TOMORROW Govan-based musician Paul MacAlindin will be honoured by the Prime Minister of Malaysia as one of the first recipients of a new global award.

He has been flown out for the prestigious ceremony at an international summit in recognition of his work in setting up the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

It was a project that was widely considered to be foolhardy but MacAlindin braved the risks to pull together young people from very diverse cultures in the war-torn country to create an orchestra that became a symbol of peace.

Sadly, after five years of hard work, the advance of Daesh meant it wasn’t safe to continue but MacAlindin, who was devastated by the orchestra’s demise, has picked himself up and has now turned his attention to Govan where he is again using music to bring people together.

In order to do so he has founded the first professional orchestra created specifically for regeneration in an area of urban deprivation.

“Music can bring together people that don’t understand each other,” he told The National. “There is a divide here between the indigenous Scots and the new Scots who may be asylum seekers. There is also the sectarian divide as well as single elderly people who need more social engagement. I’m not saying music is a cure for all but it definitely contributes something very powerful to the resilience of a community and helps with communication when people don’t speak the same language.”


MUCH has been made of MacAlindin’s work in Iraq but the renowned conductor is clear his focus is now Govan and he has emphasised his commitment by moving into one of the most challenging streets in the area and setting up a new orchestra, the Glasgow Barons.

“I’m not parachuting in for a couple of days. You need to be constantly at it otherwise nothing will change and you also have to be ready to go two steps forward and one back.”

He’s no stranger to challenging situations. Brought up in Dunfermline, he says he was one of only two boys in the whole of Fife to take ballet lessons. He discovered music at an early age and when he was just five-years-old he asked for piano tuition. Growing up in small town Scotland in the 1980s, these interests made him a target for bullies but he found he could protect himself emotionally through music.

“Music is great if you want to escape from things,” he says.

He found further proof of this in Iraq where his students sought relief from the terror of the bomb blasts around them through music, with many of them teaching themselves using YouTube videos.

“These were young folk who were in the middle of a war but had made the choice to use music to free themselves from violence.”


MACALINDIN drew them together from all parts of the country by auditioning through YouTube. Despite the cultural and religious differences in the devastated country, he brought together Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, Arab, Turkomen, Assyrian and Armenian Iraqis who were united by a shared love of music.

Although supported by the British Council, MacAlindin needed international attention and funds and managed to get these by using an approach outlined in the best-selling 2005 book Blue Ocean Strategy.

This is the idea of achieving success by creating “blue oceans” of uncontested market space, as opposed to “red oceans” where competitors fight for dominance.

“It’s about creating a non-competitive market space and focussing on innovation and creativity,” he explains. “In Iraq I had young people that had taught themselves and they could not compete in standard with other youth orchestras that are filled with kids with the best instruments and have had the best teachers. We needed to attract international interest so we told a story of reconciliation.”

MacAlindin also commissioned Kurdish and Iraqi composers to represent the different cultures in Iraq.

“Most youth orchestras do standard repertoires so this was something different. That is what I mean about creating a non-competitive market space.”


THE Blue Ocean Strategy has now been adopted by Malaysia as a way of transforming the country and, since its implementation eight years ago, gross national income has increased by 50 per cent.

As a result of this success the Malaysian Government has decided to create the Global Blue Ocean Shift Award which is being presented to MacAlindin tomorrow at the opening session of the Gobal Entrepreneurship Community Summit.

His work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq also features as the first case study in Blue Ocean Shift, the follow up book to Blue Ocean Strategy, which came out in September and is already a best seller in the United States.

MacAlindin hopes the orchestra will have a long term effect although he admits he was left reeling at its demise.

“Devastated isn’t strong enough a word and that was followed by the deaths of my parents and my ex-partner [Sir Peter Maxwell Davies]. I was on the floor.”

Unable to make music for a while he wrote a book, Upbeat, about the youth orchestra and now hopes his former students will be able to use their experience in a positive way in the future.

In the meantime, the conductor is concentrating his energies on Govan.


SOME people have joked that Govan can’t be much different from Iraq but MacAlindin points out that he is not starting from zero here as a number of agencies are already doing good work in the area.

So far he has held a street party in Luath Street “to blast the area with positive energy from music”, held a concert in Govan Old Parish and set up composition workshops in Govan High School.

Next year depends on funding but he aims to continue the education work and concerts and perhaps even have music performances streamed on the internet live from people’s sitting-rooms.

“We have two beautiful buildings, the McLeod Hall and Govan Old Parish that are vastly under-utilised and are fantastic for concerts,” he points out.

“Unfortunately people have a mental block about Govan and one of my wishes is to create concerts to attract people from other parts of Glasgow and tourists as well as the local people.”

He added: “Govan is known for its problems but I feel very strongly that it has an enormous amount of potential and that’s what I want to tap into.”