Live Music Now is a musical outreach charity set up by Yehudi Menuhin after he saw first-hand the ‘uplifting and transformative effect that music can have’. The Scottish branch, directed by Carol Main, allows talented emerging artists to give hundreds of performances all over the country to a wide range of audiences who wouldn’t normally get the chance to enjoy live music.
Throughout the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Live Music Now Scotland runs a Free Fringe Music programme in the beautiful surroundings of the National Museum of Scotland, with every day showcasing a different artist or group. These free concerts couldn’t be more accessible; with space for children to sit at the front, freedom for people to walk in and out or have a chat about what they’re hearing, and ample space for wheelchair users to get a clear view.
On Saturday, singer Ainsley Hamill and pianist Alistair Paterson presented a gorgeous programme of Gaelic song inspired by the current exhibition ‘Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland’. The busy background hum of activity didn’t detract from their fantastic performance, only highlighting their flexibility and commitment to allowing everyone access to their impressive standard of music-making. The audience was the most age-diverse I had seen so far at a Fringe festival music performance this year, and the atmosphere was relaxed yet totally engaged.
Ainsley and Alistair stayed for a chat afterwards, where we talked all about their work for Live Music Now Scotland, the use of the Gaelic language in song and some of their favourite audience reactions.
Thanks for such a brilliant concert – how long have you been playing together as a duo?
Ainsley: We’ve been working with Live Music Now Scotland for four or five years but we’ve performed as a duo since uni. We met on the traditional music course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.
Alistair: We started that in 2009, so that’s 10 years!
Ainsley: Oh yeah, so it is! Why are we not having a party?
Alistair: We’re actually from the same kind of geographic area as well.
Ainsley: Alistair’s from Bishopton and I’m from Cardross – so just directly over the water from one another. So if we’d had a little boat maybe we would have known each other before then…
Did you both have a traditional/folk music background?
Ainsley: My background was in classical music, I came to trad later. I was like a little alien going into the Scottish music course, but I’ve always loved the music.
Alistair: My first instrument was actually pipes, so I suppose I had a pretty traditional background! They remained my first instrument for ages until piano kind of crossed over, but I think they have definitely influenced each other.
Ainsley: When I started the Scottish music course I found that I wanted to do Gaelic at a much higher level than what I’d learnt previously.
Alistair: My dad spoke Gaelic at home, but I didn’t learn it properly until university. I think there’s a generational thing. He was from Lewis but moved down to Glasgow during a time where there was a ‘downplay’ of Gaelic in the 1960s/70s.
How do you find your audiences react to your material being in Gaelic?
Ainsley: A lot of people do see it as niche. If we go into a care home in Glasgow or Edinburgh, most people don’t understand what we’re saying. But then you find pockets of people who are Gaelic speakers or have grown up with it and that’s actually quite amazing – it totally makes their day.
Alistair: A few years ago we did quite a lot of nursery projects where a lot of the kids were only just starting to speak. At one of the nurseries the kids were from very mixed backgrounds where English often wasn’t the first language spoken at home, and amazingly during these workshops Gaelic kind of became the common language between the kids which was very cool.
Ainsley: It’s amazing what they pick up. We briefly did a song called ‘Dè an t-ainm a th’ort’ (‘what’s your name?’) one week at a nursery, and the next week when we asked what they remembered from last time one of the kids just started singing, “Dè an t-ainm a th’ort!”. He just knew it – he knew it better than us!
What’s it like working with Live Music Now Scotland?
Alistair: It’s great, the audiences and venues are usually places we wouldn’t normally bring music to which is really nice.
Ainsley: We started with lots of tiny tots – part of LMNS’s ‘Traditional Music for Tiny People’ project. We’ve been all over Scotland – Skye, Lochalsh, Plockton, Edinburgh, everywhere.
Ainsley: Our other concerts can be really quite serious sometimes. So then to go into a school or an informal concert with LMNS is brilliant for us. Last year’s museum series was alongside an exhibition at the museum called ‘Rip it Up’ which was all about rock and pop music from Scotland – we were so excited to be involved in that one. We did AC/DC and all sorts!
Have you had any stand-out audience reactions while working with LMNS?
Ainsley: I love it when the older folk get up and dance! We do a tea dance in Edinburgh at the Festival Theatre and they really love joining in and singing along.
Alistair: At care homes they often really appreciate hearing live music, particularly hearing songs that they know. It’s great when you can see people reacting, even if they’re not necessarily saying very much but you can see they’re enjoying it. Sometimes we’ll be told that an older person hasn’t spoken in five years, and there they are singing along.
Ainsley: We get incredible reactions from the wee ones as well. At the portrait gallery there was a little guy absolutely desperate to join in with the piano as we were playing. We ended up with a few extra notes in that tune!
Alistair: They love to join in and try the piano – the volume button is sometimes your friend!
Ainsley: Sometimes when they first hear us doing puirt à beul (mouth music) for the first time they just can’t believe it, because it’s so fast and they’ve never heard anything like it. A lot of kids say it’s Gaelic Rap music!
What’s next for you both?
Ainsley: We’re talking about potentially recording some stuff together! But first we have a few separate projects. I’m heading to London, and the Mull of Kintyre Festival, and I’m also working on an EP and an album at the moment.
Alistair: I’m going to a festival called Tønder in Denmark with a band called Skipinnish.
Find out more about Live Music Now Scotland:
Find out more about Ainsley Hamill: