Scottish Folk Music

There can be no country in the world with a more recognizable genre of folk music than Scotland’s folk music. The sight of a pipe band, or even a loan piper, playing the bag pipes is a picture associated with Scotland. If the piper is wearing his Kilt and accompanying sporran, then the vision is competed. The highland bagpipes were first mentioned in 1547 at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. The first records of music came in the 17th century with the emergence of piping families. Once such family was the MacCrimmons. The family lived on the Isle of Sky and were the pipers to the chiefs of Clan Mcleod for several generations. As well as serving this noble clan the MacCrimmons also taught at the one of the best piping colleges in the highlands.

The Bagpipes in unison

Over time the family wrote many pieces of music for the pipes and this genre of music became known as Piobaireachd. Since 1967 the MacCrimmon Memorial Piobaireachd festival has been held annually at Donegan Castle. Pipers aim to win the “silver chanter” playing the MacCrimmons music. Pipes were not the only popular instrument and the fiddle played a prominent role in Scottish music. During the 18th and 19th centuries the Gow family were famous fiddlers from the Perthshire area and they wrote many ballads and dances.

Scottish folk music is actually very fluid and doesn’t really stick to one set of rules. It can however be broadly divided between ballads and dance music. The ballad is sung by one singer accompanied by pipes, the harp and the fiddle and these songs can be quite haunting. The dance music takes place at dances, balls, weddings and other occasions. There are jigs and waltzes that are performed, and the band includes a fiddle, accordions, piano and bass and rum. But the line-up can vary considerably.

Donovan’s music greatly influenced by Scottish Folk

There are still performers today who perform Scottish Folk songs. James Yorkston produces gentle guitar melodies with slow and steady singing. This creates the haunting feeling to his songs and during his 13 albums he has worked with many Scottish musicians. The performer with perhaps the longest career is Donovan whose career has involved touring India with the Beetles, and being heavily influenced by the music of Joan Baez. The influence of India and Baez, plus his own hippie inclinations, gives his music a unique feel especially with a touch of Scottish Folk added to the mix.

There are also a number of Scottish rock bands whose music has been influenced by Scottish Folk music. The Proclaimers records have a close link to the folk genre and their popularity has been heightened with a lot of their songs being played at National events. One of the nation’s most successful bands Simple Minds were seen as one of the major Celtic rock bands. Their dark and moody lyrics sung by Jim Kerr certainly had similarities with ballads being sung in previous generations.

Scottish Folk and traditional music’s influence can be seen, and heard, everywhere in today’s music. This isn’t confined just to the British Isles but all over the world, particularly in the States where many Scottish musicians have settled.


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