My name is Graham Rorie, I’m a full time self-employed fiddle and mandolin player from Orkney living in Glasgow. I thought I’d focus this blog on how I got past the mental and logistical blocks of setting up a new project. Something I put off for far too long and can’t wait to get started with my first ever solo show ‘The Orcadians of Hudson’s Bay’ at Celtic Connections on the 30th January.
“I’ll do that after I’ve finished this”, “that person I want to work with is away, they’ll be too busy”, “they wouldn’t want to work on my stuff”, “I don’t know where to start”
Just a couple of the questions that came up while I was thinking about starting something new. I’ve been looking at expanding my musical output for a while. My main focus since leaving the Traditional Music course at the RCS has been touring and recording with Gnoss. I’m very fortunate to work with such a brilliant group of my best pals who also happen to be outstanding musicians and I can’t wait for the tour coming up in a few weeks. One thing I have noticed since leaving uni however, is that no matter what it is you’re doing, as a full-time musician just having one creative outlet is often not fully sustainable. Most musicians I know have one or two more projects that they work with alongside many other branches of work.
I really wanted to have something to work at alongside the Gnoss stuff and thought some solo instrumentalist work would be a great option for me. The main question was how do I start and develop a brand new project from scratch? What would I play? Where would I play it? Who would I work with?
After thinking over loads of options (big bands, small bands, own compositions, Trad research and collection) I settled on a composition project of some sort. I have been writing tunes for a while, using lots across the Gnoss material. This would be a different set up though as it would be entirely my own music and I wouldn’t be sharing the creative process with others anywhere near as much. I also need a bit more focus, I didn’t feel I could just say I’m writing some tunes, book me please! I needed a theme.
For those of you that know me, you will be aware that my passion for everything Orkney is unwavering and never understated. So much of my musical output can be linked back there in some way. This seemed like a reasonable place to start.
This topic of Orcadians travelling over to Canada to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company first peaked my interest in the summer before I moved to Glasgow. I was playing in the house band for a play based around the life and times of Orcadian Arctic explorer John Rae. He was the discoverer of the North-West Passage, a previously unmapped route allowing ships to pass through Northern Canada to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic. He was discredited by the wife of Navy explorer called John Franklin who she claimed was due the recognition. Rae died in Edinburgh, a poor man with no acknowledgement of his exploration prowess, but he has since been named the rightful discoverer even though it took until 2014 for him to be given a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey recognising his work.
It was this story that lead me to think about all the other amazing Orcadians that had travelled across the Atlantic to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company in search of a better life and an escape from poverty. There was my theme.
With a theme and a few tunes coming together I started imagining how this could become a live show, ‘The Orcadians of Hudson’s Bay’. This process took over 2 years.
Eventually, when I heard that 2020 was the 300th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company I made the next move. Living in Glasgow is inspiring and creative all year round but Celtic Connections is one of the most encouraging and supportive festivals I’ve come across. The sheer quantity of new works that have been premiered at Celtic is astonishing. I decided that aiming for a show here would be an appropriately timed and positioned debut for my new work. Initially looking at the new voices series I spoke to Simon Thoumire. He was brilliant, and this show wouldn’t be happening without his help.
A long time coming but I had a theme, a show and some backing and encouragement from people around me that I could genuinely get this done! Next was the band. I found this part unnecessarily daunting. I’d been used to asking folk about guesting or hosting sessions and similar situations, but to come and play my own music.. different story. Essentially I just bit the bullet and asked – All anyone could do was say no, that’s the absolute worst that could happen. Thankfully, they all said yes and I can’t wait to share more details of the amazing group of folk joining me for this gig.
I’m still to finish writing the music and have plans to take it beyond Celtic Connections to further gigs, but getting to this stage has made that seem much more manageable and realistic.
Essentially, what I’ve come to realise is that, while still understanding this isn’t a formula that’s the end of the matter, for me to progress with this I need to keep in mind;
1. If you want it to happen, then be proactive. It doesn’t all have to happen instantly but be doing something that leads to an end goal.
2. All anyone can do is say no, that’s the worst that can happen. It’s not nice but it will be fine.
3. Expecting everyone everywhere to like your work would be unrealistic, I really enjoy music but there are genres or bands that aren’t for me. Some I can’t get enough of. It just depends and that’s ok.
My Celtic Connections show is on Thursday 30th January at 7:30pm in the Mitchell Library with support to be announced soon. Tickets can be bought here – https://www.celticconnections.com/ event/1/the-orcadians-of-hudsons-bay-and-support