Tales of My Travels: Marion Kenny in India

I was fortunate to be awarded Professional Development funding from Creative Scotland to attend the Chennai Storytelling Festival as principal artist and to undertake research in traditional forms of storytelling and music in India.


I began my journey in the remote westernmost corner of Rajasthan. The golden forted city of Jaisalmer rises like a giant sand castle out of the arid Thar Desert close to the Pakistan border like a scene from Arabian nights.

Jaisalmer holds many stories of the countless merchants passing through as they transported fine materials, cotton, silks, spices, camels and opium amongst other goods. Its position on the overland route between Delhi and Central Asia – which ultimately led to the vast markets of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe – meant the city grew rich on the proceeds, as the magnificent palaces and havelis of merchants bear witness.

The city is also hugely important to Hindus, as it is closely associated with Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna has always been one of my favourite Indian Gods as he of plays the flute as do I, although I’m sure he would naturally have been a far finer player with his Godly skills.

According to ancient mythology, Krishna and Bhima had come to Jaisalmer for a ceremony, where Krishna prophesised that a descendent of his Yaduranshi clan would one day establish a kingdom there. Lord Krishna created a spring by casting a spear, which is still in existence and his prophecy carved in rock. This tale was told to Rawal Jaisel, a descendant of the Yaduranshi clan by a sage called Eesul in the 12th century. Encouraged by the meeting, he moved his capital to the location on the rock where the present city stands and named it after himself.

The people of the city took me to their hearts when they heard me practicing flute and I was invited to the palace to give a performance to Rani [Queen] Meghna Kumari Singh alongside her husband Maharaj [King] Vikram Singh Ji Bhati and their special guest, the Crowned Prince of Uidapur, amongst other invited guests.

The House of Nachana in Jaisalmer is a 300-year-old sandstone haveli, which belongs to the descendants of the erstwhile ruling dynasty of Jaisalmer. The Nachana family are Bhatis and they belong to the Lunar clan. The family traces their birth line lineage to Lord Krishna and way back before him to Rishi Attri from where the Lunar clan is known to have begun.

Sure enough, being part of Lord Krishna’s family music and dance plays a very integral part of their lifestyle, traditions, rituals, customs and festivities. The family has given patronage and full support to its artists and musicians and always entwined relationships between the two, which continue to this day. The Nachana family is very involved in promoting the Jaisalmer singers, musicians, storytellers and all kinds of local artists to reach their full potential.

Meghna Kumari Singh – with her non-profit organisation Uttistna Foundation [which means Arise, Awaken and perform conscious action] – is working with these artist communities to promote them and to involve the women and girls of these families so they too can carry their family traditions forward and be on a world stage.

In the days that followed, I visited many times while they shared tales of the regions and fed me lots of food, and I in turn shared stories and tunes from Scotland and Ireland. The family had on a previous visit to the region introduced me to a flute player I had been searching for but who had been proving elusive.

Hailing from the Bheel community in Rajasthan, Taga Ram Bheel is one of the most famous Algoza players in the region. Coming from a family of labourers and shepherds, Taga Ram self-taught himself the Algoza. As a child he would watch his father playing and was so intrigued by the magical instrument that he would steal his father’s well-hidden flute and run away to play with it while his sheep and goats grazed around him. He would start to play along with any song he would hear on the radio or in the Temples around. He now performs worldwide and is President of the Algoza Society, recipient of many prestigious awards and a skilled instrument maker.

The moment I met Taga Ram Bheel and began playing together, we clicked. We effortlessly improvised and couldn’t stop laughing in between tunes. Celtic music and the music of this region of Rajasthan have huge similarities.

He invited me to his village, Moolsager, where a group of musicians where waiting to greet me with welcoming songs. His mother and father, in their 80’s, along with his wife, many children and grandchildren all treated me like a family member. I was invited to stay with Taga Ram and his family in their village. They live in conical shaped houses, which have thatched roofs and are painted with traditional artwork of the region. We spent our days playing flutes together. At night we would sit around a flickering campfire beneath the twinkling stars sharing tales and tunes.

After my time in Rajasthan I travelled to Tamil Nadu in the South of India. My first port of call was the ancient city of Mamallapuram. Famed for its exquisite and extensive stone carvings and sea temple, I was able to see scenes and characters from the great Indian epic tales depicted in artwork. Most of them were carved from rock during the 7th century reign of Pallava King Narasimhavarman 1, whose nickname Mamalla [Great Wrestler] gave the town its name.

I was attending the annual Mamallapuram dance festival, which lasts for an entire month. Exponents of Eight Indian classical dance forms, hundreds of folk and tribal dances complete with storytelling, clowning and circus skills take to the stage each evening accompanied by live musicians. Every evening for a week I sat spellbound for several hours taking in the extraordinary dances from Tamil Nadu and all regions of India. Here I was able to witness the great epic tales of India the Ramayana and Mahabharata along with folk tales being danced out before me.

So, by day I experienced stories captured within ancient stone carving, and by night I relished stories performed with dance and music against the magnificent backdrop of Pavalla rock sculptures as the moon shone overhead.

From Mamallapuram I travelled to Chennai, which is the bustling capital of Tamil Nadu, previously known as Madras. Upon arrival I met with Chennai Storytelling Festival Director Eric Miller, who had agreed to accompany me on a week-long field trip. An hour after meeting we both leapt on a train for an epic journey, which took 14 hours and included an overnight sleeper, travelling to the most Southern region of Tamil Nadu.

Nagercoil is situated close to the tip of the Indian Peninsula and lies in undulating terrain between the Western Ghats and Arabian Sea. The evergreen forests of the hill regions are inhabited by as many as 36 tribes, who live in small hamlets of 20 families dispersed in and around the forest areas. The Kani traditional occupations include the production of handicrafts such as baskets, mats, cane work and seasonal collection of minor forest products like honey and bees wax, and cultivating edible plants such as tapioca, banana, millets, and cash crops such as pepper, coconut, rubber, areca and cashew nut.

The region with its near equatorial position and distinct geographical zonation’s into hill, plain and coastal regions is found to be an area rich in medicinal plants, as Eric discovered when he was studying for his PHD. The Kani Tribes also have a wealth of ancient traditions in the arts of storytelling, singing, lullabies, and musical games involving actions and rhymes, which they use for learning language. The friendship and trust built by Eric over the time he lived in the forests with the Kani meant I was able to gain a unique invitation to spend time with the tribe.

We were met by a member of the Kani Tribe called Ven Murrigen who guided us on a walk through the forests for many hours, sharing knowledge of the plants and trees medicinal uses and the many stories and songs connected to nature.

We finally reached a tiny hamlet which reminded me of my family’s home in Donegal with its thatched houses and wells. Men were stamping on what I discovered to be pepper and gathering tamarind into huge piles. A member of the tribe quickly climbed a coconut tree and brought down a coconut, lopping off the lid with an axe and offering me a drink of the fresh sweet coconut milk.

I was taken to a long house, which was filled with women, girls and young babies. When I held a baby in my arms the women all spoke to me, and I found out from Ven Murrigen, who was translating, that they wanted me to sing a lullaby. I sang the first which came to mind, which was ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’, much to the delight of the crowd which had gathered and who cheered and clapped. Then women took it in turns to hold a baby and sing a song.

One of these women was Rajamaal, which means Kings Mother. She is the tribes much adored and respected chief storyteller and singer. At 80 years of age she is still sharp as a knife and could tell stories and sing songs from the Kani traditions for hours without drawing breath.

We returned to the main meeting house where people gathered round and paused in their work. I shared some tunes on the flute and then Rajamaal regaled us all with stories. Like all great storytellers from oral tradition, she lived and saw every moment of the tales she shared, complete with actions and songs. She was supported by another storyteller and singer who at points in the stories would join in with actions and song. On other visits I would meet with a storyteller and singer from the younger generation called Banu, who is one of the few people continuing the Kani traditions.

I was able to document my time with the Kani tribe with film footage, photography and recordings. I was initially sheepish about being invasive, until I started playing my flute and they all began to film me with their mobile phones.

Whilst in Nagercoil I was also researching an ancient form of storytelling and music which has intrigued me for many years. Villupattu – also called the Bow Song – is known as the mother of all Indian storytelling. This form of narration interspersed with music is popular in the Southern Indian regions of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The stories are mythological, folktales and social tales dealing with topics such as domestic violence or aids. The main storyteller plays on a giant bow which is covered in tiny bells and sits within a gourd. There is a secondary storyteller/singer and several musicians.

I went to meet the region’s most famous villupattu artist – a woman called Shuba Manni. She had been studying and performing villupattu her entire life and has received many awards for her work. I was thrilled to have my first up close glimpse of the famous bow used during performances. Initially, I was disappointed as it was made from metal rather than the traditional wood I had seen in pictures. Shuba explained that many years earlier an artist had made one from metal as it could be assembled and transported on buses easily, unlike the old wooden bows. This of course made complete sense.

She showed me a hefty book, which was handwritten and filled with all the stories used in her repertoire. Myths, legends, folktales, and new material, which Subha writes for specific requests. Very often the Indian government employs Shuba and her troupe to set up in bus stops and deliver stories with a social message.

She told me that the following day they would be doing a performance at a temple celebration and invited me along. Her sons told me the story of Ezeke that they would be performing so I would understand it.

The temple was on the outskirts of Nagercoil and was the place of the dead and cremations. People were busy bedecking the temple and effigies of its Gods with flowers.

There were loud speakers and tannoys erected up and down the roads of the village so the music and stories could be broadcast. Gradually people began to arrive dressed in their colourful saris and hair tied with fresh jasmine which scented the air.

Subha would tell her story, and then they would leap into musical accompaniment and singing. As she spoke the secondary storyteller would join in, having a direct conversation with the audience. Whilst speaking and singing she would make rhythms on the huge bow like instrument as the tiny bells jangled. At one point a procession of people entered the temple banging drums and walking in a circular motion around a statue of the temple God. Sudha and the musicians became more frenetic in their playing and suddenly a man went into a trance state and became possessed by the temple God. He ran around the temple shouting and screaming before being held down and doused with water to bring him back into present consciousness.

I was informed that later that evening a pig would have its throat cut and hung upside down so the temple God could drink its blood. The following day the pig would be cooked, and the entire village would join in the feast and celebration.

From the Southernmost tip of India, I returned alongside Eric Miller to Chennai to attend the storytelling festival, which is now in its seventh year and hosted 22 events across ten days. Themes for the 2019 edition were ‘Storytelling for Creativity, Teaching, Training & Healing’ and ‘Tales about Strong & Clever Girls & Women’.

For the duration of the festival I stayed with storyteller and journalist Sudha Umashanker and her husband. Sudha leads historical storytelling tours of Chennai and has created an extensive library for children in her home where she’s been running weekly storytelling sessions for several years. I was shown great kindness and hospitality and learnt so much about Indian culture and traditions from my stay with the Umashankers. Sudha also shared many tales about the Scottish inhabitants of Madras who had lived there during the East India times.

As part of the festival I had been invited by the British Council to give two performances in their theatre in Chennai. The first was alongside my friend Deepa Kiran, who many will remember from her visit to the Scottish International Storytelling Festival.

I met Deepa initially when performing at the International Storytelling Festival in Iran. When I discovered we had a shared love of weaving tales I mentioned Deepa to SISF Festival Director Donald, who bought her to Scotland. As part of her visit, we created several programmes together including weaving tales and tunes from Scotland, Ireland and India.

When Eric Miller invited me to perform at the Chennai Storytelling Festival, I suggested that Deepa and myself repeat and grow the same programme in India, and it was a joy to share the stage with her again.

My second performance at the British Council was a solo one, based on the theme of strong women from Scottish and Irish folktales and epic sagas. The British Council in Chennai was the perfect venue and both performances had large and responsive audiences.

For the duration of the festival there was an evening programme featuring storytellers from India, Canada, America and Scotland, each taking to the stage to share stories and songs. It was inspiring to see so many talented performers and witness how strong the storytelling scene is in India. I also had the opportunity to speak to artists about their work.

As part of the festival outreach, I was invited to give a solo performance of Macbeth, told in oral tradition, to MA English students from Loyola College. This was followed by a lively discussion about the role of Lady Macbeth and Diana Tso, a Canadian storyteller, commented:

‘Such a wonderful excitement and joy to witness Marion Kenny’s story of Macbeth! She captivates us from her mesmerising flute playing to her dynamic energy and draws listeners up close to the characters in her story with a touch or a whisper.’

I was also delighted to give a performance on the theme of Eco Stories to MA and PHD students studying ecology and the environment at Loyola College. The course director P. Mary Vidya Porselvi has had a book published by Routledge India entitled ‘Nature, Culture and Gender: Re-reading the Folktale’. It is heartening to learn of the many ways storytelling is being incorporated into Indian education.

At NKT teacher training college, I was invited to lead a workshop for two hundred teachers in storytelling as a teaching tool in education. I was supported by a fine team of storytellers from Chennai who translated my stories and instructions into Tamil as well as the lively discussions, which took place with participants. I repeated the same workshop to professional storytellers at the World Storytelling Institute, which was one of the festival venues.

From the ancient to the modern, from stories told in ancient carvings, dance and music, from the deserts of the North to the mountains, forests and sea of South- India is a living, breathing land of tales and tunes. My hope is that this wonderful cultural exchange will strengthen ties between the storytelling communities of India and Scotland.

‘Marion’s rhythmic, musical and physical interactions with the workshop participants were stunning, and she absolutely overcame the language barrier, skilfully working alongside various Chennai storytellers as translators throughout. She is a real professional both as a performer and conductor of storytelling workshops. Her emotions as she told stories and enacted the characters were strong and clear, taking us along with her on the journey. I think numerous members of Chennai’s professional storytelling community learned a lot from Marion’s direct, warm, personal and often conversational style.’  

(Dr Eric Miller, Artistic Director of Chennai Storytelling Festival)

Images Courtesy of Marion Kenny

More on Marion Kenny


Stepmums, Sinners & Saints: Storytelling Shakes Up Perception of Women

Storytellers Daiva Ivanauskaitė and Franziska Droll shake up the perceptions of women and the role of stepmothers in popular culture – just ahead of Mothering Sunday – with an event on Thursday 28 March at the Centre.

Is the word ‘stepmother’ still synonymous with ‘wicked’? Daiva and Franziska explore how the role of stepmother is misunderstood across nations and cultures to challenge stereotypes of women in fiction and stories.

The storytelling performance will showcase a selected mix of traditional stories and songs, from North America to Japan, interspersed with personal anecdotes which look at binarism through the eyes of a modern woman.

“The stepmother has been the villain for way too long! It is time to drag her out of the shadows and bring her into the light!” (Franziska Droll)

Amongst the tales on offer, Daiva will be showcasing the Lithuanian folk tale, Sigutė, which planted the root for her seeing stepmothers only represented as wicked, plus there’s a chance to hear a rarely heard and surprising Celtic tale, Gold Tree and Silver Tree, featuring an evil mother but some unexpected and inspiring female camaraderie.

With familiar elements to the classic Snow White tale but much older, it’s very likely that Jakob Grimm discovered the story and changed it, so Franziska will bring the old characters to life with a few shocking twists in the tale.

“I’m excited to present this storytelling performance on an untouched topic that is personal to me. As a stepmother myself, I was empowered to find good stories beyond embedded folklore stereotypes, where the stepmother is a hero or mentor who transforms her fear and insecurity into loving family relationships.”
(Daiva Ivanauskaitė)

Wicked Stepmother?
Thu 28 Mar | 7.30pm – 9.30pm | £8 (£6)

Book Tickets


Thinking Global, Acting Local Empowers Flourishing Sustainable Tales on World Storytelling Day

World Storytelling Day, on Wednesday 20 March, will be marked in Edinburgh this year with inspiring events honouring one of Scotland’s finest contemporary storytellers, Andy Hunter, who was a pioneer for how storytelling can help navigate a world of climate and communication chaos by reconnecting to nature.

Re-Storying Our Planet follows Andy’s environmental journeys across Scotland and his evocation of ‘spirit of place’ through film and performance. The event brings together storytellers Alette Willis and Allison Galbraith, who connect four stories from their book Dancing with Trees, with specific locations on film.

Lizanne Henderson, cultural historian and expert in Scottish traditional beliefs, will respond to the theme, and further discussion will be led by filmmakers, Tracey Fearnehough and Holger Mohaupt.

The evening performance is preceded by afternoon workshop Mapping the Stories: People and Place, led by Alette and Allison.

On Saturday 23 March a further workshop Stepping Stones – Changemaking will explore how communities of people and place are formed through storytelling and sharing, led by storytellers Beth Cross and Alexander Mackenzie.

These events have been supported by Andy Hunter Bursaries, funded in memory of Andy Hunter who died in 2015, by his wife Anne Hunter. A further project exploring storytelling approaches for children on the autistic spectrum, led by storyteller Beth Hamilton-Cardus will begin in April.

Chief Executive of Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS), Donald Smith states:
These projects and events reflect the flourishing state of live storytelling in Scotland. Grounded in millennia old traditions, Scottish storytellers are innovating to find new audiences and new ways to engage and create.

The Andy Hunter Storytelling Bursaries are administered by TRACS with the support of the Scottish Storytelling Forum.

Andy Hunter

Andyonstage.jpgAndy combined his love of storytelling with his love of cycling to create ‘Storybikes’, a business that aimed to enable people to sustainably travel and explore, hear stories along the way and thereby have an impact on the participants and on the place. Andy believed strongly that by learning more about a place we could enhance our perception of it and likewise that places are changed by our being in them.

His concern for the earth and environment were pivotal to this idea. Travelling in a way that was sustainable i.e. predominantly cycling but also walking and travelling by train, enabled him to take time to see the world around him, to explore and to forage. Andy would often return from a trip with something he hadn’t set out with. Whether it be acorns to roast, grind and make acorn coffee with, Himalayan balsam to make syrup with, elderflowers or berries to make wine with or pieces of wood to make a fire or carve a spoon with, Andy augmented his storytelling with artefacts and lived knowledge of places.

This way of working allowed Andy to enrich his own and others experience and understanding, to go deeply into the landscape and to pay attention to detail, whether it be in a story or in a place.

Andy often quoted a stanza from the poem ‘A Southern Night’ by Matthew Arnold who lamented the increased pace of life in the words:

And see all sights from pole to pole,
And glance, and nod, and bustle by,
And never once possess our soul
Before we die.

By contrast, Andy’s philosophy was to take time for people, for places and for the many causes in which he believed. He saw that storytelling gave people a chance to be still, the opportunity to look, to listen and to discover the heart and history of place.

Mapping the Stories: People and Place
Wednesday 20 March, 2pm – 4.30pm | £16

Re-Storying Our Planet
Wednesday 20 March, 7pm – 9pm | £8

Stepping Stones – Changemaking
Saturday 23 March, 10.30am – 4.30pm | £24



Green Arts Day the Storytelling Way

Once Upon A Time, there was a building designed for storytelling, which opened in 2006. It planned to be open and accessible, with nature at its core design and the primary brief – to enjoy the spoken word, unamplified.

Utilising Douglas Fir, the spaces were designed to be outward-looking, connecting to the city and its stories through an inviting large window at the front, while maintaining connection to the natural world through the large, rear window overlooking Sandeman House Garden. Plus, natural light was harnessed through skylights that catch and diffuse sunlight into the venue.

Nature was and is at the core ethos of the Storytelling Centre, so the venue is proud to be a Green Arts Venue, as part of the Green Arts Initiative from Creative Carbon Scotland.

We’ve already come a long way in our habits to ensure we are reducing the impact of our operations on the environment:
– Recycling points throughout the building for staff and general public making it easy to reduce waste going to landfill.
– Energy and Water emissions reducing year-on-year (accurately monitored through meter readings)
– Encouraging use of walking/bikes/public transport to reduce carbon footprint emissions (and when cars are being used, car share!)
– Programmes for the Centre and the Scottish International Storytelling Festival are printed on recycled paper, utilising eco printing facilities.
– Digital innovation meets Green habit making as the Scottish International Storytelling Festival invited a global audience to live streamed performances, with no travel needed!

Then, one curious day, there was new management for The Storytelling Café!

Saltire Hospitality are an award-winning local, family owned company, guaranteeing the supply of exceptional fresh, local and seasonal Scottish produce. Saltire are focused on ‘Going Green’ and have recently obtained their Silver Green Tourism award, with ambitions to ensure they get to gold standard.

They will be helped in this ambition by being the first company in the UK to purchase their own GLS machine! Purchasing this Glass to Sand machine – which does what it says on the tin by crushing glass bottles into fully recyclable sand, in 3 seconds – means Saltire, who use a huge amount of glass but were surprised to hear of glass recycling shortcomings, can be confident they are recycling glass which then can be used for a variety of purposes, such as bunkers on golf courses, in construction or even as candle wax catcher… you can read more on this in action at Rosslyn Chapel here.

So, the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Café continue to spread the word about thinking green, making it easy for visitors to be inspired and change some simple habits for the greater good of all, with a few plans up their sleeves including:
– Monthly Green Day
– Reusable cups replace single use plastics for performances at the Centre

Plus, our green approach is always reflected in our programme too, as nature is the core focus for our events on World Storytelling Day!

Join Allison Galbraith and Alette Willis on 20 March for workshop Mapping the Stories: People and Place and evening performance Re-Storying Our Planet, which empower all to re-unite traditional stories and environmental action. These events are inspired by the Andy Hunter Storytelling Bursary, which aims to continue Andy’s passion for nourishing the earth and the people in it through sustainable storytelling in nature, to connect with the landscape and rejuvenate the importance of place, just like the Storytelling Centre itself.

But this is not the end of our story… it’s just the beginning!

View Environmental Policy
View Event and Workshop
More Information on Green Arts Day


Disabled Access Day

There’s only three days to go until Disabled Access Day returns for its fourth outing on Saturday 16 March, and it is a great day for disabled people, with their families and friends, to try somewhere new in a fun, safe and welcoming way.

Disabled Access Day has exponentially increased in size and popularity in the few years it has been running, with over 11,000 partner venues and activities taking place across the UK in 2017, so we’re delighted to be hosting again for 2019!

On the day, there will be storytelling for all ages with Wild & Windy Songs & Stories at 2pm. Ailie Finlay and Marie Louise Cochrane will lead this lively session of tales with multi-sensory props and lots of joining-in!

There will also be the chance to tour the Centre’s performance spaces if you’ve never visited before. #AccessDay this year is encouraging participants to discover new spaces and we love people discovering the magic of our venue!

Staff will be happy to give you a tour of the building and answer any and all questions you have about our programme, facilities and accessibility.

Administration and Development Officer, Ella Bendall states:

‘We’re delighted to be taking part in Disabled Access Day again, and excited to welcome new and returning visitors to the Centre. Whether you’re visiting for some multi-sensory tales with Ailie and Marie-Louise or just want to explore our spaces and ask some questions about a future visit, our staff will be happy to help. We hope to see you on #AccessDay and have a brilliant time trying #YouAndSomeWhereNew!’

Did you know, there are more toilets in Wembley Stadium than there are changing places toilets across the whole of the UK?


A key focus for Disabled Access Day 2019 is highlighting the need for Changing Places toilets. These are larger accessible toilets which have additional equipment, such as a full-sized bed and a hoist for those that require it.

Whilst there isn’t a Changing Places toilet in the Centre, there will be maps available at reception showing three within the Old Town that are a short distance away.

Feel free to check out our Access Statement for further information, and if you have any specific access requirements that you’d like to discuss prior to your visit, send us an email or give us a call on 0131 556 9579.

Download Access Statement



Scottish-Nordic festival returns next month.

An unique festival of Nordic and Scottish music, song and dance based in Edinburgh celebrates its 16th year next month, with another diverse line-up of invited guests.

Taking place 26-28 April, Northern Streams 2019, features:

  • Kata – a five women group who sing traditional songs from the Faroe Islands in a striking manner (photo featured above)

  • Caolmhar – a group of four young people from Sweden that play a range of Nordic & Scottish music and songs. 3 of them come from V-Dala Spelmanslag – Sweden’s longest-running student folk ensemble & three times student world champions!
  • EPK – Jocelyn Pettit with Rav Sira & Ellen Gira – a trio of top young musicians studying in Scotland, from Canada, Norway and the USA, who enjoy playing both Nordic and Scottish music. This will be their first headline concert since forming.

Organiser, Fiona Campbell, said: “I’m really pleased we’ve been able to invite artists from the Faroe Islands as we’ve not yet had anyone perform at the festival from there. Kata have an amazing soundbringing to life old songs with intriguing stories from the Faroese tradition. I’m also pleased to have some of the young Swedish musicians who delighted festival audiences last year, returning to play andsing. And it’s great to be able to showcase the talent that Scotland attracts to study here, especially people who have a shared interest in exploring the Scottish and Nordic traditions.”

The festival opens with an evening concert on Friday, then a concert and ceilidh on Saturday – to give you the opportunity to try Nordic dances alongside the Scottish ones you are likely to know already. All dances will be called or demonstrated.

There are workshops during the day on Saturday covering tunes, songs and dances from Scotland, Sweden, Norway and the Faroe Islands. The workshop period ends with the Sharing Session we recently started where all the invited guest performers and participants get a chance to share what they have learnt from the workshops and performances. A second open session finishes the festival on the Sunday afternoon. (This session inspired the development of a monthly Nordic on the fourth Sunday of the month which will coincide with the festival in April).

All events take place at the Pleasance, 60 The Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9TJ. Ticket prices range from £6 for a workshop – £35 for an all-in-one weekend ticket. Concessions include TMSA members & Young Scot cardholders. See to book online and for other ways to buy tickets in advance including in person. (Tickets are only available at the venue during the event).

For more details of the Northern Streams programme visit or
email: or tel: 0795 191 8366, or Facebook – TMSAEdinburgh&Lothians and Twitter @northernstream1.

Northern Streams is organised by the Traditional Music and Song Association (TMSA) Edinburgh & Lothians Branch. Details about the Branch at: and TMSA –

We acknowledge support from the Tórshavnar Kommuna to cover the flights from the Faroe Islands and donations from other sources.

The workshops tutored by the guest performers are expected to be around the following topics:

  • Faroe Islands Songs including the song dance tradition
  • Norwegian Tunes & Accompaniment
  • Swedish Songs & Tunes
  • Cape Breton-Scottish Tunes, Connections & Accompaniment
  • Scottish Step Dance & Playing for Dancing

Sharing Session with all invited guest performers and participants to get a chance to share what they have learnt from the workshops and performances. (Free with any workshop or concert ticket).

Sat 27 April:

Evening concert and ceilidh @ 7.30-11pm Tickets: £12/10Kata (Faroe Islands/Denmark) & The Northern Streams Ceilidh Band

Created from our Festival guest musicians, the Northern Streams Ceilidh Band, will be giving you the opportunity to try out Scottish and Nordic dances – which will be called/ demonstrated – during the extended second half of our concert or you can just sit and listen to the tunes and songs!

Sun 28 April:

Afternoon session @ 1.30-4.30pm Free and open to all to take part or come along and listen.

Bonus extra! We are planning a concert up at the Wighton Centre in Dundee on Thursday 25 April depending in funding – details will be confirmed soon hopefully!


CARA release “Mòran Taing” charity single for Cancer Research on 28th March 2019

CARA release “Mòran Taing” charity single for Cancer Research on 28th March 2019,

and welcome new bandmate, Aimee Farrell Courtney (bodhrán) from Ireland

CARA are delighted to announce the release of their forthcoming single, “Mòran Taing”, which means “many thanks” in Scots Gaelic. Written by Scottish songwriter and CARA member, Kim Edgar (piano, lead vocals), the song celebrates her father’s life.

