As I write this, I am still reeling from one of the best nights of music I have ever been involved in. The past Sunday (February 3rd), the last night of Celtic Connections, the fruits of 9 months of labour came into being.
I am a fiddle player, a singer-songwriter (under the moniker Man of the Minch), and the organiser of a traditional music project called “Bogha-frois” (the Gaelic world for rainbow), which originated as a workshop programme which aimed to create new music based on the experiences of its participants, all of whom belong somewhere within the wide spectrum of the LGBT+ community.
Supported by Creative Scotland and Outspoken Arts Scotland, the project aims to tell the stories of the LGBT+ community in the folk tradition. We brought together a group of folk and traditional musicians who identify as part of the community and held 3 days of workshops at the Scottish Storytelling Centre – led by myself, Rachel Sermanni, fiddler Laura Wilkie, singer Josie Duncan, accordionist Grant McFarlane and multi-instrumentalist Marit Falt.
Over the three days, something magical happened. The musicians involved were wonderfully talented, warm, fascinating people – each with their own unique perspectives. We turned poems about topics as far ranging as protest and dating apps into beautiful, epic songs in both English and Gaelic. We combined Scandinavian, power-ballad-like fiddle tunes with songs about newfound freedom. We wrote songs about the walls we build around ourselves, and the toxic messages purveyed by Piers Morgan.
A little context. I have been playing fiddle on the outskirts of the folk scene for years, and as part of the Glasgow-based Americana outfit The Dirty Beggars. I have always felt that my sexuality was something to hide in the scene. I have played countless gigs and jam sessions where I have consciously tried to suppress any signs of stereotypically “gay” behaviour. Perhaps this is my own prejudice on what I perceive the folk audience to be. I have always felt alone – that my love for the Scottish music tradition was at odds with my sexuality.
Of late, I have watched with great admiration the fight for gender equality in folk pioneered by the BIT Collective and the Women in Trad movement. However – initially I viewed this as a barrier. If women are still fighting for equality in the scene, what hope do we have in the LGBT+ community? That despondency quickly turned to determination. I participated in the #womenintrad conversation held on Twitter by Hands Up For Trad and brought up my thoughts on this. Do we fight for one thing at time? Women in Trad first, then the LGBT+ community? Someone responded that it was important that the ladder is not brought up behind them and I suddenly felt galvanized. I knew I had to do something and there must be more people that felt like me.
Traditional music has progressed sonically in leaps and bounds in recent years with bands like Niteworks, Inyal and Kinnaris Quintet bringing the sound solidly into the 21stCentury. It’s time to bring attitudes with it.
Fast forward to the 3rdof February. Thanks to the support of the festival, we were able to bring the music created at the workshops, as well as host of other traditional music stars to the Strathclyde Suite as part of Celtic Connections. As well as the participants of the workshops and its leaders, we had stellar performances from Mischa MacPherson, Kim Carnie, Anna Massie, Donald Grant, Eric Linklater, Nic Gareiss, Joseph Peach, Alistair Iain Paterson and Gillian Fleetwood. We played songs about love – historical and present day. I have never felt such love and community on stage (from both fellow musicians and the audience) in all my years of playing traditional music. I have received messages from other musicians who no longer feel afraid to be themselves – and feel ready to come out to the community, both traditional music and LGBT+.
I heard recently from the Michigan born dancer Nic Gareiss that he was once told that there were “no gays in Scottish Folk Music”. This couldn’t be more wrong. Not only are the a great many – they are some of the absolute best musicians on the scene.
I always felt like an outsider in the folk scene, it’s both ironic and beautiful that it is this, the rainbow, which has helped me and many other musicians find their place.
Here’s to more of Bogha-frois. It’s not my project anymore. It’s for all of us, just as folk music is.