Mike’s WOMEX blog for the TMF

Mike’s WOMEX blog for the TMF

Category : Blog News

Mike wrote this for the Traditional Music Forum, so we thought we’d post it here as well:


photo (3)WOMEX is an international World Music Expo and this year was held in Cardiff from the 23rd to the 27th of October. ‘Horizons at WOMEX‘ was a special collaboration between Creative Scotland and Arts Councils in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland to showcase some UK acts at WOMEX. The ‘Horizons’ collaboration will continue into next year with opportunities for musical collaboration and touring.

Earlier in the year I sent in four unmixed tracks from Fiona Hunter’s forthcoming debut solo album to ‘Horizons at WOMEX’. I had the great privilege of producing Fiona’s record and I play tenor guitar and fiddle in her band, alongside Gillian Frame (fiddle), Euan Burton (Double Bass) and Innes Watson (Guitar and Fiddle).

9 acts were selected from over 900 applicants to the Horizons stage, and we were absolutely delighted when Fiona was offered a slot. I believe this is the first time Scots song has been represented at such a high profile World Music event, and am thrilled that our traditional music is gaining more widespread recognition.

After much preparation, we took the whole team (5 piece band plus Charlotte, Fiona’s agent) to WOMEX, and so began an extremely busy long weekend. None of Team Fiona Hunter had been to anything like WOMEX before and we were lucky to have support and guidance from the Creative Scotland team and from Lisa Whytock. Lisa is an experienced ‘Womexican’ and was down with Active Events representing Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson who were also showcasing on the Horizons stage.

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Our showcase was on the Thursday night of WOMEX at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. We took to the stage at 10.30pm and I was surprised by the huge number of people in attendance. I’d guesstimate four or five hundred coming and going, and a large proportion of those were WOMEX delegates – representatives from international festivals, agencies, arts councils and record companies. It was quite overwhelming, but also hugely exciting.

We were delighted at the positive response to Fiona’s showcase. Apart from appreciation for the songs, several delegates mentioned Fiona’s stage presence and her apparent ease at such a high pressure event.  We even had several congratulatory comments on our dress sense (see photo!)

The following day we had several meetings with festival promoters and agents. As well as offers of work, many people were keen to candidly discuss how to build on the success of our showcase and how to keep the buzz going long after WOMEX.

One of the buzzwords (or buzz-phrases) of the weekend was ‘export ready’. Regardless of the occasion, be it WOMEX or an intimate Folk Club, I believe that our music should be ‘export ready’. What does this mean? It is an opaque phrase and for many at WOMEX means the band should be ready to zip off on an international tour at the drop of a hat. For Fiona and her band, it means the quality of the music should shine through and have the ability to captivate any audience. It means presenting the songs in an uncluttered way. The arrangements support the songs and hopefully augment the narrative, or the emotion conveyed in the words, ebbing and flowing with them. I think the simplicity of the music suits the (often) heavy subject matter of the songs. We also believe in being thoroughly well rehearsed and the team worked very hard in the run up to the showcase.


Next year I am launching a new live arts production and record company in partnership with Charlotte Murray: ‘Unroofed Records‘. Charlotte and I had a meeting at the Trade Fair with a representative from a New York record company who shared his thoughts on the changing music business and how to to the make the best of it as an emerging company. I think the gist was; work hard and make great art.

On the last night of WOMEX Team Fiona Hunter, our work done, settled down to two fantastic showcase concerts on the Horizons stage. First up were We Banjo 3 from Ireland, a whirlwind of traditional Irish and Scottish tunes on the tenor banjo and some beautifully sung Americana songs. A real pleasure from start to finish, As well as virtuosic playing, their performance was a masterclass in stagecraft. Next up were 9Bach, a seven piece band from Wales singing exclusively in the Welsh language. Beautifully crafted arrangements supported beautiful singing. The music had such mesmerising space in it that you could have heard a pin drop at times. Fiona and I both found that concert hugely inspiring, both musically and with ideas for the oft-forgotten things like stage presentation. Fiona commented ‘What a stunning night of music, it just makes me more determined to keep improving musically and I’m keen to experiment with new sounds and see where it takes us.’

We definitely hope to be back at Womex at some point in the future!

‘After nearly a decade as vocalist and cellist of award-winning folk band Malinky, Fiona Hunter is stepping out in front of her own band of accomplished players and gaining a deserved reputation as one of the finest young singers on the Scottish folk music scene today, with her fresh interpretations of songs of her native Glasgow and of the Scottish Travellers. In pursuit of the latter she has worked with members of the Fetterangus Stewart family, the last tradition-bearers of this celebrated folk song dynasty. Her academic qualifications in the field are of the first order – a BA in Scottish Music from the Royal Scottish Academy and studies at the Smithsonian Institute in the USA – but it’s her passion and natural ability to inhabit her material that sets her apart. Hear for yourself.’