Kim explains:

My dad, Derek John Edgar, was an extra-ordinary man: creative, gentle, positive, loving, and determined. He remained just as extra-ordinary when facing cancer of an unknown primary source, for which no successful treatment could be found. In the last week of his life, I wrote him a thank you card, because I wanted him to know how grateful my family and I were to have him in our lives. He told me I should turn what I had written into a happy song – and writing happy songs is something I have always found difficult! But my dad always encouraged me to meet new challenges. So now, on his second anniversary, we’re releasing “Mòran Taing” – a song of thanks for my dad’s life, and his legacy.”

The Scots Gaelic chorus lyric means “many thanks, goodbye for now, fare you well for now, many thanks”. CARA have recently been performing the song on tour, and were inspired by the audience reaction to release the song as a single to raise money for others affected by cancer, and to make an official music video combining footage and photographs from Derek’s life – a life lived to the full: building houses, raising a family and riding in international motorcycle trials.

Kim’s bandmate, founding CARA member Gudrun Walther (fiddle, accordion, lead vocals) says:

We know that grief will affect us all at some point in our lives. It’s a song of parting – but an uplifting one. We hope that for those who have experienced loss, this song’s focus on gratitude for the people who enrich our lives will bring some comfort – as well as raising funds to support those faced with a cancer diagnosis.”

Mòran Taing” also marks a new chapter in CARA’s life: after their “CARA:live” album last year, celebrating 15 years as a band, this single is CARA’s first release since the addition of Aimee Farrell Courtney, 2010 World Bodhrán Champion, to the quintet line up. Aimee, who comes from Ireland, has made a big impression on European audiences since joining the band, with her dynamic and versatile playing, which is featured on the official music video for Mòran Taing”. Aimee mentions:

CARA’s main touring circuit is in and around Germany – but I’m keen to get the band over to Ireland to play at home, as well! And after recording the single, I can’t wait to start working on our forthcoming album.”

The band look forward to extensive touring this year in Germany and Switzerland – and have just confirmed a headline slot at Priddy Folk Festival in England on Saturday 13th July 2019. For full details of all forthcoming gigs, visit

The single will available from www.cara-music.comand digital download stores from Thursday, 28th March 2019, as will the official music video, which is currently unlisted, but can be watched now from here.


For more information, high resolution photographs, or to arrange an interview or session,

contact Kim Edgar: 00 44 7951 196 958


Easter Youth Gaitherin’, 8th – 10th April 2019 @ Leith Theatre

This year’s Easter Youth Gaitherin’ will be from the 8th-10th April in Leith Theatre and tickets are now on sale!

If you are aged between 9-18, and want to meet and play music with other young musicians then come along to three days of folk music workshops in Leith Theatre. 

This years fantastic tutors are Steven Blake, Heather MacLeod, Sally Simpson, Imogen Bose-Ward and Roo Geddes. 

Workshops include; 

Highland Pipes

Whistle & Flute 

Fiddle (beginner, intermediate and advanced classes)


Mixed instrument group work


We are very grateful to The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo who have helped us support the event to go ahead this year.

For tickets visit Eventbrite.

Join us on Facebook.

Assisted and concessionary tickets available.

If you have any questions please email:


Between Islands project to celebrate musical links between Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides at Orkney Folk Festival

The musical connections between three of Scotland’s island groups – Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides – are to be celebrated at this year’s Orkney Folk Festival, with two collaborative concerts featuring celebrated musicians and singers from each of the areas.

Leading western Isles vocalists Julie Fowlis and Kathleen MacInnes will appear alongside Shetland’s Jenny Keldie and Orcadian duo Saltfishforty – Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty – in two unique productions over the festival weekend.

The five musicians will present a Between Islands concert on the afternoon of Friday, May 24, in the Stromness Town Hall. They, and the theme of connections between island groups, will then form the basis of the 2019 incarnation of the festival’s highly successful Gathering event, on Sunday, May 26, which will also take place in the festival’s flagship venue.

The Between Islands artists join a stellar line-up already announced for the 37th annual festival, including Four Men and a Dog; Lau; Cara Dillon; Dermot Byrne, Éamonn Coyne and John Doyle; Kinnaris Quintet, The Poozies and Còig, amongst many more.

These two special concerts are the first of the Between Islands projects – an initiative headed up by Alex Macdonald, of the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, that aims to explore the links between the three islands groups through a series of inter-island initiatives – to be supported by a recent funding award from the LEADER 2014-2020 regional cooperation scheme.

Alex explained: “In the past An Lanntair have undertaken one off inter-island events, but now, with the support of funding from LEADER, we are able to focus on the creation of a longer-term project, working with a broad range of island organisations and with the main aim of encouraging collaboration through collectively promoting our culture and heritage.

“Working with Orkney Folk Festival to enable this collaboration feels entirely appropriate and illustrates the types of partnerships we hope to further in the coming months. However, the project will not be confined to music, and we are currently in the process of planning lectures, workshops and an exhibition in each area based on the Between Islands theme.”

