East Lothian brewery launches new £25,000 music prize

Elephant Sessions band members Mark Bruce, Alistair Taylor, Seth Tinsley, Greg Barry and Euan Smilie at the Belhaven Brewery
Elephant Sessions band members Mark Bruce, Alistair Taylor, Seth Tinsley, Greg Barry and Euan Smilie at the Belhaven Brewery
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East Lothian brewers Belhaven are to instigate one of Scotland’s most lucrative cultural prizes to boost the nation’s traditional music scene.

An annual bursary of £25,000 – the same value as the Mercury Prize – is to be offered to an up-and-coming act to help raise their profile. The first prize has been awarded to Highland outfit Elephant Sessions.

One of the most acclaimed live bands in the Scottish folk scene, Elephant Sessions wowed crowds at the Celtic Connections, HebCelt and Glastonbury festivals.

They are planning to launch overseas tours in the United States, Australia and Europe under the deal with the East Lothian-based brewery.

The brewery has already created a special Elephant Sessions Ale, which will be on sale at festivals throughout the UK under the year-long partnership. It will culminate with a slot for the band, who bill their sound as “neo-trad” at a Belhaven party during New York’s Tartan Week celebrations.

Future winners of the bursary, created after the band met Belhaven representatives at the Lorient Festival in France last summer, will be unveiled following a public vote at the annual Scots Trad Music Awards.

Elephant Sessions won the coveted best album prize and also performed live at the televised ceremony last year.

Mandolin player Alistair Taylor said: “The idea of the bursary actually came out of talking with Belhaven, jokingly at first, about having our own beer, which we’ve always quite fancied.

“The bursary is totally career-changing for us. We’ve had a couple of albums out and have been touring for a few years, but we’re really starting to expand our market overseas.

“It will really help us go further afield and help with marketing and promotions. It’s going to be a really great thing for the scene, which will help a lot of other bands in future.”

Dunbar-based Belhaven said the bursary was aimed at amplifying the careers of “emerging talent” in Scotland’s folk and traditional music scenes.

Brand manager Gordon Muir said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to be supporting the future of Scottish folk and traditional music through the launch of this exciting initiative.

“Belhaven celebrates Scottish culture at home and around the world and we hope the bursary will encourage artists such as Elephant Sessions to take creative risks and be innovative to appeal to existing folk enthusiasts while reaching new audiences.”

Simon Thoumire, founder of the Scots Trad Music Awards that will be held in Perth in December, said: “We’re very excited to be part of this new initiative. Elephant Sessions have had a great year and with this support they will go on to have an even better 2019.”

Iseabail MacTaggart, director of strategy and development at MG ALBA, which broadcasts the “Na Trads” ceremony each year, said: “As main sponsors of the Scots Trad Music Awards, we’re delighted for Elephant Sessions, a great band who have delighted our audiences.”