Any views expressed within media held on this service are those of the contributors, should not be taken as approved or endorsed by the University, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University in respect of any particular issue.

Celtic & Scottish Studies Blog

Celtic & Scottish Studies Blog

Traditional arts, languages and culture in Scotland

#SSSAat70 at Edinburgh International Festival

Scottish traveller and storyteller Duncan Williamson speaks to a group of staff and students in the garden of the School of Scottish Studies off George Square, Edinburgh. The photo is black and white, the groups are sitting on the grass in a circle and are dressed in a 1980s style including jeans and brogues.

Celebrating the “cultural jewel box” of the School of Scottish Studies Archives in their 70th year (1951-2021)

‘Sunday 8 August will see two concerts marking the anniversary with cross-generational line-ups. A Folk Song Sharing features the veteran Caithness singer, songwriter and storyteller Nancy Nicolson, Gaelic singer Arthur Cormack OBE and a rising young singer-songwriter in both Scots and Gaelic, Josie Duncan. The Living Archive, meanwhile, sees another young voice, Kirsty Law, joined by harpist Mary MacMaster, as well as multi-instrumentalist and current traditional artist in residence at the school Mike Vass and stepdancer Sophie Stephenson. Both concerts will be presented by Gaelic singer and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy.

– Jim Gilchrist, The Scotsman

A Folk Song Sharing

Information and tickets

The shows will spotlight “not just ‘Here’s a polished performance’ but also ‘Here’s what this song means to me,’” explains their curator, Lori Watson, lecturer in ethnology at the university’s Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, home of the School and its archives, who is a respected Border singer and fiddler in her own right.

“The afternoon concert will be mostly song – although Nancy Nicolson also does storytelling – and all three have been invited to focus on some of the most meaningful songs in their lives,” adds Watson. “I’m also hoping that Josie might share perhaps one of her own original songs and tell us about the writing process. I’m really keen for it to be an intimate sharing: that’s something everyone’s craving just now in terms of a live event.”

Nancy Nicolson stands at a microphone smiling. She is wearing a red cardigan and has silvery hair against a black backdrop.

Nancy Nicolson, photo by EFC

Nancy Nicolson:

“My first song will be ‘The Sandy Bell’s Man‘ by Stuart Macgregor’. It has a very easy and singable chorus and a great melody, in fact, an old folk tune from Bavaria. Stuart was then a student at the Medical School. The nearby Sandy Bell’s was the favoured pub of the medics .

That melody was such a fine tune that I used it for my ‘Brickie’s Ballad‘, about me going my messages seeing the men building the glass front on The Festival Theatre. As they crouched on the scaffolding I saw the pink beauty of their bum cleavages!”


Arthur Cormack sings at a microphone with an expressive face and shirt and suit jacket against a black and blue-lit background.

Arthur Cormack, photo by BBC

Arthur Cormack:

“I’m planning to sing Latha dhomh sa Chuilthionn Chreagach anyway.  It tells of the 1601 Battle of Coire na Creiche – the last battle to take place in Skye between the constantly feuding MacLeods and MacDonalds, in which the latter prevailed.  Although the song itself is not in the SSSA, there are two great recordings with further snippets of information about the affair.

One recounts that Dòmhnall mac Iain ‘ic Sheumais (Donald MacDonald) did great damage to the MacLeods in the Battle of the Cuillin (Coire na Creiche).  Mac Iain ‘ic Sheumais had control of Eriskay when the MacLeods invaded North Uist in the retaliation which followed, known as the Battle of Carinish, the same year. He raised men on his way from Eriskay to North Uist, surprised the MacLeods and killed all except one of the invaders.

The other recording tells an amusing story about the chief of the MacInnes clan, who had fought with the MacDonalds at the Battle of Coire na Creiche. The MacInnes chief was captured by the MacLeods and imprisoned in Dunvegan Castle.  He was offered the hand of MacLeod’s sister, and freedom, or hanging.  MacInnes asked to see the woman before making up his mind.  When he saw her, he appealed for the rope!”

Josie Duncan, photo by Hamish MacLeod

Josie Duncan:

“S’ olc an Obair is a song from Barra said to be originally performed by fairies, it is an end of life celebration with a refrain for joining in. The title of the song curses work. The story behind the song is that a man is going to fetch a midwife for his wife while she is in labour.  He has to wait for the tide to go out before he can cross and fetch her, but he falls asleep and misses his chance. He is awoken by fairies who tell him what has happened and celebrate his wife’s good nature. They don’t blame him, they blame the hard work that leaves people so tired.”

The Living Archive

Information and tickets

The Living Archive will have the musicians reflecting on their connections with the archive, as well as featuring some new collaborations between them. “I’m delighted that Mary McMaster is part of it, because, obviously, she has a strong connection with the school, as one of the first students on its Celtic and Scottish Studies programme. Also, she has a clear connection to tradition but has been quite innovative with it, and I love that.”

Watson is also looking forward to the set from Sophie Stephenson (recently seen teaching step dancing to former ballerina and Strictly judge Darcey Bussell): “Sophie has been working on some really interesting experimental forms of percussive art.”

Seventy years on, Watson believes that as the school and its archives move forward into a new era, there will be an increased emphasis on connecting with communities through the traditional arts, not least by further utilising internet technology – “and as soon as it’s safe to do so, the archives will be re-opening to the public, four days a week”.

Lori Watson plays the fiddle on a rooftop wearing a blue dress infron of a busy city street.

Dr Lori Watson (photo Robert Perry)

Both events will be MC’d by musician and presenter Mary Ann Kennedy.

Mary Ann looks cheekily at the camera resting her chin on one finger. She has a pale green top, necklace and with a fringe against a dark blue backdrop.

Mary Ann Kennedy, photo from NMC Recordings



Report this page

To report inappropriate content on this page, please use the form below. Upon receiving your report, we will be in touch as per the Take Down Policy of the service.

Please note that personal data collected through this form is used and stored for the purposes of processing this report and communication with you.

If you are unable to report a concern about content via this form please contact the Service Owner.

Please enter an email address you wish to be contacted on. Please describe the unacceptable content in sufficient detail to allow us to locate it, and why you consider it to be unacceptable.
By submitting this report, you accept that it is accurate and that fraudulent or nuisance complaints may result in action by the University.