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Introduction to Scottish Music

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By Charles McGregor

There are several kinds of 'Scottish Music'.. First of all the Alexander brothers, Kenneth McKellar, Moira Anderson, Bill McCue type thing is IMO largely an amalgum of Harry Lauder type Coonery and a catering to Tourist tastes (mostly English coach parties) in various 'Summer' shows. Most Scots do not like this kind of thing, it makes them cringe. But if it's your thing, see

The Scottish folk circuit is where most Scots would look for a real cultural night out. It is alive and vibrant, it is not just about traditional music. There are many contemporary song-writers as well as traditionalists.

Scotland being small, there is not a great deal of money available so you find that often some of the folk circuit artists may leave the circuit and go into other more lucrative areas. e.g. Gerry Rafferty, Barbara Dickson, Billy Connolly, Eddie Reader.

Many remain e.g. Dougie MacLean, Eric Bogle, Archie Fisher, Hamish Imlach, Battlefield Band, Dick Gaughan, Tannahill Weavers, Phil Cunningham, Aly Bain.

Now at one time, the folk circuit consisted almost entirely of little folk clubs up and down the country, there was not a deal of concert hall performances except for the Corries, and this meant that they were regarded a little apart from the general folk circuit as a consequence of this.

Nowadays, concert hall performances are common as the folk 'revival' continues.(It seems to have been 'reviving' or getting bigger all my life). Dougie MacLean, Dick Gaughan etc. regularly fill halls up and down the country.

Another large part of the folk circuit that used to be almost non existant is the 'folk fesitival'. I don't know how many there are now, possibly hundreds. Used to be 1.. the Scottish folk festival for years in Blairgowrie then moved to Kinross.

Folk programs or series make regular appearances on TV.

Then there is the ceilidh music. This basically falls into two camps.

First there is a fairly formal version where the musicians are basically following a traditional trade. They are largely used for formal or semi-formal 'occasions' like weddings or 'Dances' in hotels or village halls. Scottish country dancing like this is regarded as a little plastic, or perhaps formulaic is a more appropriate word. However, Scots do go to these and frequently enjoy them, despite some similarity to 'summer time specials' they are not an artifact of tourism, although a lot of tourists will go as well. The Jimmy Shand band might typify this class of music.

The Second type is the rapidly growing 'new order' of ceilidh music. In this version, formality goes out the window. The main objective is enjoyment, getting the dance steps wrong is almost irrelevant the groups are expected to at least be attempting to push the envelopes of the genre. There is a positive feedback between the audience and group which leads to near frenzy all round. Wolfstone perhaps typify this class of music.

Then there is Gaelic music, which again falls into two categories, the formal and the less so. The formal consists of gaelic choirs up and down the country with the mega event being the national Mod once a year.

The less formal are essentially concert hall based and consist of groups like Runrig, Capercaillie, Clan na Gael.

Now the above are guidelines there is considerable overlap from one genre to the other. The term Celtic music covers several of them and indeed in some branches exchange with Irish artistes is commonplace, indeed several groups are part Irish part Scots e.g., Capercaillie, Waterboys, Relativity.

More information


Some review of musicians are at

There is a tutorial article (60K) on the modes of Scottish traditional music available via

Information on Scottish music from NA perspective - a web Site dedicated to the Preservation, Performance and Appreciation of the Traditional Celtic Music of Scotland, Cape Breton, and the United States.

see also
Interesting reading on traditional Scottish and Irish music

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