FOR emerging folk singer Iona Fyfe, winning the bursary created in honour of Alasdair Gray couldn’t have come at a better time.

The award, worth £1000, took some of the stress out of funding her research and recording of the ballads and folk songs of the Scotland’s north-east.

The album of songs and accompanying songbook, which includes historical background and the lyrics of each piece, is due to be released on Saturday.

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It would be a spectacular achievement for a singer of any age but is even more impressive considering Fyfe is just 20. However, she admits the process has taken its toll, particularly as it was created over the space of a year when she was also working as a director of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland, and studying for a fellowship of London College of Music and a traditional music degree at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

“The bursary really did make a difference for me as every penny counts towards the album,” Fyfe told The National.

“It’s been very stressful getting funding as I could not apply to Creative Scotland because I was still a student. I’ve racked up thousands in expenses, although I did a crowd-funder that raised around £6000 from almost 200 supporters from all over the world. That was great but it was a lot of work.”


GIVEN Fyfe was the winner of the Molloy Award at The Trip to Birmingham Irish Trad Fest 2017 and a finalist in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year, those who don’t know her could be under

the impression she is an overnight sensation – but nothing could be further from the truth.

Growing up in a Doric-speaking musical family in Huntly in Aberdeenshire, Fyfe performed for the first time at Keith TMSA Festival when she was only five.

“None of my family sang but they played the box and the fiddle,”

she said. My cousins all competed at festivals, so my family encouraged me to learn a Doric poem to be able to compete too.

I met a lot of people at that first festival and the ballad singers encouraged me to start singing.”

Fyfe competed at festivals throughout her school years and started to go to folk clubs as she got older, earning money from gigs by the time she was 15. She also started a trad band at her school and organised

a Scots night with guest artists such as Fiona Kennedy. Fyfe said: “That was a lot of work but I just really wanted to do it.

The timing wasn’t brilliant as she had her audition for the Royal Conservatoire the next day, but despite being exhausted she was accepted and started studying there aged 17.


AT first Fyfe wasn’t interested in anything other than being an unaccompanied singer but became influenced by the amount of innovation she saw around her in Glasgow.

“I’m still respectful to the tradition but I’m getting away from the box that people have put me in and that I put myself in,” she explained.

As a result, her debut release, Away From My Window, is a concept album, inspired by the source and revivalist singers of Aberdeenshire.

With the album featuring archive clips of the likes of Stanley Robertson and Lizzie Higgins, Fyfe’s aim is to showcase revivalism in folk song with modern interpretations of old ballads and self-penned songs in a traditional style.

While drawing on the work of Scottish songwriters such as Michael Marra and Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap, she hopes to showcase the universalism of folk song in an inter-genre manner. Eight of the songs were performed at Celtic Connections in a sold-out gig in Glasgow Concert Hall with American band Railsplitters. Fyfe said: “The album took so long it was a bit of a nightmare but it’s done now and so far I’ve had a lovely response.”


ENGLISH guitarist and melodeon player Tim Edey plays on the album after sending Fyfe a tweet saying he would love to be involved.

“He is one of Britain’s most exceptional players – kind of folk royalty – and he has really transformed the songs,” she said. “These people are so lovely the way they reach out to young people.

“There is an amazing community in the folk world. A couple of years ago I would never have imagined having a record out with all these collaborators on it.”

Fyfe is touring her album throughout the UK at the moment and will perform in Canada in April before a tour of Germany, Austria and Italy in October.

It is a heavy schedule, especially combined with her studies, but at least the album is completed – something achieved despite a knee operation and having her wisdom teeth removed during the process.

Some of the older people on the folk scene also questioned whether she was ready to bring out an album. However, said Fyfe: “I have had the best upbringing and the greatest influences a singer could have had. Age is just a number and what they forget is that I’ve been singing for 15 years, which is a huge part of someone’s life. I’m happy with the album and I am proud to put it out there.”


FYFE is the second winner of the bursary which was created in November 2016, at the Songs for Scotland 2 event in the Oran Mor Auditorium. On that night, a £500 bursary was awarded to Jennifer Austin, a promising young Orcadian musician.

Last year, the Saltire Society agreed to take over the bursary and to make it into a £1000 annual award given to a young Scottish creative enrolled at a school

or university. “It is endowed until 2020, as some generous sponsors have stepped forward but what about the 2020s?” asked Kevin Brown, of Songs for Scotland. “The Saltire Society would be pleased to hear from anyone who wishes to give to the next generation of Scottish creatives.”

Gray said: “Supporting up-and- coming Scottish creatives is very necessary and I am pleased that this bursary is being and will continue to be awarded into the future.”

Iona Fyfe’s album is available to order from Saturday. Before then people can pre-order from iTunes, Bandcamp, Google Play, Amazon and