Six questions with… Gerda Stevenson

Singer, actress and MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards nominee Gerda Stevenson treats us to a a unique evening of poetry and song as part of this year’s TradFest, accompanied by musicians Seylan Baxter, Rob Macneacail and Kyrre Slind. Here she talks about her influences and recent album, Night Touches Day, songs from which she’ll be performing at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Thu 28 Apr.

Tell us about your most recent album.

My most recent recording collaboration is Drift, – a soundtrack produced by theatremakers Vision Mechanics, composed by Eddie McGuire and with words by Judith Adams. This was a storytelling song cycle that was part of an installation that toured beaches around Scotland last summer, based on the extraordinary story of Betty Mouat, a Shetland crofter, who was caught in a storm at sea, the sole survivor on board the boat Columbine.  I sang all nine songs and narrated the story, playing several different voices. It’s now available on CD from Vision Mechanics.

My album of my own songs, Night Touches Day, was produced in 2014, when I was nominated as Scots Singer of the Year for the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.

Which other musicians have been your main influences?

I was brought up in a hugely musically eclectic household – my father was the pianist/composer Ronald Stevenson. It’s difficult to pinpoint main influences, as they are so wide-ranging: classical, folk, jazz, Cole Porter, Gershwin, Mozart, Bach, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday. But the main musical influence, I would have to say, is my father.

What inspires you when writing music?

Anything can inspire me – a story I may have heard, an anecdote, human relationships, my own experience, an object, and often landscape can be a trigger. I find landscape very inspiring.

Which bands/artists from the contemporary Trad scene, in Scotland or elsewhere, do you rate most?

I don’t like the idea of ‘rating’ individual artists – there are so many wonderful artists out there. It’s more about whose work speaks to me in some way. I like Kathryn Joseph‘s work, and I thought that Julie Fowlis’ rendition of Joni Mitchell‘s Cactus Tree, in the second half of the superb Pilgrimer concert at Celtic Connections this year, was a revelation. I also particularly love the work of singer/songwriter Charlie Dore and that of my colleague, Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Kyrre Slind, who launched his beautiful album Open Airs last year – every track is a jewel of composition and performance.

Have you played TradFest before? Are there any other acts on the programme you’d recommend seeing?

I haven’t played TradFest before, and it’s an honour to be part of it this year. There are so many wonderful artists in the programme – but you can’t go wrong with the fabulous Moishe’s Bagel, or my heroine Nancy Nicholson, who is hosting Guid Crack: Bloody Edinburgh on Fri 29 Apr.

What does Tradition mean to you?

Well, it’s fundamental to our understanding of ourselves. It’s a continuum – handing down treasures from one generation to the next, re-interpreting and re-imagining them, new traditions being born out of the old. 

Gerda Stevenson plays the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Thu 28 Apr. Book tickets.