I first entered the competition in 2011 after successfully getting through to the semi-finals. Had a great time over the semi-finals weekend with all the other musicians and the concert was loads of fun. Sadly, I didn’t get through to the finals that year and was pretty disheartened afterwards but was still at university and had plenty of other things to be getting on with…
Fast forward a year and I was accepted again for the semi-finals! I was much more laid back about it this time and again, really enjoyed the weekend away and meeting so many fantastic musicians. On the night of the semi-finals, everyone was amazing and the standard was so high. After my performance, I wasn’t very happy with how I had played or at least knew I could have played better. I pretty much gave up on the idea of getting through to the finals at that point.
A couple of days later (and a whole morning of waiting anxiously for the phone to ring) I received a call from Simon Thoumire to say I had made it to the finals! I couldn’t believe it!
The wait between the semi-finals and the finals was extensive – we had around 4 months to wait. For the semi-finals, my set was chosen only a few weeks prior to it as this allowed me to keep things fresh and interesting for myself and the audience. With that in mind, I didn’t want to make any decisions on my set for the finals until closer to the time. As it was going out on radio/tv, the BBC needed to know what we were playing at the beginning of January (with the competition being held at the beginning of February). This meant that I spent a fair bit of time over Christmas coming up with ideas and suggestions for tunes and it wasn’t until the day before I had to let them know that I finally decided what I was going to play. I’m glad that I had this deadline as I could have easily spent another month changing my mind about what to play.
Having submitted my tune choices, this gave me a month to really knuckle down on practising and coming up with arrangements for my sets. When trying to arrange my sets, I had plenty of ideas but through experience, I knew that whatever I came up with would ultimately change as rehearsing with others gives you totally new ideas.
Finals weekend came and as well as lots of food with the other finalists, rehearsals were taking place over the two days prior to the concert. Playing with the house band (Mhairi Hall, Mike Bryan & Martin O’Neill) was what I was most looking forward to over the weekend and working with them on my sets was an absolute pleasure. These musicians are total pros and as much as we stuck to most of my arrangement, they had some great ideas and tweaks that took it to another level.
Another part of the weekend was doing TV interviews for BBC Alba. This involved standing against a green screen and answering questions to do with your influences and musical background. I wasn’t entirely comfortable when staring in to the camera and answering the questions but after seeing it on TV, realised it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. They also had me playing my accordion while staring down the camera – now THAT was awkward!
On the night of the concert, I was first on. I was quite happy about this as it meant that it was over quite quickly and I didn’t have to hear the other finalists performances before mine. Before going on stage, I was quite nervous as it was going out live on radio and then on TV the night after – I didn’t want to mess it up. However, as soon as I got on stage I just embraced it and really enjoyed playing. My focus was entirely on getting my tunes right initially but as I got through the tunes and the house band were playing with me, I settled in to it.
As we all know, Paddy was announced the winner (after an absolutely awesome couple of sets) and it couldn’t have went to a more humble, deserving guy! There may be a smidge of disappointment at not winning but getting to play with amazing musicians and sharing the stage with 5 such talented finalists made the whole experience an absolute pleasure! And we get to go on tour – woo