Music of Scotland
Learn more about Music of Scotland
|Music of the United Kingdom||Celtic music|
|England||Brittany and Northern Spain|
|Caribbean and Indian||Celtic Canada and Celtic America|
Scotland is internationally known for its traditional music, which has remained vibrant throughout the 20th century, when many traditional forms worldwide lost popularity to pop music. In spite of emigration and a well-developed connection to music imported from the rest of Europe and the United States, the music of Scotland has kept many of its traditional aspects; indeed, it has itself influenced many forms of music.
Scottish traditional music, although influencing and being influenced by both Irish traditional music and English traditional music, is very much a creature unto itself, and, despite the popularity of various international pop music forms, remains a vital and living tradition. There are several Scottish record labels, music festival and a roots magazine, Living Tradition.
Many outsiders associate Scottish folk music almost entirely with bagpipes, which has indeed long played an important part of Scottish music. It is, however, not unique or indigenous to Scotland, having been imported around the 15th century and still being in use across Europe and farther abroad. The pìob mór, or Great Highland Bagpipe, is the most distinctively Scottish form of the instrument; it was created for clan pipers to be used for various, often military or marching, purposes. Piping clans included the MacArthurs, MacDonalds, McKays and, especially, the MacCrimmon, who were hereditary pipers to the Clan MacLeod.
 Folk music
This takes many forms in a broad musical tradition, although the dividing lines are not rigid, and many artists work across the boundaries. Culturally there is a split between the Gaelic tradition and the Scots tradition.
Dance music is played across Scotland at country dances, ceilidhs, Highland balls and frequently at weddings. Group dances such as jigs, strathspeys, waltzes and reels, are performed to music provided typically by an ensemble, or dance band, which can include fiddle (violin), bagpipe, accordion, keyboard and percussion. The major names to know in this part of the musical tradition are Niel Gow, James Scott Skinner, and Jimmy Shand. Many modern Scottish dance bands (example) are becoming more lively and innovative, with influences from other types of music (most notably jazz chord structures) becoming noticeable. The "standard" format of a band is a 6-piece line up, comprised of two accordions, a fiddle, piano or electronic keyboard, bass and drums, but there is considerable variation here. Primarily because of budgetary constraints, the 6-piece band is now normally confined to recording sessions, working bands being typically 3 or 4-piece.
There are traditional folk songs, which are generally melodic, haunting or rousing. These are often very region specific, and are performed today by a burgeoning variety of folk groups.
Popular songs were originally produced by music hall performers such as Harry Lauder and Will Fyffe for the stage. More modern exponents of the style have included Andy Stewart, Glen Daly, Moira Anderson, Kenneth McKellar, Calum Kennedy and the Alexander Brothers.
Military music, typically massed pipes and drums. Major Scottish regiments maintain bagpipe and drum bands which preserve scottish marches, quicksteps, reels and laments. Many towns also have voluntary pipe bands which cover the same repertoire.
 Folk song collecting
The earliest printed collection of secular music in Scotland was by publisher John Forbes in Aberdeen in 1662. Songs and Fancies: to Thre, Foure, or Five Partes, both Apt for Voices and Viols, printed three times in the next twenty years, contained 77 songs, of which 25 were of Scottish origin. Most are anonymous. The other songs in the book are mostly English, and include works by John Dowland.
While ballads had been written for centuries, and had begun to be printed in the seventeenth century, the 18th century brought a number of collections of Scots songs and tunes. Examples include Playford's Original Scotch Tunes 1700, Sinkler's MS. 1710, James Watson's Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scots Poems both Ancient and Modern 1711, William Thomson's Orpheus caledonius: or, A collection of Scots songs 1733, James Oswald's The Caledonian Pocket Companion 1751, and David Herd's Ancient and modern Scottish songs, heroic ballads, etc.: collected from memory, tradition and ancient authors 1776. These were drawn on for the most influential collection, The Scots Musical Museum published in six volumes from 1787 to 1803 by James Johnson and Robert Burns, which also included new words by Burns. The Select Scottish Airs collected by George Thomson and published between 1799 and 1818 included contributions from Burns and Walter Scott.
