Literatures, Languages & Cultures


Meet our Traditional Artist in Residence

We chat to Mike Vass about coming of age in Edinburgh’s traditional music session scene and his current role searching for treasures in the School of Scottish Studies Archives.

The Traditional Artist in Residence scheme brings performers from the traditional arts in Scotland into the University of Edinburgh to work with staff and students on a range of projects and performances.

The current holder of the three-year position is the musician, composer, producer and arranger, Mike Vass, one of the most creative forces on the Scottish music scene.

Born in Nairn in the Highlands, Mike was 17 when he first moved to Edinburgh, a city he calls “amazing and inspiring”.

“I feel like I did a lot of my growing up here. I learned a lot of my music in the vibrant session scene here in Edinburgh, which grew out of the 1960s folk revival but has continued to this day.”

“New and interesting venues are constantly being added to the scene. It's an amazing place to learn new music, and to improve your own chops, as I did all those many years ago.”   

Video: Meet our Traditional Artist in Residence video Nov 2019
We chat to Mike Vass about coming of age in Edinburgh’s traditional music session scene and his current role searching for treasures in the School of Scottish Studies Archives.

A thrilling opportunity to find new treasures

Before officially taking up the position of Traditional Artist in Residence earlier this year, Mike had used the School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA) in a number of previous projects.

In 2013, he acted as a mentor and record producer for the young musicians and composers of Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin's Archive Project, and was later involved in Remembered Imagined, which saw groups of writer/musician collaborators seeking inspiration from the traditional recordings held in the Sound Archive for the creation of new works.

When the inaugural Traditional Artist in Residence was advertised, Mike saw it as a “thrilling opportunity to really go deeper into the archive and find new treasures.” 

“It's a really rich resource that can push and pull you in new and unexpected directions, which is really rewarding as a musician.”   

Revisiting the Muckle Sangs

Over the course of his three-year term, Mike has plans for a number of SSSA-inspired projects.

“The main one I hope to focus on is a ballad and animation project, which will bring together students in Celtic and Scottish Studies (School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures) with Animation and Reid School of Music students at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA)”.

“The plan is to look at some of the Muckle Sangs, which are big narrative ballads, traditional ballads from Scotland, and use those - record versions of those - to inspire short animated films”.     

Having previously collaborated with Scottish BAFTA-winning animator and ECA graduate Gavin C Robinson, Mike is hopeful that the new work will be a great resource for future students in a number of disciplines across the University of Edinburgh. 

Mike Vass was one of a number of performers from Celtic and Scottish Studies who programmed, and performed at, 'Celebrating Hamish Henderson' at the Scottish Parliament in September 2019. His SSSA-inspired work 'Sea Moss - the Ninth Chord', was specially commissioned for the event, which honoured the centenary of the birth of one of the most prolific contributors to the School of Scottish Studies Archives (Hamish Henderson, 11th November 1919 - 8th March 2002).

Are you interested in studying Traditional Arts Performance?

Our brand new taught masters programme is aimed at traditional arts practitioners (musicians, dancers and storytellers) and facilitators who wish to reflect on their practice, and to contextualise and develop their creative work, in an academic context. Launching in September 2020, it will include opportunities to engage with Mike Vass, Lori Watson, Gary West and other performers, with the School of Scottish Studies Archives, and with a range of partner organisations across Edinburgh. The programme is now open for application on the University's Degree Finder. 

Find out more about the Traditional Arts Performance MSc on the University of Edinburgh's Degree Finder

Related links

Take me to Mike Vass' website for gig news, recordings and more