Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students and graduates dominated the final of one of the most prestigious prizes in traditional music.
The six finalists who performed in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician 2021 are current or former students of RCS.
The title was bestowed on pianist Michael Biggins who enthralled judges with his ‘breathtaking’ performance. Michael was joined in last night’s final by RCS students Ellie Beaton and Bradley Parker and graduates Iona Fyfe, Lucie Hendry and Graham Rorie.
Michael, 23, originally from Newcastle but now living in Glasgow, said: “The other finalists and I were delighted that the competition could go ahead this year because so many other events have had to be cancelled.
“It’s been a difficult year to be a performer, so winning this title has given me such a boost and a hope for better things to come. I know it’s been a springboard for many past winners, so I’d love to follow in their footsteps.”
Michael split his time between the classical and traditional music courses at RCS. He currently performs with bands TRIP, The Canny Band and Northern Company but has also made appearances with Eabhal, Kathryn Tickell and the Jarlath Henderson Band.
Professor Joshua Dickson, Head of Traditional Music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: “Michael Biggins has been very much a presence in the Traditional Music department at the Royal Conservatoire during his classical studies. Steeped in the contemporary and eclectic folk scene of Scotland and the northeast of England, Michael’s playing exudes a lift and lilt as fine as ever graced a stage. A very worthy winner and we wish him all the best.
“Against the backdrop of a very challenging environment for freelance music and public health, it’s been uplifting to see the finalists of Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2021 take a very different stage and still make it their own for all to enjoy.
“With all of the finalists having strong links with the Conservatoire, we are delighted that our Traditional Music Department continues to be represented so well in this annual outpouring of music and fellowship, and we wish all the finalists every success.”
RCS musicians have enjoyed success throughout the competition’s history and Michael is the fifth winner from RCS in the last five years. Piper and whistle player Ali Levack took home the 2020 title and performed during this year’s event, while fiddle player Benedict Morris won in 2019. Singer Hannah Rarity won in 2018 and fiddler Charlie Stewart in 2017.
Michael wins a recording session with BBC Scotland and he will perform at the Scots Trad Music Awards in December 2021. He will also receive a one-year membership to the Musicians Union. All finalists receive a one-year membership to the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland (TMSA) plus the opportunity to take part in the TMSA’s annual Young Trad Tour scheduled for 2022.
Instead of the usual performances in front of a capacity audience at Glasgow’s City Halls, Covid restrictions saw the event moved to a socially distanced setting at BBC Scotland’s HQ at the city’s Pacific Quay. Presented by Bruce McGregor and Joy Dunlop, the event was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC ALBA.
The 2021 finalists:
Ellie Beaton – Voice (Aberdeenshire)
Ellie has been interested in traditional music from a young age. She studied Classical Voice at Aberdeen City Music School and having performed alongside Malinky, has been described as ‘a singer to be reckoned with’ by Hands up for Trad. Throughout 2020, Ellie qualified for the Bothy Ballad Champion of Champions competition at Elgin where she competed against the best Bothy Ballad singers in the country. Now attending RCS on the Vocal Studies programme, Ellie hopes to graduate then progress to becoming a full-time musician.
Iona Fyfe – Voice (Huntly)
Iona grew up going to sing-a-rounds, folk clubs and folk festivals in the North East where she met tradition bearers and younger exponents of the tradition such as Janice Clark and Shona Donaldson. Whilst many of Iona’s influences come from revivalist singers, she found great inspiration in online archive recordings from sites such as the National Library of Congress and Kist of Riches. She gained an FLCM in Traditional Voice from London College of Music and graduated from RCS with a first-class honours degree in Traditional Music in 2019. Iona has performed all over the world including Folk Alliance International, New Orleans, Czech Republic, Fergus Grand Theatre, Ontario and Festival Interceltique de Lorient.
Lucie Hendry – Lever Harp (Aberdeenshire)
Lucie became hooked on traditional music during her early childhood as a result of her Dad’s interest in the music. Artists and bands such as Afro Celt Sound System, Caperceilidh, Lau and Catriona McKay were key influences that drove her passion for music. After studying at Plockton’s National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music, Lucie graduated from RCS in 2018 with a first-class honours degree in traditional music. Notable performances include premiere receptions for film productions Mary Queen of Scots and Outlaw King, as well as a reception at Holyrood Palace in the presence of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Lucie currently performs in fiddle and Scottish harp duo, Aves o’ May.
Bradley Parker – Bagpipes (County Down, Northern Ireland)
Bradley began playing the Highland Bagpipes 19 years ago and won the ‘Young Musician of the Year’ award in Northern Ireland, 2011. He has been lucky to perform at a variety of venues such as The House of Commons and Glastonbury, as well as solo performances at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and Avenches Tattoo in Switzerland. Bradley studies at RCS and is a 3x World Pipe Band Champion.
Graham Rorie – Fiddle (Orkney)
Graham is an Orcadian fiddle and mandolin player based in Glasgow. In 2018, he graduated from RCS with first-class honours. Before moving to Glasgow, he was taught by Douglas Montgomery (Saltfishforty/The Chair). Graham is a founding member of quartet Gnoss who released their album Drawn from Deep Water in April 2019. Graham has appeared at a range of festivals including Celtic Colours (Canada) and Festival Interceltique de Lorient (France).
Gareth Hydes, Commissioning Editor, BBC Scotland, said: “A lot of extra effort had to be made this year to make sure that the event could go ahead in such challenging circumstances, but we’re delighted we could make it happen to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the competition.
“As ever, we were blown away by the sheer talent on the stage and it’s always very difficult to choose just one winner. Michael’s performance was breathtaking, an absolute celebration of the rich and vibrant traditional music scene we’re so lucky to enjoy in Scotland.”
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