In the second of our visits to Live Music Now: Free Fringe Music, singer Hannah Rarity and guitarist Luc McNally performed a varied selection of traditional songs and tunes. During the more upbeat songs the large audience needed very little encouragement to sing along, as they did enthusiastically with the chorus of Tae the Beggin’ I Will Go. At other points, even though the bustling museum was packed with listeners, you could almost have heard a pin drop as they delivered songs such as the beautiful Strong Women Rule Us All, written by Brian McNeill, with such sensitivity and care. Due to the commitment of Live Music Now Scotland in reaching beyond financial and social barriers, the opportunity to hear this accomplished duo was open to all – and the appreciation was evident in the whole-hearted applause and cheers which followed.
Hannah, who was the winner of BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2018, and Luc, who was also a finalist in the competition, are both graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s traditional music course. They began working with Live Music Now Scotland shortly after leaving college, and after their performance at the museum I got the chance to hear all about the experiences it has offered them, what they love about it, and their advice for other emerging artists.
What is the best part about working with an organisation like Live Music Now Scotland?
Hannah: I like the contact you have with people. As a self-employed musician you drive around, do the gig, maybe speak to the audience briefly afterwards, but you wouldn’t normally get much contact with them. So I find performing in primary schools, care homes and more unusual locations and communities so enjoyable.
Is it very different from the other performing work you do?
Hannah: We end up in lots of different parts of the country that we wouldn’t necessarily visit. We come into contact with people who you maybe wouldn’t otherwise – because Live Music Now is all about taking performances to people who aren’t able to see live music.
Luc: We’ve played in care homes, and quite a lot of primary schools – we’ve toured primary schools doing workshops along with other musicians. We find out so much about communities that you would never really see, we might stay for a week and see all the primary schools and the local area, so you get stuck in and really get a feel for the place.
How important do you think it is to bring live performances to these more isolated communities?
Hannah: Very, very important. Recorded music is a great thing, it’s great that you can access music that way, but nothing can connect with people more than a live performance. I think that’s why music in general is so popular – because of the human connection. So going to places where they don’t usually have the option to go is very important.
You start to see the benefits of it – we’ve been on some repeat visits to care homes and you recognise characters and faces and the people who really connect with it. It’s beneficial for them, and it’s also so beneficial for us to see the positive effect that can have.
Do you think it’s especially easy for people to connect with traditional music?
Luc: Quite often the thing that really seems to connect with the older people we visit are old show tunes and songs from the movies. I suppose it depends on your definition of folk music. Those songs sort of become folk music, because everybody knows them and can sing along. Usually it’s things which spark a memory which get the best reactions, especially with patients with dementia, where songs can come back to them from years and years ago.
Hannah: We do a set of old school songs which go down really well, and very often people will at least recognise the melody and you can see them humming along. I do think that with folk music and songs you can really stitch things together which are very much tailored to certain environments.
You had everyone singing along today – are folk always as keen to get involved?
Hannah: Most of the time I can get people singing! Particularly today, I hadn’t sung a chorus yet and when I looked out people were already singing along, so there were obviously some folkies in the audience! I love when we get everyone singing along and then have the instruments drop out for the final chorus, because it’s so nice to hear everyone singing together.
Do you find, because the guitar is such a recognisable instrument, that it plays a big part in workshops with kids?
Luc: Yeah definitely! If you can think on your feet it’s always good to play a bit of something they might like.
What do you get most requests for?
Luc: Star Wars! I like that one because I loved that when I was a kid. One I’ve had recently is Old Town Road. I don’t even really know what that is, other than it’s Billy Rae Cyrus and it’s been at number one for a long time!
I bet they love that! Aside from chart-toppers, how do you usually go about preparing your setlist?
Hannah: We have a bank of songs we pull from. They largely come from my own repertoire of traditional songs that I’ve learned and Luc also knows, but Luc will also often play tunes or even covers like Bob Dylan or Michael Marra. Lots of the traditional songs and tunes Luc knows are from his home in County Durham. It’s nice because we’ve ended up with Scottish, Irish [Hannah also studied in Ireland at the University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music], American and English folk songs.
What would you say to other musicians who are considering applying for Live Music Now Scotland?
Hannah: First of all I think they should definitely do it. It’s been an extremely valuable part of my performance development since leaving the conservatoire. The experiences you have in different environments really help to prepare you for other performance scenarios – both because of the connection you make with the audiences, and because it’s an unpredictable environment where you have to learn to be really flexible and think on your feet. You meet lots of lovely people too.
For people who are auditioning – be prepared, put yourself in the audience’s shoes and think about what might entertain them. And just go for it!
If you are a musician or part of a group who are interested in working for Live Music Now Scotland, the next deadline for applications is Thursday 3rd October, 2019. Click here to find out more!
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