Public Panel: Unlocking Live Events in the Highlands and Islands, (Video Archive).

Image Credit: John Grubbs, Wikimedia Commons

As part of the AHRC Music in the Rural Creative Economy Fellowship, we held a live public panel discussion about unlocking live events in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, with three leading figures in the Scottish arts scene.

The video archive of the debate is available here now:

This video is provided under a CC BY-NC-ND Creative Commons licence–meaning that the video can be shared by anyone with the exception of commercial use, and must be credited to the original debate panel and Simon McKerrell at Newcastle University and not altered or edited in any way.

The panel were:

Mairearad Green (Musician and Visual Artist, Ullapool)

Graeme Howell (Chief Executive, Shetland Arts)

James Mackenzie-Blackman (Chief Executive/ Ceannard, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness)

Chair: Simon McKerrell (Newcastle University)

The panel will be discussing the way forward for music and live performance events in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, how they see their role and live events in general as we emerge from lockdown. The panel will discuss their artistic and organisational plans for the future, what we might need in the sector, and how lockdown has perhaps shifted their thinking about live events, digital, festivals and the arts in the rural creative economy of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Join us for a stimulating discussion at 1pm on the 5th April 2021.

Find out more about the project Music in the Rural Creative Economy here a Newcastle University research project being undertaken in partnership with The Touring Network and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


Mairearad Green

Having grown up in the West Coast Coigach peninsula of the Scottish Highlands – an area steeped in culture and local traditions – Mairearad is a musician and landscape painter now based in the Highland village of Ullapool. Her impressionistic painting style is very much an emotional response to the land that she grew up in and renowned for her deft and lyrical accordion style, as well as her dextrous piping, Mairearad is in great demand as a performer, and as a composer showcasing a deeply rooted sense of identity.

Mairearad regularly performs alongside multi-instrumentalist Anna Massie, composer, Mike Vass and as Buoy Gull with Kenny Anderson. (King Creosote).  She has also previously toured with Eddi Reader, Karine Polwart, The Poozies, The Unusual Suspects, and Box Club.

With composition a lifelong passion of Mairearad’s, many of her tunes are fast becoming staples in sessions throughout Scotland, and further afield, with “Maggie West’s Waltz” and “Dram Behind the Curtain” amongst the favourites. The latter was recorded on Eddi Reader’s deluxe Robert Burns album, with Eddi claiming it to be “the best Scottish tune [she has] heard in years”. By popular demand, Mairearad released an EP of five self-penned tracks, “Maggie West’s” in 2013.

Mairearad scored a five star review for her first solo album, “Passing Places”, her suite of tunes commissioned by Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival, for their New Voices series. The concert was recorded and released on CD/DVD – featuring images from her native Achiltibuie and the surrounding area – alongside a book of her original compositions, which includes the full suite as well as many others. The project’s success led to Mairearad winning PRS Composer of the Year, at the Scots Trad Music Awards the same year.

A natural and seamless progression from “Passing Places” is Mairearad’s 2016 solo album, “Summer Isles. ” Before writing the album Mairearad spent many weeks researching stories from the islands, in particular, well known publications such as ‘Island Years’ by Frank Fraser Darling and ‘Trowel in my Hand’ by Mairearad’s relation, the poet Neil Macleod. These books, as well as newly written poems from local artist Jan Kilpatrick, set the direction for Mairearad’s compositional style as more song based. Guest vocalists are, Hector MacInnes from Skye and Scotland’s much loved singer/song writer, King Creosote.

Mairearad’s latest limited edition 12”vinyl singles, is again inspired by the Coigach area and each single includes a bespoke cover design painted by Mairearad, combining her two passions – art and music. The title ‘Hearth’, (traditionally an integral part of any home) symbolises the warmth, light and nourishment of the art and music combined. It reflects the resilient, and spirited generations of women from the area, including those who resisted landlords during what became known as the Coigach Riots during the Highland Clearances.   Braving Coigach’s west coast weather to paint landscapes ‘en plein air’, Mairearad’s impressionistic style is an emotional response to the land where the women from her past trampled the same soil. 

Graeme Howell

Graeme joined Shetland Arts Development Agency in December 2014 to manage its three venues and oversee its extensive program of support and delivery. Graeme previously worked as a Senior Manager for a private creative education provider managing ten colleges across the UK and as the Director of a 2000 seat concert hall in Bristol where he delivered a £20 million redevelopment project. Other experience includes working as the head of operations for a countywide festival as well as having held a number of third sector trustee positions.

Graeme recently completed an ILM post graduate qualification in strategic leadership and executive management and has an IDeA Future Leadership Qualification from Ashridge Business School.

Graeme has experience of working in, and working with, rural communities having run region wide projects across the South West of England and is passionate about what can be achieved when communities are properly empowered and engaged.

James MacKenzie-Blackman

James is an award-winning theatre producer, arts advocate and venue manager. He works in the cultural sector as he is passionate about people, places, communities and the power of the performing arts to help you see the world in new ways and to change lives. James grew up in rural South Devon where he was a proud member of the Theatre Royal Plymouth Young Company. It was at this Youth Theatre where James ‘found his tribe’ and made friends for life. His Youth Theatre experience helped define his career ambitions and at 16 told his careers advisor at school that his biggest dream was to “one day be a Head of Education in a building-based theatre.”

After concluding his formal education James spent two years working overseas in Nepal, Europe and North America. After University in Liverpool, James started his career at Greenwich Theatre where he ran a musical theatre academy to engage culturally diverse young people with the performing arts, specifically musical theatre. In 2004 James commenced six years at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith culminating in jointly raising £12m for a major capital project at the Lyric to build the world’s first teaching theatre so that young people could train for careers on; off and backstage in a professional performing arts venue. James held three posts: Director of Creative Learning (Management & Strategy), Associate Director: Capital Development and Commercial Director. During his time at the Lyric James helped bring the Broadway production of Spring Awakening to London that went on to win four Olivier Awards. Between 2010 and 2012 James was Executive Director of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain during which time the company were heavily involved in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. James was most recently Executive Director of Sir Matthew Bourne’s award-winning dance company New Adventures. Matthew is one of the world’s most well-known choreographers and theatre-makers who has changed the landscape of dance forever. James regularly toured the UK; North America, Asia and Australia and during his time at the company James oversaw substantial growth in participation, audiences and turnover. 

James is regularly invited to speak at conferences and events in the UK and overseas. His paper: Education vs. training: The future of participation in Building Based Theatre was published by Cambridge Scholars Press. James proudly took up the post as Chief Executive of Eden Court in February 2018.

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