Isla’s 2019 highlights

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 🙂 

A Summer of Two Festivals: Edinburgh Festival Fringe & Festival Boult-aux-Bois et Cordes

I’m spending this summer performing at two festivals: one past and one currently happening. 

Tess, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2th-17th August 2019

This year is my first time performing a run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe!

I’m playing fiddle and singing in a play called Tess, which is a feminist adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. It’s running 2nd-10th and 12th-17th August at 10:40pm at the Fleming Theatre at Surgeon’s Hall.

The three actors are phenomenal. It is honestly such a treat to watch them perform every night for 2 weeks straight. Last night I got so engrossed in their acting that I almost forgot to play when I was meant to! I highly recommend this show. Director and writer Elske Waite has done a fantastic job of adapting Hardy’s classic novel to give Tess more of a voice and to show that a female protagonist doesn’t need a male character to save her; Tess’s sister and mother also play important roles in this adaptation.

More information and tickets are available here:


Festival Boult-aux-Bois et Cordes, France, 4th-13th July 2019 

Prior to Tess, I had great fun performing at Festival Boult-aux-Bois et Cordes in NE France. Every year, the town of Boult-aux-Bois increases its population by about 150% as it hosts about 70 musicians for a 10-day festival of orchestral music, chamber music and traditional music. 

I had three main roles at the festival: 

  • I played in the orchestra, including leading the orchestra for Martyn Bennett’s MacKay’s Memoirs, which was a lot of fun! 
  • Myself and two other RCS students played a cèilidh, entirely called in French! 
  • Myself and eight other traditional musicians put together a 10-minute set of traditional mouth music from Brittany, Sweden and Scotland. 

In between the rehearsals and concerts, I had fun teaching some strathspeys to the French musicians (including my anti-Brexit protest tune ‘Revoke Article 50‘!), trying out the clarsach for the first time (!), and busking in a nearby town with the other traditional musicians.

Merci beaucoup to the village’s residents who welcomed us all with open arms, to the kindest mayor in France who hosted me and Justyna for the week in his home, and to the festival’s hardworking volunteers who cooked the most amazing vegan food I’ve ever had in France. 


Cape Breton University, September-December 2019 

I’m very excited to announce that in less than two weeks I will be travelling to Nova Scotia, Canada to study on exchange for one term at Cape Breton University! I’m looking forward to gaining a greater insight into the Gaelic culture in Nova Scotia and how this relates to Gaelic culture in Scotland over the past 250 years. I will learn a lot from being immersed in the phenomenal traditional music scene on Cape Breton Island. 

Please let me know if you have been to Nova Scotia and have any recommendations! I’m on the look-out for good sessions and dances… 

Thank you very much for reading! Next post will probably be from Canada!

A review of Year 1 of my Masters degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

I’ve really enjoyed the first year of my MMus Scottish Music degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Here’s a summary of what I achieved this year. Thank you to everyone who supported me along the way!

Project 1: A Reawakened Monument of Antiquity, February-June 2019 

I worked on two main projects this year. Firstly I created, recorded and performed a 35-minute cultural-political suite of Gaelic music, song and spoken word, based on Joseph & Patrick MacDonald’s tune collection from 1784, A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs. My work encourages the listener to ask, ‘How does the cultural and political landscape of the Collection speak to us today, in 21st-century Scotland?’ We recorded this work in the RCS recording studio and performed it twice, once during RCS School of Music Performance Week in February 2019 and once during RCS Bridge Week in June 2019 with set and lighting design. Thank you to everyone who helped me realise this project. More info on this project can be found here.


Project 2: Music of the Munros, May 2019 

My second main project was my end-of-year recital, Music of the Munros. Thank you to my lovely friends who joined me on stage to help me share a selection of traditional and self-composed tunes inspired by mountains and hillwalking, my second main hobby. Here is one of these tunes, ‘Glencoe Mountain Rescue’, which I wrote as a thank you to the team who helped me off the hill when I fractured my ankle in March.


RCS Concerts 

As well as the two projects above, I performed in several concerts with RCS this year.

  • I performed with the RCS Big Band at Celtic Connections in January 2019.

  • Myself and a group of Traditional Music students organised a concert of traditional music from around the world, East Meets West, in April 2019, supported by the RCS Equality & Diversity fund. Here are the two performances in which I was involved in this concert – a set of Indian/Japanese/Tibetan/Scottish/Canadian music and a Latvian folk song sung in Russian.

  • RCS Sang Scuil performed an end-of-year concert at Hillhead Parish Church in May 2019. Here is my performance of Violet Jacob’s and Jim Reid’s ‘The Wild Geese’ with Cameron Nixon and Iain Hyslop, recorded by Margaret Bennett.
  • It was a huge honour to end the year by performing with RCS at the 20th Anniversary of the Scottish Parliament. Here is our performance of Phil Cunningham’s ‘Farewell to Govan’.


Non-RCS Concerts 

Outside of RCS, I performed in some exciting projects this academic year.

  • In March I performed in Lost In Music, a gig-theatre show by Magnetic North that explores the power of music through retelling the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

  • A week later, I had fun playing a cèilidh at the Climate Youth Strike in George Square.


  • My friend Acorn the squirrel and I as a woodland nymph returned to Wildhood Festival for our second year to play fiddle and run Scots singing workshops for children in the grounds of Tullibole Castle in June 2019.

  • Additionally, I performed at an event at Edinburgh Castle, Knight at the Castle, in October 2018; I played for a baby cèilidh with Starcatchers to celebrate Burns Night in January 2019; and I performed at several private functions, dinners and parties.


I have a new band: Stramash Cèilidh Band! 

In very exciting news, I have started a band with two fellow RCS Traditional Music students, Stramash Cèilidh Band! Please give us a shout if you’re looking for a cèilidh band! Thank you to Christian Gamauf for doing a wonderful photoshoot for us at windy Loch Venachar.


I have enjoyed composing more tunes this year. As well as writing tunes as presents (for my flatmates for Christmas and for my granny for her 90th birthday), I wrote four tunes inspired by hillwalking (‘Glencoe Mountain Rescue‘ (above); ‘Mountain Medicine’; ‘Spindrift on Meall Ghaordaidh’; and ‘The Mountain Fairy’) and a tune in protest against Brexit, ‘Revoke Article 50’.



It was a pleasure to start teaching new students when I moved to Glasgow in September 2018. Please get in touch if you’re looking for lessons for either classical violin or Scottish traditional fiddle – I’d love to hear from you! I was also happy to run a Scots songwriting workshop at the inaugural Edinburgh Multicultural Stories Festival in December 2018 and to participate in Enterprise Music Scotland’s Train and Sustain programme in autumn 2018, for which Amy and I spent 5 weeks teaching composition at Penicuik High School.


So, it’s been a great academic year! A big thank you to everyone at RCS who has made this year so memorable, especially my fiddle teacher Alistair McCulloch. I’m looking forward to starting Year 2 by studying on exchange for a term at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, Canada!

I’ll publish another post soon about what I’m up to this summer, including videos from my time at Festival Boult-aux-Bois et Cordes in July and details of Tess, a play I’m performing in at the Edinburgh Fringe 2nd-17th August. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’re looking for a fiddle player or singer to perform at a private event, a cèilidh band, a violin or fiddle teacher, or a composer to write a commission for you! 

Wednesday 29th May 12:15pm – Music of the Munros recital

I’m very pleased to present a free public recital on Wednesday 29th May 12:15pm at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow as part of my Masters of Scottish Music degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. This recital combines my two main passions: music and hillwalking. I have pursued both these interests simultaneously since I was 5 years old. 18 years, 109 Munros and 1000s of tunes later, I’m looking forward to bringing the two together! Please click going on the Facebook event here: Tickets are available on the door. Please arrive early, since this recital is an exam and so it will start at 12:15pm sharp.

The programme will include the first fiddle tune I ever learned aged 6 in a tent on snowy Cairn Gorm, a tune I wrote about the Mountain Fairy who leaves sweeties in cairns for little children, and two tunes I wrote inspired by a recent hillwalking accident on Stob Coire a’ Chairn in which I fractured my ankle. The recital will conclude with a movement from my recent cultural-political project ‘A Reawakened Monument of Antiquity’, which explores the connection between Gaelic music, landscape and cultural memory.

I will be joined by fellow fiddle players Chloë Bryce and Isla Callister. Additionally, Emma Tomlinson (viola), Ellen Gira (cello), Justyna Krzyžanowska (clarsach) and Cameron Nixon (spoken word) will join me to perform a movement from ‘A Reawakened Monument of Antiquity’.

I look forward to seeing you there! 🙂

Thank you, Glencoe Mountain Rescue!

Thank you to Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team for helping me when I fractured my ankle on Stob Coire a’ Chairn! A team of 10 caring humans and 1 lovely husky put me on a stretcher, strapped me onto a quad bike and drove me down the hill to an ambulance. I’m very grateful for their expertise and caring attitude. Thank goodness for the amazing service that they provide! And thanks to the morphine that they gave me, I was inspired to write part of this tune! Thank you to Coire the collie and the birds in Leckmelm for contributing to this recording.

Happy International Women’s Day 2019! Here’s a wee song…


Happy International Women’s Day 2019! Here’s a wee feminist folk song written by the brilliant Nancy Nicolson, the first person who heard me singing solo Scots song when I was aged 13 and encouraged me to pursue it further. Thank you to the wind by the Falls of Clyde in New Lanark for providing the ‘God’ sound effects…

This song delivers an important message about the importance of gender roles that are portrayed in the media. When I was at nursery, there were pictures on the walls of a male doctor and a female nurse. Because of this, no matter how much my mum tried to persuade me otherwise, I was convinced that all doctors were male and all nurses were female. I even had two female relatives who were doctors, but still I couldn’t be persuaded. This analogy demonstrates the power that the media has to instil ideas about gender. So here’s to all the female doctors, pilots, polis and Gods! Please share this video to spread this important message