Though often derided as Scottish kitsch, the accordion has long been a part of Scottish music. Country dance bands, such as that led by the renowned Jimmy Shand, have helped to dispel this image. In the early twentieth century, the melodeon (a variety of accordion) was popular among rural folk, and was part of the bothy band tradition. More recently, performers like Phil Cunningham (of Silly Wizard) have helped popularize the accordion in Scottish music.
Though bagpipes are closely associated with Scotland and only Scotland by many outsiders, the instrument (or, more precisely, family of instruments) is found throughout large swathes of Europe, North Africa and South Asia. Out of the many varieties of Scottish bagpipes, the most common in modern days is the Highlands variety, which was spread through its use by the Highland regiments of the British Army.
The most traditional form of Highland bagpipe music is called pibroch, which consists of a theme (urlar) which is repeated, growing increasingly complex each time. The last, and most complex variation (cruunluath), gives way to a sudden and unadorned rendition of the theme.
Bagpipe competitions are now common in Scotland, with popular bands including colonial groups like the Victoria Police Pipe Band (Australia) and Canada's 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band and the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, as well as Scottish bands like Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band and Strathclyde Police Pipe Band.
Scottish traditional fiddling encompasses a number of regional styles, including the bagpipe-inflected west Highlands, the upbeat and lively style of Norse-influenced Shetland Islands and the strathspey and slow airs of the North-East. The instrument arrived late in the 17th century, and is first mentioned in 1680 in a document from Newbattle Abbey in Midlothian, Lessones For Ye Violin.
In the 18th century, Scottish fiddling is said to have reached new heights. Fiddlers like William Marshall and Niel Gow were legends across Scotland, and the first collections of fiddle tunes were published in midcentury. The most famous and useful of these collections was a series published by Nathaniel Gow, one of Niel's sons, and a fine fiddler and composer in his own right. Classical composers such as Charles McLean, James Oswald and William McGibbon used Scottish fiddling traditions in their Baroque compositions.
Scottish fiddling is the root of much American folk music, such as Appalachian fiddling, but is most directly represented in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, an island on the east coast of Canada, which received some 25,000 emigrants from the Scottish Highlands during the Highland Clearances of 1780-1850. Cape Breton musicians such as Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, and Jerry Holland have brought their music to a worldwide audience, building on the traditions of master fiddlers such as Buddy MacMaster, Carl MacKenzie and Winston Scotty Fitzgerald.
Among native Scots, Alasdair Fraser and Aly Bain are two of the most accomplished, following in the footsteps of influential twentieth century players such as James Scott Skinner, Hector MacAndrew, Angus Grant and Tom Anderson. The growing number of young professional Scottish fiddlers makes a complete list impossible. Top current names include Aidan O'Rourke, Bruce MacGregor, Catriona MacDonald, members of the band Blazin Fiddles; John McCusker; Duncan Chisholm of Wolfstone; Chris Stout of the Shetland group Fiddlers Bid; Pete Clark, Eilidh Shaw, Gavin Marwick, Anna-Wendy Stevenson, Angus Grant Jr., and Alasdair White.
More on Scottish Fiddle Music
The history of the guitar in traditional music is recent; as is that of the cittern and bouzouki, which in the forms used in Scottish and Irish music only date to the late 1960s. The guitar featured prominently in the folk revival of the early 1960s with the likes of Archie Fisher, the Corries, Hamish Imlach, Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor. The virtuoso playing of Bert Jansch was widely influential, and the range of instruments was widened by the Incredible String Band. Notable artists include Tony McManus, Dave MacIsaac, and Dick Gaughan. Other notable guitarists in Scottish music scene include Kris Drever of Fine Friday and Lau, and Ross Martin of Cliar, Daimh and Harem Scarem.
