Isla’s 2019 highlights

I’m so grateful to be able to say that 2019 was one of my best years yet. I made great strides in my career, I had a fantastic 4 months in Cape Breton, and I met and spent time with many kind and interesting people. A massive thank you to everyone who made it such a great year. 

It was a year of firsts: my first creative project (A Reawakened Monument of Antiquity), my first studio recording (in fact I was in the studio four times), my first commission, my first gig at a festival abroad (Festival Boult-aux-Bois et Cordes, France), my first run at the Edinburgh Fringe (Tess), my first performance at the Scottish Parliament (20th Anniversary Ceremony) and the formation of my first band (Stramash Cèilidh Band). 

It was a year in which I had many life-changing thoughts about music, tradition and cultural politics, due to my exploration of the cultural-political context of the Patrick MacDonald Collection in my project A Reawakened Monument of Antiquity, and due to my discovery of different, yet related, cultural politics in Cape Breton. 

Most importantly, it was a year in which my confidence as a traditional musician grew significantly and my impostor syndrome diminished. It’s amazing how long it takes us to feel at home in a new field…so long may this continue. 

January 2019 

  • I started off the year with a really fun gig with RCS at Celtic Connections.


February 2019 

  • I completed my first creative project, A Reawakened Monument of Antiquity. We recorded it in the RCS studio, and performed it first during RCS Performance Week in February and then again during RCS Bridge Week in June with set and lighting design.
  • To add to the excitement of February I formed my first band, Stramash Cèilidh Band, with my good friends Rachel Campbell on accordion and Emily Shields on guitar. Please get in touch if you’re looking for a cèilidh band!


March 2019 

  • March started well: I performed in Magnetic North’s Lost In Music and played a cèilidh at the Climate Strike in George Square.
  • But March didn’t end so well: the one major downside of 2019 was breaking my ankle while hillwalking. But on the upside I wrote a tune (thanks to some morphine!). Thank you again to the Glencoe Mountain Rescue team for their amazing work.

April 2019 

  • Brexit almost happened, so I wrote an angry tune. Then Brexit didn’t happen, and my tune was still relevant. Aaand my tune is still relevant almost a year later.
  • Additionally, I enjoyed organising a multi-cultural concert at RCS, East Meets West, with five other RCS students.

May 2019 

  • May was mostly spent preparing for my RCS Masters Year I recital, Music of the Munros, which featured traditional and original tunes inspired by mountains and hillwalking. Here’s my ‘Glencoe Mountain Rescue’ tune again (I haven’t recorded any of the other tunes yet – one day!).
  • May also included the RCS Sang Scuil concert in the beautiful acoustics of Kelvinside Hillhead Parish Church, at which I sang Violet Jacob’s and Jim Reid’s ‘The Wild Geese’.

June 2019 

  • It was a huge honour to play with RCS at the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament. It was probably the most nerve-wracking gig I’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding!

July 2019 

  • To start my summer, I had a lot of fun playing traditional and orchestral music at Festival Boult-aux-Bois et Cordes in France. It was particularly fun to lead the orchestra for Martyn Bennett’s MacKay’s Memoirs, to play a cèilidh entirely called in French, and to put together this set of mouth music from Brittany, Sweden and Scotland.

August 2019 

  • It was such a treat to perform in Elske Waite’s Tess at the Edinburgh Fringe. The writing was superb (it’s a feminist adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles), the three actors were phenomenal (it was such a privilege to watch them perform every night), Jonathan Ip wrote some fantastic music for it, and Lucy was a lovely producer to work with. And we ended the run with a lovely 5-star review! So my first run at the Edinburgh Fringe was very enjoyable.


September – December 2019 

  • As if 2019 hadn’t been good enough already, I topped it off with a fantastic and life-changing 4 months studying on international exchange in Cape Breton, Canada. It was fascinating to see how Scottish traditional culture emigrated to this island with the 18th- and 19th-century emigrants and to see how it’s evolved there over the past 250 years. I met loads of lovely people who are now lifelong friends, I had life-changing thoughts about music and tradition, and I grew in confidence, both as a person and as a musician. I hope to go back soon!

Thank you very much for all your support in 2019. It means a lot. A huge thank you to everyone who made it such a great year for me. I wish you all much love, health and happiness in 2020 🙂 

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