Maggie Adamson - on course to sail onto music success

Maggie Adamson has a simple philosophy: if something looks like fun, try it. Later this summer the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland student will be competing in solo sailing at the Fireball World championships in Slovenia and at the NatWest Island Games in Bermuda. Before that, however, she has a pair of prestigious engagements in the guise for which she’s become rather more familiar to audiences at home: Shetland fiddler.

So impressed was American old-time singer and multi-instrumentalist Bruce Molsky when he heard Adamson in Shetland recently that he has invited her to open his Edinburgh concert this weekend with her duo partner, guitarist Brian Nicholson, and the duo will also be appearing at the inaugural Edinburgh Guitar and Music Festival, supporting Donnie Munro.

There’s Adamson family history in either sailing or fiddling, although Maggie’s grandfather used to go out fishing in his boat. She just liked the look of what she saw and went for it in both instances, and being quite a competitive person – she has the distinction of winning the Glenfiddich Fiddle Championships, the championship of champions, two years in succession – she’s done rather well at them.

“You can hardly miss the fiddle in Shetland,” she says. “And when I was eight I saw all these people playing onstage at various concerts. I liked the sound and I liked the tunes and I just thought, I want to be one of these people. So my mum bought me a fiddle and arranged for lessons and I just seemed to take to it.”

Within a few months she was playing onstage with another forty fiddlers - “You couldn’t hear me but it got me comfortable with the idea of playing in front of an audience,” she says – and almost from the start she was showing an aptitude for different playing styles.

She began studying for her classical grades while learning the Shetland style with the same teacher, Alan Gifford, whose son Andrew plays with leading Shetland band Fiddlers’ Bid, and although she wouldn’t have known it at the time, about a year after she began playing she was laying the groundwork for playing a few tunes with Molsky by attending the Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp in Colorado.

“I’ve always enjoyed different kinds of music,” she says, “and I find that the traditional and classical styles complement each other. There are bits from each style that can be applied to the other and if you listen to Scott Skinner, there was a lot of classical technique in his playing as well as the strathspey style.”

In her early teens Adamson joined the Swing Fiddles, playing jazz, and when the other girls in the group, who were all a bit older, went off to university, she and the group’s guitarist, Brian Nicholson, who previously played with Shetland band Hom Bru, were all that was left. It’s been a rewarding partnership. They made their first CD, Tammie Norie, when Adamson was fifteen and there have been a further three releases as well as myriad gigs in Shetland and further afield.

Indeed, when Adamson moved to Glasgow from the former crofting village of Fladdabister to study, she found it not so much a culture shock as a relief to be able to play on mainland Scotland and get home the same night.
Taking the RCS’s classical music course rather than its Scottish music course has allowed Adamson, she says, to keep her options open for the future. She enjoys orchestral work as much as the Shetland-French Canadian-Scottish-Cape Breton-swing tune selections she plays with Nicholson and would like to continue the private teaching she has taken on.

“Right now, I just want to play,” she says. “I don’t want to tie myself down to any particular style. I think that’s why the duo with Brian works so well: we don’t always agree about a tune’s merits but when we find something we both enjoy, it can come from anywhere, and we just work on it until we find a way of playing it that suits us.”


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