Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Going digital with traditional songs and tunes

We hear from student Sam Shackleton and graduate Scott Gardiner about the joy of performing in the University’s annual St Andrew’s Day concert.

For 2020, colleagues in Celtic and Scottish Studies have brought their annual celebration of Scotland’s national day online.

Photo of traditional musicians
Lori, Gary and Sam (l-r) performing together at St Cecilia’s Hall in 2019. This year, their performance was socially distanced.

A highlight of the University’s cultural calendar, the St Andrew’s Day concert usually takes place in St Cecilia’s Hall - Scotland’s oldest concert hall - in front of a sell-out public audience.

This year, the event was recorded in advance of St Andrew’s Day so that it could be performed by a small group of musicians and singers in adherence with guidelines on limiting the spread of COVID-19.

This means that for the first time the programme of traditional songs and tunes can be enjoyed by audiences around the world, both on St Andrews Day and throughout the year.

Hearing live music again

Photo of Scott Gardiner singing
Scott Gardiner performing the trad song Tattie Jock

Brought together by Gary West, Professor of Scottish Ethnology, the five performers involved in this year’s concert are all closely connected to the University.

Both Gary and Lori Watson work in Celtic and Scottish Studies, Mike Vass is our current Traditional Artist in Residence, Scott Gardiner is an alumnus in Agriculture, and Sam 'Sorley' Shackleton is currently completing a Masters by Research degree in Scottish Ethnology, having graduated with an MA (Hons) in Scottish Studies earlier this year.

As singers and musicians, the group often performed together prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as touring nationally and internationally in their own right.

Reflecting on what it meant to get together again, Scott says: “The St Andrew's Day concerts are always great fun to be involved with, and eight months since the start of lockdown it was lovely to hear the live music of someone other than myself. Previous events at St Cecilia's Hall have tended to sell out, so one upside to the concert being online is that everyone can now get to hear it.”

Emigrant ballad and traditional Kentucky folk

Sam Shackleton has been supervised by Gary West throughout his time at the University of Edinburgh, and tutored by both him and Lori. 

Sam was born in Stirling and raised all over Scotland. Deeply inspired by the rich oral and musical traditions of Scotland, Ireland and the USA, he sings and plays banjo, guitar and harmonica. For his Masters by Research, he is currently working on a dissertation in ethnomusicology. 

Talking about the St Andrew's Day concert, Sam says "It was a real honour for me to perform alongside my tutors, Professor Gary West and Dr Lori Watson, who have taught me so much in the past five years."

"The songs I performed here on the banjo were the Anglo-Scots emigrant ballad the 'Cuckoo Bird' along with the traditional Kentucky folk song 'Cold Icy Mountain' also known as 'Old Piney Mountain'. I learned this song from Appalachian traditional musician, Clifton Hicks who in turn learned it from the traditional musician and banjo tradition bearer George Gibson from Knott County, Kentucky."

"It's been an absolute pleasure to be a part of the Celtic and Scottish Studies department, and I'm looking forward to many more performances like this in the future!"

You can watch the concert online for free.

Video: VIDEO Songs and music celebrate St Andrew's Day
Musicians and artists have filmed a special concert to mark St Andrew’s Day amid Covid restrictions. The gathering of musicians, poets and singers at the University’s St Cecilia’s Hall – Scotland’s oldest concert hall – was recorded to mark what is usually an event enjoyed by members of the public. The concert includes a wide range of traditional music, song and poems.

Running order:

  • The Jedburgh Ba Game (Gary West). Performed by Gary West and Mike Vass
  • Cuckoo Bird (Traditional). Performed by Sam Shackleton
  • Cold Icy Mountain (Traditional). Performed by Sam Shackleton
  • The Dowie Dens o Yarrow (Traditional). Performed by Lori Watson
  • Tattie Jock (Traditional). Performed by Scott Gardiner
  • Lassie o the Morning (Jack Foley). Performed by Scott Gardiner
  • Snug in a Blanket (Traditional)  and The Fourth Floor (Gordon Duncan). Performed by the Hoose Band
  • The Rovin Ploughboy (Traditional). Performed by the Hoose Band

Are you interested in studying with us?

Home of the School of Scottish Studies Archives, we are the longest established Celtic department in Scotland. Choose from a wide range of undergraduate degrees in Celtic, Scottish Ethnology, Scottish Studies, and Primary Education with Gaelic, or a range of postgraduate programmes, including our Masters by Research in Scottish Ethnology.

Find out more about Celtic and Scottish Studies

Related links

Read more about the St Andrew's Day concert on the University of Edinburgh website

Read / watch our interview with Mike Vass, Traditional Artist in Residence