The harp, or clarsach, has a long and ancient history in Scotland, and was once the national instrument until it was replaced with the Highland bagpipes in the 15th century. Stone carvings in the East of Scotland supports the theory that the harp was present in Pictish Scotland well before the 9th century and may have been the original ancestor of the modern European harp and even formed the basis for Scottish pibroch, the folk bagpipe tradition.
Only thirteen depictions exist in Europe of any triangular chordophone harp pre-11th century, and all thirteen of them come from Scotland. Pictish harps were strung from horsehair. The instruments apparently spread south to the Anglo Saxons who commonly used gut strings and then west to the Gaels of the Highlands and to Ireland. Moreover, the earliest Irish word for a harp is in fact Cruit, a word which strongly suggests a Pictish provenance for the instrument.
The Clàrsach (Gd.) or Cláirseach (Ga.) is the name given to the wire-strung harp of either Scotland or Ireland. The word begins to make its appearance in the sources by the end of the 14th century. Until the end of the Middle Ages it was the most popular musical instrument Scotland, and harpists were amongst the most prestigious cultural figures amongst Irish/Scottish chieftains and Scottish kings and earls. In both countries, the harpist enjoyed special rights and played a crucial part in ceremonial occasions such as coronation and poetic bard recitals. The Kings of Scotland employed harpers until the end of the Middle Ages, and they feature promintently in royal iconography. Several Clarsach players were noted at the Battle of the Standard (1138), and when Alexander III (d. 1286) was in London paying homage to Edward I in 1278, his court minstrels were with him, payments were made to Elyas the "King of Scotland's harper,".
Three medieval Gaelic harps survived into the modern period, two from Scotland (the Queen Mary Harp and the Lamont Harp) and one in Ireland (the Brian Boru harp), although we can tell from the artistic evidence that all three were probably made in the western Highlands. The surname MacWhirter, mac a' chruiteir, means son of the harpist, and is common throughout Scotland, but particularly in Carrick and Galloway.
The playing of this Gaelic harp with wire strings died out in Scotland in the 18th century and in Ireland in the early 19th century. As part of the late 19th century Gaelic revival, the instruments used differed greatly from the old wire-strung harps. The new instruments had gut strings, and their construction and playing style was based on the larger orchestral pedal harp. Nonetheless the name "clàrsach" was and still used in Scotland today to describe these new instruments. The modern, gut-strung clàrsach has thousands of players, both in Scotland and Ireland, as well as North America and elsewhere. The 1931 formation of the Clarsach Society kickstarted the modern harp renaissance. Recent harp players include Savourna Stevenson, Maggie MacInnis, and the band Sileas. Notable events include the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, which recently staged the world record for the largest number of harpists to play at the same time.
 Tin whistle
One of the oldest tin whistles still in existence is the Tusculum whistle, found with pottery dating to the 14th and 15th centuries; it is currently in the collection of the Museum of Scotland. Today the whistle is a very common instrument in recorded Scottish music. Although few well-known performers choose the tin whistle as their principal instrument, it is quite common for pipers, flute players, and other musicians to play the whistle as well.
 Modern Scottish music
In the twentieth century, collections like Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs, collected by Reverend James Duncan and Gavin Greig, helped inspire the ensuing folk revival. These were followed by collectors like Hamish Henderson and Calum McLean, both of whom worked with American musicologist Alan Lomax. Earlier, the first Celtic music international star, James Scott Skinner, a fiddler known as the "Strathspey King", had gained fame with some very early recordings.
Among the folk performers discovered by Henderson, McLean and Lomax was Jeannie Robertson, who was brought to sing at the People's Festival in Edinburgh in 1953. Across the Atlantic, in the United States, pop-folk groups like The Weavers, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were leading a folk revival; the singers at the 1951 People's Festival, John Strachan (singer), Flora Macneill, Jimmy MacBeath and others, began the Scottish revival.
