James Graham is a young man on a mission. The parish of Assynt in the far north west of Sutherland, where James's home town of Lochinver is situated, was once rich in Gaelic song, and gathering as many of these songs and sharing them with audiences around the world has become James's goal. Winning the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2004 award - not only was James the first Gaelic singer he is also the first male winner.
James, who also plays the pipes, grew up in a household where music was an essential part of family life. Although his mother, an accordionist, is the only other family member who plays an instrument, James's father and sister are good singers and were always singing around the house, and at weekends, friends and family members regularly gathered for ceilidhs.
James began singing Gaelic at competition level at the age of ten. His school, Lochinver Primary, has a long history of producing strong Gaelic singers and as the only boy at the school who was singing Gaelic songs at the time, it was left to James to maintain this tradition while his friends played football.
Encouraged by his great aunt Seordag Murray and his head teacher, Kenny MacKenzie, three of whose nieces comprise the well-known MacKenzie singing group from Lewis, James quickly became a prize-winner at both local and national Mods, the Gaelic music and poetry festivals.
Great aunt Seordag was a massive influence on James. His parents' generation had largely shunned conversational Gaelic and concerned that the songs that had been passed down the family might die out, Seordag taught James all she knew. James spent hours and hours with her after school and especially before a Mod was due, listening to stories about her life and learning songs from the local area.
When he was thirteen or fourteen years old, James started to lose interest in singing, instead spending all his time playing football with his mates. But Kenny and Seordag recognised his talent and kept pushing him to learn more songs and to continue singing, and James is extremely grateful for this.
By this time, having moved up to Ullapool High School, James was playing the bagpipes under the tutelage of Norman Gillies. He continued piping as a subsidiary study when he went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 1999, with singing as his principal study.
Coached and encouraged by his tutor at the RSAMD, the well-known singer and immensely knowledgeable Gaelic scholar Kenna Campbell, James became increasingly passionate about singingand he credits Kenna Campbell with giving him the confidence to enter the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition.
While studying at the RSAMD, where he gained his BA (Hons) in Scottish Music, James researched the songs of his home area, Assynt, for his dissertation, talking to the few remaining native Gaelic speakers and collecting songs from them. He feels emotionally tied to these songs and is dedicated to keeping them alive. He is also passionate about singing pibroch, which he learned from the brilliant piper and folklorist, Allan MacDonald.
Having been singing in public since he was very young, James feels entirely comfortable on a stage and felt no nerves at all during the Young Traditional Musician of the Year final. He has performed in Europe and the USA and has worked with the talented harper and multi-instrumentalist Phamie Gow, appearing as a guest on her latest album.
Although already acclaimed as one of the most important young voices in Gael ic singing, James is determined to keep improving. He plans to take a further year of study at the Gaelic college, Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye, and his professional plans include forming a trio with pianist James Ross and piper and step dancer Donald Brown which will enable him to present the three treasures of the Scottish tradition - music, singing and dancing - in one package.
James Graham from Lochinver becoming the first male - and first Gael - winner through his commanding performance of Gaelic song beginning with a beautiful rendering of Murdo MacFarlane's anthem Canan Nan Gaidheal. The Herald
GAELIC singer James Graham from Lochinver beat off strong competition to become the first male Young Scots Traditional Musician of the Year, with a set of impeccably performed songs. The six finalists delivered a richly entertaining concert, and each provided yet more evidence of the remarkable growth in standards in traditional music in recent years. The Scotsman
James Graham has now formed a trio with Donal Brown (pipes, whistles and stepdance) and James Ross (piano).
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