Ainsley Hamill goes for gold
by Margaret Chrystall
JUST announced this week as one of the six finalists in BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician 2015, Ainsley Hamill is also going for gold at next week’s Royal National Mod.
First, the singer with young traditional group Barluath, has a gig with the band at Eden Court on Monday.
And once the Mod is finished, the band have only a few days before heading into the recording studio in Glasgow to make their follow-up album to 2012 debut Source.
First, Ainsley follows up the success of winning the silver pendant at last year’s Royal National Mod – an award for non-native Gaelic speakers.
Ainsley said: "I only started singing at the Mod two years ago.
"My first National Mod was in Stornoway – I hadn’t applied for it, but I won at the provincial Mod at Lochgilphead and that qualifies you to sing at the National Mod, so I thought I should go and do it.
"I came second in the category for previous Mod winners.
"I had been studying Gaelic at the Royal Conservatoire – I got my BA in Scottish Music with first class honours last year.
"So I thought I would go for the silver pendant in Paisley and then when I won, I thought I might go for the gold medal this year – why not?"
Ainsley laughed: "Sometimes I feel I just throw myself in at the deep end, but things come out well when you do that – and you learn faster.
"Winning the silver pendant has been really beneficial for me. It’s given me loads of opportunities and it just raises your profile."
Being brought up in Cardross in Argyll, Ainsley didn’t get the chance to learn Gaelic at her school.
"No-one in my family is a Gaelic speaker – I just had a real passion for it. I loved the music and that is where it all really began."
Ainsley is also continung her Gaelic studies through a distance learning course at Skye’s Sabhal Mor Ostaig so she can also keep touring with her band.
"We've been together for ages, we were all at the Conservatoire together and won the Danny Kyle Open Stage at Celtic Connections in 2012.
"From there we were doing our first album - it's two years old and we want to show people what new and great things we’ve got now. And your sound changes over that time. It’s important to let people hear that.
“We’ve got a lot of traditional material mixed with our own songs. but they really express us and who we are.
“I’ve done a few of my own songs – composing a melody to very old Gaelic material, something that doesn’t have a tune and giving it a new life.
"On our first album, the Gaelic Ora Turais is an old hymn that I put music to and I wrote a song called The Selkie, about the legend of the ladies who are actually seals and shed their skin.
“We do a lot of transatlantic stuff in our set, Scots songs and sets too.
"We’re really looking forward to Eden Court, it's a great venue. We played there before and it’s a great place for giving people the idea that the Gaelic language is really cool and the music is awesome.
"The Mod competitions are totally different thing, but they are a great showcase for the performers and getting people learning the language.
"So together with the fringe shows, you get a bit of everything."
As well as Barluath, she is also a member of Bannal, a ladies waulking group that celebrates the traditional songs accompanying tweed preparation.
"Once you lose the work that goes with the songs, they lose their shape! If you sing the song, it won’t ever be the way it used to be if you don’t do the work with it my teacher Kenna Campbell used to say to me and I would say ‘Rubbish!’
"She runs Bannal and said ‘Come along and sing your song and see!’.
"I went and sang it while they did the waulking – and it was totally different!
"We actually did a demonstration at the Mod last year waulking the tweed for five hours and sang the songs and did it like it was done.
"It was amazing, but my arms were sore for days.
"Those ladies who used to waulk the cloth must have had some serious muscles!"
Ainsley has clearly loved learning Gaelic.
"It’s nice to think I can now compete in the fluent Gaelic competition," she said.
Competitors for the gold medal need to undergo a fluency test in the language.
"They check to make sure competitors are capable in Gaelic – and rightly so," said Ainsley.
"They want the competition to have integrity.
"But it’s a scary thought and I think it’s really important for people to realise you don’t have to be a native speaker.
"But the whole point of the Mod is to promote the language and music."
While urging people to be brave about learning Gaelic, she admits there is one thing she is shy about – wearing her silver pendant.
"I wore it when I won it, but I don’t think I’ll wear it again because it is one of those things where you feel when you’re wearing it, you’re saying ‘Look at me!’.
"That’s so uncool!"
Barluath play in the Mod concert at Eden Court on Monday on a bill with the Urban Teuchters (Kathleen Macinnes and Sineag Macintyre) plus Jenna Cumming. Ainsley appears in the qualifying competitions for the Royal National Mod gold medal on Wednesday at 9am and 2pm. Find out more about Barluath: www.barluath.com and Facebook: wwwfacebook.com/Barluath You can hear Barluath’s music at their Soundcloud: barluath.com The grand final of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician 2015 will be held at Celtic Connections on Sunday, February 1.