Isla Ratcliff is a Scottish fiddle player, singer and composer, with a background in classical violin and piano. Her work is underpinned by her interests in cultural politics, the environment, spoken word, theatre, and music’s positive impact on our wellbeing.
Isla’s debut album The Castalia (November 2021) features traditional and self-composed tunes, inspired by the 4 months that she spent in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 2019, including a trip to New Brunswick to meet her distant relatives. Described as ‘quite the best debut album that has come this way in a long time’ (The Living Tradition), Isla’s album expresses her love for the tradition, its ethos of community, and the power of music to bring people together. It is available to buy here.
Isla is a passionate, inventive, thoughtful and open-minded musician. Her fiddle playing is expressive and dynamic, incorporating both excitement and subtlety. Her rich singing voice is deeply moving. She has a deep interest in tradition, particularly of Scotland and Cape Breton, having grown up in Edinburgh with Scottish fiddle music and having studied on international exchange in Cape Breton at the end of 2019. Her work is consistently influenced by her interest in academic research.
Isla was a Semi-Finalist in the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2022 competition. She has performed at Celtic Connections, Cambridge Folk Festival, Sidmouth FolkWeek, and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 in Ondervinden’s production Tess. Aged 13, she played a trad duet with Nicola Benedetti in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. She performed with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland at the 20th Anniversary of the Scottish Parliament in 2019. She is an alumna of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.
Isla is a versatile composer and arranger. Her work includes fiddle tunes, songs, ensemble arrangements, theatre scores and short film scores. She enjoys collaborating with artists from other disciplines, and writing commissions to mark birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. Aged 16, she won the lyrics category of Amnesty International’s Power Of Our Voices protest songwriting competition with her song ‘Death Row’. In 2019 she devised a musical-theatrical production A Reawakened Monument of Antiquity, inspired by the music and cultural-political context of A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs (1784).
Isla holds a MMus Scottish Music degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a BA Music (First Class) degree from Oxford University, for which she wrote her dissertation on the role of music in the Scottish Independence Referendum debate. Prior to this, she studied through the Suzuki method aged 5-12 and at the City of Edinburgh Music School aged 13-17. Isla’s teachers have included Marie Fielding (fiddle), Alistair McCulloch (fiddle), Fiona Hunter (Scots song), Gill Bowman (Scots song), Ishabel T. MacDonald (Gaelic song), Mysie Ferguson (violin), Peter Markham (violin), Sophie Langdon (violin), Tamara Salomasova (violin), Gillian Gray (piano) and Maria Prew (piano).
Isla is a fun and inspiring violin/fiddle teacher. She teaches classical violin through the Suzuki Method, as well as fiddle. She holds a DipABRSM Teaching Diploma with Distinction. She works as an Instrumental Music Instructor with the City of Edinburgh Council, she teaches a weekly adult group fiddle class at the Scots Music Group, and she teaches private pupils. As a community music practitioner, she has worked with early years, primary school children, young parents, and people with disabilities, delivering songwriting workshops, teaching violin and supporting music rehearsals.
Isla enjoys hillwalking, cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, and playing tunes at sessions. She has climbed 155 Munros to date. She speaks Russian, having learned by immersion at the Russian Embassy School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia aged 10-11.