Like many countries, Scotland underwent a roots revival in the 1960s. Folk music had declined somewhat in popularity during the preceding generation, although performers like Jimmy Shand, Kenneth McKellar, and Moira Anderson still maintained an international following and mass market record sales, but numerous young Scots thought themselves separated from their country's culture. This new wave of Scottish folk performers were inspired by American traditionalists like Pete Seeger, but soon found their own heroes, including young singers Ray and Archie Fisher and Hamish Imlach, and from the tradition Jeannie Robertson and Jimmy MacBeath.
Scottish folk singing was revived by artists including Ewan MacColl, who founded one of the first folk clubs in Britain, singers Alex Campbell (singer), Jean Redpath and Dick Gaughan and groups like The Gaugers, The Corries, The McCalmans and the Ian Campbell Folk Group. Folk clubs boomed, with a strong Irish influence from The Dubliners. With Irish folk bands like The Chieftains finding widespread popularity, 60s Scottish musicians played in pipe bands and Strathspey and Reel Societies. Musicologist Frances Collinson published The Traditional and National Music of Scotland in 1966 to surprising popular acclaim, as part of the burgeoning Scottish folk revival. Still though, until the end of the 60s, Scottish music was rarely heard in pubs or on the radio, though Irish traditional music was widespread. The Corries had established a fanbase, while the English band Fairport Convention has created a British folk-rock scene that spread north in the form of The JSD Band and Contraband.
Music had long been primarily a solo affair, until The Clutha, a Glasgow-based group, began solidifying the idea of a Celtic band, which eventually consisted of fiddle or pipes leading the melody, and bouzouki and guitar along with the vocals. Though The Clutha were the first modern band, earlier groups like The Exiles (with Bobby Campbell) had forged in that direction, adding instruments like the fiddle to vocal groups. Alongside The Clutha were other pioneering Glasgow bands, including The Whistlebinkies and Aly Bain's The Boys of the Lough, both largely instrumental. The Whistlebinkies were notable, along with Alba and The Clutha, for experimenting with different varieties of bagpipies; Alba used Highland pipes, The Whistlebinkies used reconstructed Border pipes and The Clutha used small pipes alongside Highlands pipes.
Bert Jansch and Davy Graham took blues guitar and eastern influences into their music, and in the mid-1960s, the most popular group of the Scottish folk scene, the Incredible String Band, began their career in Clive's Incredible Folk Club in Glasgow taking these influences a stage further.
The next wave of bands, including The Tannahill Weavers, Battlefield Band, Ossian and Alba, featured prominent bagpipers, a trend which climaxed in the 1980s, when Robin Morton's A Controversy of Pipers was released to great acclaim. By the end of the 1970s, lyrics in the Scottish Gaelic language were appearing in songs by Nah-Oganaich and Ossian, with Runrig's Play Gaelic in 1978 being the first major success for Gaelic-language Scottish folk.
Pop and rock were slow to get started in Scotland and produced few bands of note in the 1950s or 1960s. However, by the 1970s bands such as the Average White Band, Nazareth, and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band began to have international success. The biggest Scottish pop act of the 1970s however (at least in terms of sales) were undoubtedly the Bay City Rollers.
 1980s, 1990s and 2000s
Scotland produced a few punk bands of note, such as The Rezillos. However, it was not until the post-punk era of the early 1980s, that Scotland really came into its own, with bands like Orange Juice, The Associates, Simple Minds, Annie Lennox (Eurythmics) and Josef K achieved critical acclaim. Since the 1980s Scotland has produced a more or less constant stream of important rock and alternative rock acts.
In the 1980s, Edinburgh saw the emergence of Jock Tamson's Bairns with a style called Scots swing. The 1980s also saw the rise of Scottish progressive rock/metal, with bands such as Citizen Cain and Marillion receiving worldwide recognition. Bands such as these have given inspiration to countless hundreds of 21st century Scottish rock bands resulting in the fruitful and diverse underground music culture present in Scotland today.
