of scottish music and got into the scottish competition circuit. For as long as I can remember I always wanted to play for a living, but it’s not really possible to survive off playing music as a profession in shetland so I took to the mainland in 2008 and have never looked back since.
Why did you enter BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award?
I had previously made it to the semi finals stage of the competition and it was a great learning experience for me. It gave me inspiration to fall in love with the fiddle again and to look at the music I play and why I play it in much more depth. So this time round I felt I was ready to come back and try again. I learnt so much from the whole experience the last time and the feedback I received gave me inspiration as to what I had to work towards and improve on. There are so many fantastic musicians that have come through the competition and have gone on to have very successful careers, so I entered with the hopes of following in their footsteps.
What do you hope to gain from the experience?
I hope to use the experience I gain from the competition as a platform from which I can lauch my career further. It is a fantastic opportunity to reach a wider audience and break into a new market. I have already made so many new friends through the competition and it is so exciting to be part of it all!
Do you have any particular musical highlights?
One of the highlights in my career was when I won the Glenfiddich Fiddle Championship in 2006, it was my first time in the competition and had been a lifelong goal to work towards from when I started lessons with Auntie Judi.
Another particular favourite of mine was adjudicating along side Aly Bain and Bryan Gear (two of my musical heroes) at the Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year competition for 3 years running, just 8 years after winning it at the age of 13.
What are your plans for the future?
After the success of my debut album ‘The Love o’ Da Isles’ I hope to make a new CD within the next few years. Looking to the future, I hope to reach new heights with my solo career and perform to wider audiences around the world. I also hope to inspire the new generation of musicians the way my peers have inspired me.
Why not buy a ticket to hear Gemma Donald or any other of the finalists at the Grand Finals on Sunday February 1st at 5pm. The finals are part of Celtic Connections festival. If you can’t make it along the event will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland between 5 & 8pm and on the iPlayer afterwards.