I come from Dundee, on the east coast of Scotland, a town with a strong sense of local identity, distinct from its rural hinterland. The town is also known for its particular dialect of Scots, known as Dundonian, which was a big influence on my upbringing. For as long as I can remember, I have had a passionate interest in Scottish identity, history and folklore, something which my parents encouraged.
Through a serendipitous meeting in the mid-1990s, I chanced upon Dundee’s folk music scene and was instantly hooked, teaching myself the guitar and learning as many songs as I could.
I moved to Edinburgh shortly after to study astrophysics, only to discover a melting pot of cultures and one of the most vibrant folk music scenes anywhere in Scotland. It was here I was first introduced to the real breadth and influence of the Scottish folk revival, partly through the archives of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, but mostly through the wonderful array of singers and musicians I encountered. I’ve since been fortunate enough to play and sing with some of the best folk musicians in Scotland, and I released a duo album in 2010 with the wonderful singer, Lucy Pringle.
In 2008, I joined the Tobar an Dualchais archive project as a Scots Song Cataloguer (my dream job!) and I still work for the project on a part time basis. This work allowed me to gain in depth knowledge not only of Scotland’s folk revival singers and musicians, but of the richness of Scottish vernacular culture and its folklore. Following some independent research I carried out based on the archive’s holdings, I decided to formalise my training and pursue a career in Scottish ethnology.
In 2012, I began a Masters degree in Ethnology and Folklore at the Elphinstone Institute, where I excelled; this led to my being awarded a fully-funded Elphinstone PhD Scholarship to research ways in which traditional arts might form the cultural basis of a place-based education programme in schools. The vehicle for this research is Local Voices, a community interest company I founded with fellow ethnologist and musician, Steve Byrne, in 2012.