Most recently, Scottish pipes have included a renaissance for cauldwind pipes, which use cold-dry air as opposed to the moist air of mouth-blown pipes, while small pipes and Borders pipes have gained currency. The accordion also gained in popularity during the 1970s, due to the renown of Phil Cunningham, whose distinctive piano accordion style was an integral part of the band Silly Wizard.
Numerous musicians continued to follow more traditional styles including Andy Stewart, Glen Daly, and the Alexander Brothers.
More modern musicians include Shooglenifty, innovators of the house fusion acid croft, The Easy Club, a jazz fusion band, Talitha MacKenzie and Martin Swan, mouth musicians, pioneering singers Savourna Stevenson, Heather Heywood and Christine Primrose. Other modern musicians include the late techno-piper Martyn Bennett (who used hip hop beats and sampling), Hamish Moore and Gordon Mooney.
 Classical music
Perhaps the first notable Scottish composer was Robert Carver. However, despite this promising start, few Scottish composers since then have achieved international renown. Thomas Erskine, 6th Earl of Kellie was well known in the 18th century, but his work was quickly forgotten (although there are now signs of a revival). Scotland produced little of note in the 19th century, but at the beginning of the 20th century there were signs of a revival, with composers such as Hamish MacCunn and William Wallace. However it is notable that many of these modernist composers (such as Francis George Scott or J. Murdoch Henderson) tended to concentrate on shorter forms (such as songs) rather than the more conventional fields of symphonies or operas. Since World War II, however, there has been something of a renaissance in Scottish music, with Thea Musgrave, Edward McGuire, James MacMillan, James Dillon and Judith Weir attracting international attention. In the field of movie soundtracks Craig Armstrong has achieved international renown. Peter Maxwell Davies currently lives in Orkney and runs a music festival there. Of course, the Edinburgh Festival each year brings some of the best musicians in the world to Scotland.
Scotland has a strong jazz tradition and has produced many world class musicians since the 1950s. Perhaps the best known contemporary Scottish jazz musician is Tommy Smith. Again, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival brings some of the best jazz musicians in the world to Scotland every year, although, increasingly, other cities (such as Glasgow and Dundee) also run international jazz festivals.
- Download recording of "Na cuperean", a traditional Scottish song from Nova Scotians in California from the Library of Congress' California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collection; performed by Mary A. McDonald on April 11 1939 in Berkeley, California
- Emmerson, George S. Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String - history of Scottish dance music. Second edition 1988. Galt House, London, Ontario, Canada. ISBN 0-9690653-3-7
- Eydmann, Stuart "The concertina as an emblem of the folk music revival in the British Isles." 1995. British Journal of Ethnomusicology 4: 41-49.
- Eydmann, Stuart "As Common as Blackberries: The First Hundred Years of the Accordion in Scotland." 1999. Folk Music Journal 7 No. 5 pp.565-608.
- Eydmann, Stuart "From the "Wee Melodeon" to the "Big Box": The Accordion in Scotland since 1945." The Accordion in all its Guises, 2001. Musical Performance Volume 3 Parts 2 - 4 pp.107-125.
- Eydmann, Stuart The Life and Times of the Concertina: the adoption and usage of a novel musical instrument with particular reference to Scotland. PhD Thesis, The Open University 1995 published online at www.concertina.net/eydmann 
- Hardie, Alastair J. The Caledonian Companion - A Collection of Scottish Fiddle Music and Guide to its Performance. 1992. The Hardie Press, Edinburgh. ISBN 0-946868-08-5
- Heywood, Pete and Colin Irwin. "From Strathspeys to Acid Croft". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 261-272. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
- Gilchrist, Jim. "Scotland". 2001. In Mathieson, Kenny (Ed.), Celtic music, pp. 54-87. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-623-8
 See also
 External links
- BBC Radio Scotland online radio: folk music on Travelling Folk, bagpipe music on Pipeline, country dance music on Reel Blend and Take the Floor. (Realplayer plugin required)
- Scottish Music Centre music archive and information resource.
- Music Reference scottish music resource.