Is at the core of everything we do. Yes, we love Scottish traditional music but we also appreciate all other types of acoustic music. To be fair, I love nothing more than screaming “Back in Black” or “Since you’ve been gone” in the shower.
However, we made a conscious decision when we were planning the bar that our music would, on the whole, be acoustic. This means that when music is played, those who want to hear it can move close to it, and when you want to come in just to chat, then you can move away from it! Amazing science, I know.
I think Jo and myself (and many of our friends) have got to the age where the appeal of bellowing over loud music has passed. However, the ambience that is created by a few choice tunes is superb.
What is a session?
Sessions are where musicians come together to share tunes and songs. They are NOT performances, more a social gathering for fun. Although many have the impression that the session is as old as the traditional music played, this couldn’t be further from the truth. They only came together in Ireland in the 60’s and with a little help from a certain dark beer producer they have blended into the “age old traditional Irish music session”
In Scotland it was in general, even later. When you consider the archaic licensing laws of the 60’s and 70’s (so I’m told…I wasn’t there!) there wasn’t much chance of music breaking out as there was serious drinking to be done before you got turfed out at 10pm.
I do remember speaking to the late great Ian Hardie (Jock Tamson’s Bairns) about the sessions in Sandy Bells during the 60’s and 70’s. He told me that tunes were swopped, stories were shared and bands were created. People took time to show each other new tunes. It was NOT a performance.
I went to my first ever session at the famous Caledonian Hotel in Beauly. Duncan Chisholm, my great fiddling pal, phoned me and told me where to meet. This was, I think, in 1987. I remember the corner we sat in. I remember exactly who was there. Dagger Gordon (mandolin), Andy Thorburn (piano) and Duncan MacGillivray (whistles). It was amazing.
There were NO sessions in Inverness in the pubs when I was a youth. There were a few pubs who tried folk music (the Market Bar put on many brilliant gigs and featured regular folk performers over the years, and there was the short-lived Hebrides)
I tried to start one in the Phoenix bar one summer. On a Monday evening, there were crowds trying to get into the pub with just five acoustic musicians belting out the tunes. Unfortunately, the manager didn’t see the sense in keeping the idea going.
A few months later Hootanannys opened their doors and everything changed. The owner, Kit Fraser asked me to help him programme music and for the first year we had an incredible mix of performers and some VERY late-night sessions.
Today people have many different perceptions of what sessions are and so we’d like to lay our cards on the table. These are our top tips for a cracking session.
MacGregor’s Top 10 tips for a great music session
1. Sessions are social gatherings so take time to chat to one another, find out who is next to you and make friends.
2. It’s not a performance – it’s a chance to play tunes and hear new music. On the other hand, it’s not a practice session! If you don’t know it listen and learn – record it.
3. Don’t hog the space; share and interact.
4. Listening is just as important as playing.
5. Guitars and percussion - the key word is sensitivity!
6. Scottish music is full of variety – airs, waltzes, strathspeys, jigs, marches, reels and of course, songs!
7. Encourage each other to take the lead in a set. Try and get people to sing. Alternative songs and tunes are just superb fun and also challenge the musicians to listen and perhaps play along (sympathetically!!)
8. The best sessions are normally smaller in number. Take turns at coming in and out of the sessions. More than 5 and it can get messy and difficult to hear
9. If you are “leading” a session you are the glue, the person who encourages and cajoles but also has to have a quiet word with the session “belter” ( A belter is someone who plays through everything with little sensitivity or thought to the overall feel). With leadership comes responsibility!
MacGregor’s Trad Sessions are on Sunday afternoon after 4pm but closer to 5pm.
Here's one of the bigger sessions at the bar. It started off with four of us and grew.......
What do you think?