Free gig and great music in addition to the Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games are nearly upon us and there’s a lot to get excited about. You know us, we really love our music and we love the fact that there are so many great gigs taking place at the Kelvingrove Bandstand. It is maybe annoying that it has taken the Games to bring the bandstand back to life but why quibble about the reasons behind its return, let’s just be glad it is up and running again.

There are some brilliant free gigs taking place and there is an excellent opportunity for you to get out of your comfort zone and maybe try something new. An example of this is the set being played by the Rachel Hair Trio on Tuesday the 29th of July. We caught up with Rachel to talk about the set and her musical life.

You’ve been invited to play at the Kelvingrove Bandstand as part of the Culture element of 2014. How did that come about and how excited are you by the prospect?

We just got an email asking if we were able to play. We jumped at the chance to take part. The Commonwealth Games are massive for the city and we’re hardly athletic and unlikely to be involved with the event in any other way, so yes, we jumped at it. It’s good to be part of the buzz of it all and we are very excited by it.

For those people who may be unaware of you or the Rachel Hair Trio, can you give us some background on what to expect from your show?

For the trio, it’s myself on harp, my friend Jen on guitar and we have a guy called Cammy on double bass. (Cammy is also part of the State Broadcasters, a band we are big fans of, who you can read more about here and here.)

We play Scottish flavoured music but it’s a lot of our own material. We try to fight against what people expect from the harp and we try to make it a bit more upbeat and groovy! We don’t play the stereotypically angelic harp music and most people seem pleasantly surprised when we play. It’s happy and upbeat, so it’ll be perfect for a sunny evening, which we’ll hopefully get.

Why should people come along and see your show on the 29th of July?

It’s free for a start and it’ll cheer people up. Also, it’s looking like a great evening. Before we go on stage the film Local Hero is being shown so going from that to us will hopefully be good. A great film and then us playing upbeat stuff, so I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Rachel Hair Trio

Rachel Hair Trio

Have you any plans to check out any of the other acts performing or any other bands this summer?

The first week of the Games I’m around and I’ll be checking out some of the things going on at Kelvingrove Park because that is handy for me. There’s also a lot going on in Glasgow Green, including the Struileag Stories which is a Gaelic project. I know the writer and some of my friends are in so I have heard so much about and I want to see as much as I can.

Celtic Connections is also running a number of things so I’ll definitely catch a few of their events and gigs. And I’ve also managed to grab some tickets for the Games so it’ll be a hectic week. I was hoping to go to the mountain bike event on the day of our gig but I’ve had to pass them on because there’s just too much to do. I felt going to that and getting back for our sound check and then the gig and then probably having to pack because I’m heading off to America the morning after the gig may be a bit too much for one day. I felt it was best to have some chill out time.

It’s going to be a great week.

Okay, so after Kelvingrove you are heading off to America and Canada, how do you feel your music is appreciated over there?

In the past, I’ve always played with Irish shows and this is the first time I’m going out completely by myself. I’m performing at the biggest harp festival in the USA and I’ll be playing in front of a really “harpy” audience, and they’ll know what I do, so that’ll be great and I’m really looking forward to that. I’m also heading to Canada for shows and I’ve never played there before so I’m really looking forward to that. There will be plenty of Scottish ex-pats over there so it’ll be interesting to see how the songs go down.

The Trio will be heading over to America next summer so that is something to look forward to as well but this tour is going to be great.

Are there any characteristics to a “harpy” audience we should know about?

They are quite scary to play for because they know exactly what you are doing, or what you are trying to do. That is scary but in some ways, it makes you focus and concentrate even more. I’m also going to be teaching some workshops as well at the festival so it’s going to be a great trip. I like the teaching element; it provides me with a way to pass on the music I love. It’s a lot more interactive, which I like.

After North America, you are heading to Norway and Denmark?

Yes, they are school tours. They have this amazing scheme that every child has to see at least 6 concerts every year in school. We do two to three concerts a day, around thirty minutes a set, and we finish at around half two in the afternoon. It’s amazing! It’s the complete opposite of the standard day of a musician – you’re leaving at half seven in the morning and playing early but finishing up in the afternoon when back home you’d be heading to your soundcheck. You also get the weekends off.
They’re amazing concerts because we play our songs but then we talk to them about our music and Scotland. I really enjoy doing them.

How good would this be in Scotland?

It’s mad. I know the money thing is why it doesn’t happen here but it’s such a great programme. Kids get to see drama groups and all different forms of bands and music. I’d love for that to happen in Scotland.

You’ve spent a lot of the year travelling, has there been an added level of excitement or interest in your shows or you due to the fact that this is a big year for Scotland?

Everyone is talking about Scotland and there’s more attention on the country, so I think its good for us. Obviously the independence referendum is a major talking point but with the Commonwealth Games as well, Glasgow is on everyone’s lips and people are happy to talk about these things. I love travelling and I like being able to see new places, even test-drive to see if I want to go back for my own holidays.

You play solo, as the Rachel Hair Trio and in other pairings or groups, is it hard to keep track of what you are doing next?

