This information is provided to help people who are interested in folk and traditional music to find out about events suitable for their taste. Opinions about music are very personal and this information tries to avoid making too many qualitative judgements, rather it seeks to describe events in various categories to help you to make your own discoveries and choices.
Traditional music has many forms and is accessible to the visitor in many different ways. This includes public displays by Pipe Bands, Highland and Country Dancers and traditional entertainment at visitor attractions and hotels throughout the country. Most of these events are easily accessible to the visitor and well publicised locally.This information is mainly aimed at people who may want to experience this music at a more local level.. You may be a musician yourself and want to learn or to take part, or be looking for a chance to be part of a local event such as a ceilidh.
Much of this music is not organised on a commercial basis and so finding out about it can be more difficult. Making some of these events more accessible is one of the aims of this leaflet. You may know exactly what you want to hear and can be quite specific in your enquiry, or you may just know a little - e.g. "I like bagpipes" - and be interested to hear more.
There is a lot to discover, some people have been involved in the music for years and are still learning, so don't expect to find everything in one visit. If you hear music that you like, don't be afraid to speak to the musicians and tell them so. Often they can be your best guide to finding more. Much of what is advertised as traditional music will be a mixture of Scottish and Irish music. This mixture is not surprising as there has been a lot of musical interchange between Scotland and Ireland and communities in Scotland with Irish links have kept their musical culture very much alive.
To see some pictures from a range of events click to view The Living Tradition Photo Gallery
Types of Events -
There are many different types of events, here is an explanation of the main styles with an indication of what you can expect at them.
Folk festivals are one of the best way of sampling a range of traditional music related events. Most festivals run over a weekend and during the summer months there is usually one or more folk festivals taking place somewhere in Scotland. Most will have a mixture of formal concerts, ceilidh dances, informal sessions and workshops. Advance booking of tickets is preferable but if this is not possible simply turn up in plenty of time. Most folk festivals are organised by local music enthusiasts and will usually make considerable efforts to make visitors welcome. Festivals Index and Links
Folk clubs are usually run by local music enthusiasts. They tend to be run in rooms in hotels or pubs and usually licensed for drink. Don't be put off by the word "club" - you do not need to be a member and visitors are always welcome. They are less formal than a concert in a theatre, you will be much closer to the performers and be able to talk to performers about their music. Although tending to be informal, you will be expected to be quiet during the performances - it is not background music.
When clubs have a guest, these will be artists who have been booked usually to do two 30-40 minute performances supported by other local performers perhaps only contributing one song or two. If you are a performer yourself and make yourself known to the organiser, you may well be welcomed to "take the stage".
Clubs often have nights referred to as "singers nights". For these all the performances come from people who turn up to perform and there are no professional guest spots. These nights tend to be even less formal although you will still be expected to respect the courtesy of listening rather than talking during performances. You will be welcomed to take part but you don't have to. Listeners are welcome. Folk Clubs Index and Links
Sessions are usually held in pubs. They are gatherings of people - mainly to play music together, sometimes to sing as well. Listeners are welcome, They are informal although some general rules of etiquette tend to be followed if you want to join in. If you play or sing yourself, listen for a while to see how the session is developing and then try to speak to one of the more obvious participants and introduce yourself.
Sessions are not a place to learn to play an instrument but if you already play this music they offer a supportive environment to play in public.Some pubs advertise regular sessions and make arrangements with musicians to ensure that there is music at specific times. Others are totally informal and happen whenever a critical mass of performers happens to materialise. Other sessions have become so established that they happen on a regular basis at specific times. Sessions can be affected by other events such as festivals when musicians can decide to go "en masse" to play elsewhere so music can't always be guaranteed.
Traditional music can be heard on concert platforms throughout the country and are generally well advertised in the local press.
Dances and Ceilidhs
Ceilidhs can mean different things. Usually they refer to a dance although the term ceilidh used to mean a more general evening with a mixture of singing storytelling and dancing. Nowadays a ceilidh or ceilidh dance tends to be a dance with a band with a style somewhere in between a folk group and a Scottish Country Dance Band. Nowadays they usually have a 'caller', a person who will instruct or 'walk through' the dance before each set, and so you should have no difficulty in joining in. Scottish Country Dances tend to be more formal, the dances tend to be more complex and the dancers have learned the dances over a period. These dances can be harder for a visitor to take part in - but not impossible so don't be put off. People who just want to spectate will generally be welcome.Ceilidhs and dances are often run by local organisations to raise funds and are open to the public and are generally advertised in the local press. Most festivals will have a ceilidh as part of their programme.
Music in Pubs
Many pubs now use traditional music to provide an enjoyable atmosphere. Sometimes they use recorded music at other times there is live music. The music tends to be background music - you are not usually expected to remain quiet - although this can vary quite considerably from pub to pub or evening to evening.
Where Can I Learn
There are several tuition projects in Scotland where you can study traditional music in depth. Most courses require you to book in advance. They usually have some public events associated with the courses and you may get the opportunity to get a 'taste' of the course so that you can return for a future course.
Listen at Home
Many of the artists you will hear will have made recordings which are usually on sale at concerts. There is such a range of music available that recommending particular recordings is difficult. There are several shops that stock a good range of Scottish music. Don't be afraid to ask the staff to help you and if in doubt, ask if you can listen to some examples.
The Living Tradition magazine is a good source of information about this music and also operates a mail order service specialising in items that are more difficult to get in the high street shops.
This information is provided in good faith. Whilst we are careful to check information, errors can be made and dates and events may be subject to late changes. We advise you to check where possible before travelling any long distances to events and to book tickets ahead where possible.
What did you find, did it come up to your expectation and was our information helpful? We would be interested to hear your experiences and your suggestions of ways we can improve access to this music.