Linda's Interview in Inside Scotland

Item Posted: Friday 23rd December, 2005

Bruce Campbell, of Inside Scotland, interviews Linda Morpurgo, who was the driving force behind starting Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop, a musical charity, just three years ago. Loch Goil covers two small villages with less than 300 inhabitants, so how did they manage to win the Hands up for Trad Award for Community Project of the Year 2005 in December?

IS: Now that the euphoria of winning the Award may have died down a little how do you feel about the Award?

LM: We were amazed to be in the running, and certainly had no expectation of winning, and there was a bit of an audience reaction of “Loch Who?” when the result was announced! Apparently we did pull in a big vote.

I don’t know who originally suggested this category, but it’s really important to bring not just the artists themselves to the attention of the national press, but also the organisations who work with them. Without the educational input of organisations like all the nominees, where would the next generation of players be coming from? All of these groups call on heavy, sometimes crippling, volunteer involvement, and operate on a financial shoestring. They are the lifeblood of traditional music. We’re a little unusual in that we have a heavy education commitment (to adults, by the way, as well as children) and a wide concerts and events programme. Not surprisingly we have experienced major volunteer burnout already, and see this as one of the major stumbling blocks to most volunteer groups’ sustainability, and the difficulty of accessing core funding (groan!) is a real and ongoing issue. But, if it weren’t for all the little rural organisations flogging their guts out to provide good quality traditional music in far-flung places, Scotland would be so much poorer culturally.

IS: You were involved with Glasgow Fiddle Workshop before starting the group in Loch Goil – what do you find are the particular difficulties of running a rural group?

LM: I was convenor of GFW for some years before moving full time to Loch Goil. Indeed they, and particularly Sara Melville, were instrumental in helping our new workshop get off the ground in the first place. Actually we were gutted to be ‘up against’ Glasgow Fiddle Workshop in the awards, because our ties have been close.

The main difficulty for a rural group is the crippling cost of delivering the programmes. For instance, we have such minimal public transport that we cannot ask tutors to visit unless they have a car-that rules out most potential young tutors. With our tiny local population we just can’t hope to find enough students to pay the huge costs, so we are always fundraising, and that’s unlikely to stop until we have home-grown our own musicians. We’re particularly deprived around here in that there has been no strings tuition in the schools for decades, with the result that, with the exception of some magnificent pipe bands, musicians in general are thin on the ground.

However, we believe that rural workshops have huge advantages. For a start everyone in the community is proud of you and wants the project to succeed, and that is regardless of whether they play themselves or not. And our members seem to be more committed. A cynic would say that it’s because there are fewer distractions, but my experience is that in a rural area great friendships are made out of this kind of shared experience. I mentioned that we offer classes and concerts. Our supporters don’t just turn up to events and wait to be entertained. They set up the staging, put out the chairs, run the bar, and as one foreign lady marvelled, the audience gets to clear up afterwards! However, I’ve got to mention that a key element in our success has been the fact that we have attracted fantastic tutors. Their names read like a roll-call of honour-Amy Geddes, Anna-Wendy Stevenson, Sarah-Jane Fifield, Adam Sutherland, Gregor Borland, Fiona Dalgetty… And our concert musicians have been totally inspirational.

Indeed our rural location may, despite our expectations, have had something to do with our win. Many foreign tourists are envious of our culture and community life (although we sometimes feel marginalized by organizations in the central belt). Tourists, and visiting musicians, from Scotland and around the world, have been impressed with our community spirit and the welcome they received in our homes. When they heard about the award they reacted very positively – we know of votes as far flung as Alaska, New Zealand, and even Essex!

IS: It is unusual for a Workshop to go beyond the teaching side – tell us more about your concerts.

LM: It became clear that we needed to involve those who were interested, but did not want to play, and a concert programme was devised with this in mind. We have even organised two interactive Arts, Crafts and Music weekends to widen the appeal still further. I would encourage any group looking to involve more than just its membership to try putting on concerts with visiting professionals. They will find, I think, and I say this ruefully, that sponsorship is easier to access for events than for an educational programme.

We have always focused on quality bands – Fine Friday, Young Traditional Musicians of the Year Finalists, Malinky, Donald Black and Malcolm Jones, Emily Smith Band , Chris Stout, Amy Geddes and Sandy Wright are just some of the visiting musicians who have been here. We have also had big names from abroad –Bruce Molsky and Jamie Laval played locally in 2005.

IS: Do you organise anything outside your own village?

LM: We have built a strong audience base in the immediate locality. Our concerts are usually a sellout. We live in an area that had little in the way of traditional music going on, with the exception of piping, and we wanted to reach out and access new audiences, not just aficionados. So we link with other arts groups to put on concerts and to arrange mini-tours around Cowal and Argyll. On the teaching front we are now running fifteen fiddle classes a week in six venues over 26 weeks a year. So we have an impact way beyond our immediate locality.

IS: What do you think the Award will mean to the future of Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop?

LM: It is difficult to assess the effect at this stage. We were fortunate to have our 2005 concert series sponsored by ScottishPower renewables. At least when we approach new sponsors or funders in the future, their initial reaction might not be
‘ Loch Where!’ And the local feel-good factor for everyone involved is major.

IS: How have local people reacted to the Award?

Maybe it is another positive of being a rural group. You can reasonably expect members of any group up for an award to vote, but in our case children in the schools where we teach persuaded their families to vote, local shops offered to hand out forms, many who had come to the concerts from home and abroad emailed their friends, and everyone got involved. This, even without a ‘win’ would have had a positive impact on the sense of community in Cowal. And, you know, with the impact of international tourism and the Web, we’re also part of the traditional music world community

Coincidentally we had already arranged a special event for the weekend after the awards to celebrate our third anniversary, and to thank two exceptional tutors for their sterling work. Amy Geddes and Anna-Wendy Stevenson have done more than anyone in the first three years to build the Workshop and engender the enthusiasm for fiddle playing both in our young – and not so young – players. The formal announcement of the win added great zest to a great day.

IS: How do you see 2006 shaping up?

LM: We’ll keep developing our 100 so adult and child players; we hope to continue and expand our work with the Youth Music Initiative Scheme in partnership with Argyll and Bute Council, we have arranged our first Fèis event, and raised initial funding, thanks to AIE, for a full time project manager. We are planning a number of local concerts and wider tours, and would like to hear from community groups elsewhere who might be interested in working in partnership with us to bring more music to their area. In October we will be organising the traditional music for Cowalfest, which has become the largest Walking and Arts festival in Scotland, and hope to arrange local school Gaelic centred events in the run up to the Mod in Dunoon. So if you are ever going to visit Cowal, October 2006 is the time to do it!

Details of classes, concerts, pub sessions, and a myriad of reviews can be accessed by visiting

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