These concerts mark a return to Orkney for Julie Fowlis, who last visited the festival in 2016, fronting her own band. Known around the world, Julie performed at the opening ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games to a television audience of over one billion, and will forever be known for singing the theme song of Disney Pixar’s Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA award-winning feature film Brave.

Kathleen MacInnes will, however, be making her first appearances at the festival as part of the Between Islands project – and indeed her first ever visit to the county. A singer, artist and actress from South Uist, Kathleen has achieved widespread international acclaim, no less than when she featured on the sound-track of the 2010 Hollywood blockbuster, Robin Hood, directed by Ridley Scott and starting Russel Crowe.

Kathleen said: “This will be my first time visiting Orkney and I’m really excited to be making the trip, meeting fellow island folk, and experiencing the landscape and music. It’s great to have an opportunity to work with Jenny and Saltfishforty, and of course Julie, but in particular it’s great to play a part in developing our musical inter island links.”

A fiddle-player and singer from Burra Isle, in Shetland, Jenny Keldie moved to Orkney to become a music teacher. In recent years she has formed a much-loved song duo with Brian Cromarty, who also forms one half of Saltfishforty alongside Douglas Montgomery. Linchpin figures in Orkney’s traditional music scene, Brian and Douglas unite these deep-rooted sources with an exhilarating breadth of influence and expertise. Across 15 years performing together, the duo has delighted audiences at many of the world’s top folk festivals, with a focus on traditional Orkney music boldly cross-fertilised with influences from Americana to East European folk.

Looking ahead to the collaboration, Douglas said: “I am really looking forward to being a part of Between Islands, especially at my home festival. The three islands have such distinct musical styles, but also work so well together – and it’s not often you get the chance to perform alongside some of the finest singers in Scotland, all on the stage at the same time, I can’t wait.”

Colin Gilmour, chair of the Outer Hebrides LEADER Local Action Group, added: “The programme is delighted to be supporting the development of this innovative knowledge sharing project, and the opportunity to promote the islands’ cultural heritage.”

The 37th Orkney Folk Festival will take place over the late May bank holiday weekend of Thursday 23 to Sunday 26. Across its four days, the festival will present 36 concerts alongside multiple free events across the county. The festival programme and ticket release dates will be announced later in March.


Stonehaven Folk Festival Achieves New Guinness World Record For World’s Largest Ceilidh Band

IT’S official! The World’s Largest Ceilidh Band, organised by Stonehaven Folk last year is a Guinness World Record Holder.

It took months of planning to meet the stringent requirements for last year’s attempt to set a new record for the world’s largest ceilidh band. Forms had to be filled and strict evidence protocols followed. Stewards, counters, dancers, video photographers and even Aberdeenshire’s Lord Provost were needed to ensure the event met the challenge.

Nerves were taut as the July attempt date approached. Guinness World Records require a minimum of 250 participants for any mass participation record to be set. Liz Johnstone was so determined to recruit, that no musician was safe. “I would accost people anywhere,” she said. “I was standing in a queue in Glasgow and spotted a woman carrying a violin case, so I asked her if she could play. It turned out she was a member of the National Fiddle Orchestra.”

Meanwhile Scottish Culture and Tradition tutor Sandy Tweddle, who was musical director on the day, was teaching all his pupils the tunes for the ceilidh dance sets. Musicians came from all over Scotland, mostly from Aberdeen City and Shire but also England and even the USA and Germany.

There was the usual last minute panic. T-shirts had been ordered both to identify the musicians and, cunningly, had music printed on the back to help the rows of players. But they did not arrive until literally minutes before the non-stop procession of tin whistles, guitars, bodhrans, banjos and fiddles appeared at the Mackie Academy school hall.

Jubilation at a faultless performance by the 288-strong band was followed by
frustration over the following months: new records are not declared without stringent vetting of the evidence provided.

Meg Findlay said: “You can imagine how I felt when they came back to us in December asking for a list of names and instruments of all the participants.”
So it is with absolute triumph that the committee of Stonehaven Folk Festival now declare themselves ‘officially amazing’ – and they have the certificate to prove it.

Further information:

The record-setting event took place on July 6 2018, in the assembly hall of Mackie Academy, Stonehaven. Aberdeenshire Lord Provost Bill Howatson adjudicated the attempt. Music played included The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre, the Atholl Highlanders and Harvest Home. Dancers were provided by SC&T and they danced Strip the Willow, the Canadian Barn Dance and the Gay Gordons. Instruments included in the World’s largest Ceilidh band were: Accordion, Banjo, Bodhran, Cello, Clarsach, Fiddle, Flute, Free Reed Instruments, Guitar, Keyboard, Mandolin Family, Mouthie, Viola, Whistle.

For further information please contact: 07931 204329