Interview: Ailie Robertson


Ailie Robertson is an award winning composer, performer and creative curator. She’s the recipient of a BBC Performing Arts Fellowship for her work and the founder of Lorimer Productions, with the aim of increasing the profile and visibility of both traditional and contemporary music in Scotland. Now she’s bringing her energies back to Canada, most specifically The Market Hall, with the help of Canadian Mairi Rankin. As a duo the two have a chance to explore all the musical ideas they’ve had while sharing the stage together, with European Celtic superstars The Outside Track. Hot off the heels of a tour of Deutschland the pair will be landing in Peterborough May 26. I spoke to Ailie after her performance in  Flügelsaal, Germany….


Mb: Hey Ailie! Good gig?
Ailie: Ya it was really nice. A really good gig.
Mb: What kind of room were you playing?
Ailie: It was a cultural art centre up in the north of Germany. Ya, really nice crowd.
Mb: Tell me more about your tour in Germany. What do you like about performing there?
Ailie: The best thing about Germany is their appreciation for culture. It’s really, really high. Probably the highest of anywhere we’ve toured. People just seem to really value music and their reactions are so enthusiastic. So ya, it’s a really fun place to tour.
Mb: Do you feel like you’re introducing them to new sounds, the Scottish culture?
Ailie: Ya, well Celtic music here has been really big since the folk revival in the 70’s and where interest has waned in other places, in Germany it stayed very high and there’s a lot of interest, especially the Irish music over here.
Mb: Have you been playing Celtic for most of your life? You play the Clarsach and Scottish harp. What would make you pick up that instrument as opposed to, say the guitar?
Ailie: I was 12 when I began. It was just one of those things. I played piano first. I played piano since I was about 8 and then I went to a traditional music concert and just fell in love with it, so I pestered my parents for about a year until they finally gave in and said I could learn.
Mb: I imagine it wasn’t easy to find a Clarsach teacher…
Ailie: I was really lucky that there was actually a woman living locally to me. It’s an instrument that has become more and more popular with time so… every year it’s getting more popular and more common in Scotland, so that’s really great. It’s a developing community.
Mb: And Celtic music is very popular over here in canada as well. You’re touring with Mairi Rankin, an obvious veterin of the Canadian celtic scene. Do you tour Canada often?
Ailie: This next tour we’re doing is the duo. It’s all in Canada, but with the band and the other projects we’ve toured all over the world; from Australia to South Korea to India… lots in the States and Canada and Europe. We’ve been playing together for 10 years now and we’re really lucky to have had those travels in that time.
Mb: Are you traveling as a full band into those markets?
Ailie: Yes. This Canadian tour is just the duo which is nice because it’s a scaled down, much more intimate version. You get to hear the instruments much more, really. You get to hear what they can do. It’s just a deeper connection with each performer because it’s a smaller group.
Mb: Do you tell tales about your life on the road as you make your way through the show?
Ailie: Ya! Normally each set of music has a story that goes with it. There’s lots of music and stories and dancing. People always say they like the bits in between the music as much as the music!
Mb: As a duo, are you in the studio or writing together?
Ailie: Ya, we’re starting to work on putting together our first album as the duo, so hopefully we’ll be recording that in the autumn. It’s exciting! We’ve been working together in the full 5 piece band for a long time, but this duo project is really quite new for us and it’s really exciting to take our music and relationship to a new place and explore just that space between the two instruments and how we can create a really big sound and interesting sound just with two people rather than a whole band.
Mb: Is it inspiring new musical ideas?
Ailie: Yes, I think so! What’s really nice is it makes both of us have to work harder. We don’t have other people to hide behind so each of us is having to push our own playing to the next level. It’s so much more exposed and there’s more space to be able to find new interesting things to do. So yes, it’s artistically satisfying in that smaller lineup.
Mb: So you’re playing Market Hall in May as part of your tour…
Ailie: Ya, it’s a twenty date tour, mostly in Ontario. I’ve been living in Montreal for the last year but I’m back to Scotland after the last day of the tour, that’s the end of my year in Canada so it’s a nice way to say goodbye as well.
Mb: A nice way to say “See you next time.”
Ailie: Ya, I absolutely adore Canada so I’ll definitely be back. But I have to go home, for awhile anyways.