Sometimes, and I need to focus my practice and rehearsal on what I’m doing next. If I’m practising for a show where it’s just me and the guitarist, I know I need to fill out the sound a bit more because the double bass isn’t there. It’ll be a bit tricky in the next week or so because I have to practice for the Trio stuff and for my solo stuff. I have to fill out my sound a bit more when I’m solo, so it’s a case of being prepared and practising for what is coming next.

I like being a solo artist because I have the freedom to change what I’m doing on the spot but I love playing with the Trio because of the energy that comes with playing with others. I love travelling with The Trio as well because it is great to experience all of these things with other people. Playing solo is fun but it can be a bit lonely at times.

It’s not just practising specific stuff, its writing as well. The summer is good for this because I have some free time but I’m creating music for an album as well so there is the song writing process to think of. As we’re a Celtic band, I tend to concentrate on melodies and when we work as a trio, I work on melodies and have a few ideas for chords but it’s when we come together as a trio that it falls into place. Jen knows what works for her and then we’ll work with Cammy to get rhythms going. I may then go over the top of that so we work differently to most bands but we get there in the end.

How do ideas and melodies come to you?

I’ve woken up and had to write melodies into the voice memo recorded on my phone, which is a Godsend in being able to record melodies as they come. I’ll often get ideas as I‘m waiting to play or record so it’s just a case of sitting down and finalising them all.

We usually work towards goals and at the moment we’re writing for the album so do we work to rough deadlines. I’ll maybe work for an hour on one element and then do something else. I like to leave things for a while and then come back to them but we have deadlines and that pushes me along at times.

You’ve performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, at Celtic Connections and even on TV for the Hogmanay celebrations – do you have any best moments that stand out from your years as an artist?

The gigs I remember the most are the ones where I’ve played with the Trio and it’s just clicked. We played one recently on the isle of Mull and that was great because the energy we had was really exciting.

There have been some crazy moments though. I went all the way to Macau once and played for 2 and half minutes. I must have spent about 17 hours travelling, got put up in the Venetian Palace, one of the biggest casinos/hotels in the world and only had to play for 2 and a half minutes, that was bonkers.
We played one of the biggest Celtic festivals in the world, the Lorient Festival, and we had a ball so that was great as well. A good gig for us is really just about the energy and excitement on stage and having a good time, so it can happen anywhere.

You hail from Ullapool, what are your thoughts on the Loopallu festival and the range of music festivals in the Highlands?

We love it, and I love being involved with festivals. If we can play once or twice we get to hang around and soak up the atmosphere and see other bands. One of the annoying things about being a musician is that you’re always playing at weekend and you can miss people because of your own shows.

When you play at a festival you get to see the other acts.

Loopallu is amazing; it’s really helped to put the Ullapool on the map. It’s a great village but this has helped to draw attention to the area and the other things going on in the city. The whole community gets involved.

There have already been moans from people in Strathallan with T in the Park heading there for 2015, how does the Ullapool community deal with the festival?

I think the community embraces it, you have to. It’s like Glasgow and the Commonwealth Games. If you continually moan about the roads being busy, you’ll miss out on it. You need to throw yourself into. It’s a positive thing for the village, it brings in income and it puts us on the map, I like it.

Do you feel there is too much attention on the music scene in the central belt compared to elsewhere in Scotland?

I’m not sure. A lot of the gigs I go to see are the folky or Celtic style ones and that there are lots of festivals around the country. In my genre of music, its better spread around the country. Funnily enough, for my genre of music, in Glasgow we have the opposite problem to the rest of the country. Everyone comes to Glasgow in January for the Celtic Connections and this means they often miss Glasgow out on their year-round tours. Celtic Connections is a phenomenal festival and its great we have it but sometimes for the rest of the year we miss out a wee bit but Scotland as a whole is doing okay.

Of course, you lived in Edinburgh for a while and studied music at Strathclyde University, do you feel there is a different sort of vibe or interest in music around the country?

I find in the city the folk that come to see a gig are coming to see you specifically. However, in a village or in the Highlands, people will come to an event because it’s an event and there may not be a lot on at other times. This means people will come along to see what is happening without knowing much about you. It can be a bit harder to reach folk in the city because you are competing with so many other events.

But this month you have a free gig and there’s no excuse for people in the city missing pout on your show!


Aside from your touring schedule for 2014, what is next for Rachel Hair and what musical ambitions do you have left to achieve?

We’re recording an album at the end of the year, that’s just been confirmed. I think it’ll be officially released in May or June next year, so I’m not totally rushed to get it out. Next year we are touring USA and Canada in the summer, then it’s a Scandinavian tour, then Belgium and then there’ll be a Scottish tour in September.

It’s a bit crazy as I tend to work a year in advance. I’m grateful for phone diaries that go more than a year in advance now. I have a few writing projects on the go as well, I’m looking to do a lot more composing, which is outside of the Trio. It’s slightly scary but I really enjoy it.

The Rachel Hair Trio will be performing at the Kelvingrove Bandstand (for free) on Tuesday the 29th of July, with the band scheduled to come on stage at 915pm. However, Local Hero will be on before the band play so why not make a night of it, because given how busy Rachel is, who knows the next time she’ll perform in Glasgow?

To keep up to date with Rachel and the Rachel Hair Trio, please check out their website and you can follow Rachel on twitter too.