Bringing New Life To Old Voices


In recent years there has been somewhat of a new folk music revival, the evidence of which, in Scotland, is very clear: more young people than ever are learning this country’s traditional music thanks to initiatives such as the Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin’ and the Feis movement. Over the years this has translated into a vibrant and exciting folk scene that is both innovative and celebratory. 

The Archive Project is a collaborative project between with the Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin’ and the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies Sound Archives.  Founded in 1951, this archive now contains tens of thousands of field recordings made by various collectors across Scotland and further afield. It paints a vivid picture of the country’s cultural riches, comprising of songs, poems, tunes, stories, folklore and accounts of daily life, primarily in Scots, Gaelic and English.

Tasked with creating new music and mentored by award-winning fiddler and composer Mike Vass, seven young traditional musicians have been given unlimited access to the archives which they have used as their inspiration for creating new musical work.

The question of independence for Scotland calls for cultural reflection. For some of the participants, The Archive Project has been a wonderful opportunity to just that: to consider the context of the source material, heed it, and be creative. The very nature of the material proves itself ideal for use as a creative springboard, as it is all part of what was then and still is now: a living tradition. Gifted the freedom to take our compositions in whatever direction we wish, the project not only continues with this tradition on, but pushes it in new directions.

As a singer and songwriter, my own contribution for the project has taken the inspiration from recordings of recollections and customs. It was important to me that with these songs I would not only communicate my findings from the old recordings but would comment on the present day. One of these songs in particular does so in a political sense: ‘Weathered Hands’ protests the centralisation of local coastguards in Scotland due to financial cuts. In order to communicate this I weave in a story told by Shetland fiddler, Tom Anderson, whose own ancestors were fishermen. Using the images he provided in his story gave my song a depth and humanity that it could not have had, had I not had access to these recordings.


The Archive project is one example of a growing appreciation for the country’s musical heritage. The result of is a collection of creativity: new tunes and songs drawn from collected material, old tunes re-worked, and found voices. The process has been an exploration into Scotland’s cultural past and an exciting glimpse of its musical future.

You can join the Archive project and discover some of the riches of the Archives through musical performance and multimedia at the project’s final event at 7pm, Sunday Nov 10th, at Summerhall.

We will also welcome special guests involved in previous and future projects, including the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist O Riches Scots Song artist in residence.

Kirsty Law

National Collective