It’s a really scary thing moving to a new place, especially when you didn’t study there and don’t have many connections. You get the feeling you’re starting from scratch and it can be overwhelming and potentially a bit lonely being ‘the new one’. This is basically what I felt when I moved to London.
I was reluctant at first, scared to lose my identity as a Trad singer, and scared to lose connections. It wasn’t easy, but new experiences rarely are. The thing is, I’ve probably made more connections than ever before and I’ve been better than expected at keeping in touch with people since making the move. The reason probably being that I was out of my comfort zone, which gave me that sink or swim feeling, and constantly made me think of the old chestnut – distance makes the heart grow fonder.
London is a cool and interesting place. I’m constantly finding different and amazing locations and communities every time I leave the front door behind. But I instantly became aware that there was a lack of Scottish Culture and Tradition in London – which amazed me. I saw this as an opportunity to create a cultural hub in the city. I reached out to Anna MacDonald (singer, harpist, co-founder of Play for Progress and general business witch), also living in London, and quickly found that we shared the same opinions and interests of keeping Scottish traditional music, language, art and culture alive in London. Very soon after, we created The Association of Exiled Scots. We formed the company to create a community away from home for ‘Exiled Scots’ the world over. Our mission is to promote Scottish Music, Language, Arts and Culture, as well as nurture Scottish talent by providing a platform for performances, exhibitions and bespoke in-conversation events.
There are some wonderful organisations in London that are connected to Scottish Culture, such as Còisir Lunnainn (London Gaelic Choir), Comunn Gàidhlig Lunnainn (The Gaelic Society of London), Scotland House and London Scottish House, along with some others. But the main aim of The Association of Exiled Scots is to be inclusive and join the London Scottish diaspora together to create that feeling you get when you’re at the song session at Duke’s bar with everyone singing The Parting Glass at the end of the night.
From being in a new place, I’ve found the confidence to go out and create work while still enjoying myself. That’s one of the reasons I started the function band Owl Weekend. My favourite line up being vocals, kit and brass (trumpet, alto sax, trombone and tuba) because why not?! Creating opportunities like this for myself seems to have given me the confidence to do more, such as perform more of my own material and play an instrument on stage for the first time in a long time.
I’m still very much connected to Glasgow and my home in the village of Cardross. I come home at least once a month to attend the Atomic Piseag rehearsal in Oban and to work on a wonderful Gaelic Song collection with Kenna Campbell. I’ve also been guest lecturing at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with Alistair Paterson, which is where I learned so much about what I do and it’s lovely to come full circle and see others who are inspired to learn more about their craft. I’ll also be touring with Glasgow based band Fourth Moon in 2020. But right now, I’m recording, filming and performing new music and working towards an EP and full album of my own material. Which is actually something I’ve never really done as I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with working within a band.
I feel I have a new found confidence that comes hand in hand with a new place, I no longer feel worried about mixing my own songs, with Gaelic and traditional songs, because music is music and merging styles and influences is ultimately what makes for an amazing, inspiring and individual performer.
Without going all Wizard of Oz Dorothy on you, there really is no place like home and it’s been a long time inspiration for me. I’ll always be flying the Cardross/Helensburgh/Glasgow flag, but a change of place has shifted my perspective slightly and opened up my mind creatively to new opportunities.
So I think all in all what I’m trying to say is, it’s ok to be scared and hesitant about change, but don’t hold back in expressing yourself as an individual and a performer, and don’t wait for a new place or time to find the confidence, just go for it. If you feel you need a change of scenery or want to try a new place, just try it.
Ainsley performing with Fourth Moon: