The year that changed everything for Scotland's creative talents

It has been a year like no other for Scotland’s artists, performers, filmmakers and broadcasters.

Saturday, 10th April 2021, 11:59 pm
Updated Sunday, 11th April 2021, 8:12 am

The sudden impact of lockdown restrictions led to schedules being torn up, tours being put off indefinitely and projects being scrapped.

But the last 12 months have also seen a dramatic shift in the way people in the creative industries have worked – thanks to new technology and new opportunities that have opened up for those that have grasped them.Many have survived and thrived thanks to several jobs and hugely diverse workloads. But working largely from home has also brought more than its fair share of challenges and stresses.

Joy Dunlop, one of Scotland’s leading Gaelic singers, broadcasters and tutors, is also a BBC Scotland weather presenter.

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She said: “I’m lucky enough to wear multiple hats - I’m a TV presenter, musician and educator - and this definitely helped when Covid hit, as I very quickly realised that each industry was going to be affected in different ways.

"On the presenting front, I’d not long started a maternity cover post as a weather presenter for BBC Scotland, and this was a godsend.

“Although I was working fully from home and hugely missed the social interaction, knowing I had some form of work was a huge relief.

“Myself and my brother Andrew released our duo album the week we went into the first lockdown. All our concerts were instantly cancelled. We still haven’t organised any gigs and I can’t see that happening until well into next year.

Filmmaker and broadcaster Calum Maclean has made two new programmes for BBC Alba over the last year and won an award for a short film made in his garden.

“It was amazing how quickly everyone took to Zoom teaching and set about creating online learning resources. Whilst this was hugely tiring and time consuming, it was worth it for still being able to work and see people on a regular basis - even through a screen.”

Jenn Butterworth, one of Scotland's leading trad music performers, said: “One of the positives is that geography is no longer an issue.

“I’ve performed at a couple of online festivals in Canada, I’ve made silly pop covers with English folk musicians Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron, and I’ve been recording and building an online show with Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll.

“I’m doing a lot more online work, including performing, writing, teaching and recording, and I think that’ll be a permanent fixture.

Louise Marshall took her pipes onto the streets for the weekly 'Clap for Carers' tribute.

“It’s been nice to teach people across the world, and I’ve even managed to learn enough about home studios to record parts for three different albums.

“However, I’m really hoping a lot of the changes aren’t permanent. I haven’t really been able to do the core part of my job for a very long time and it’s starting to affect my mental health.

“Many of us are now a bit snowed under, balancing lots of different projects with online teaching and recording. It’s also hard to switch off when you’re working from home.

“Although I did a lot of home working before, it was usually punctuated with gigs, sessions and other bits of work outside of the house. More than anything, I’d just love to play music at the same time as another person.”

Broadcaster and singer Joy Dunlop.

Last March, Dundonian writer and broadcaster Alistair Heather was living in Amsterdam, had just had a two-part TV show commissioned and was involved in organising a concert commemorating the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.

He said: “With so much unknown about the year, I oriented myself around my passions. I began a Masters in history, offered media help to my football club Dundee United and began to develop online evening sessions encouraging Dundonians to engage with the Scots Language.

“I’ve just the dissertation to go. I’ve spent the entire football season producing and presenting the home match coverage for Dundee United, and we’ve just finished our first three months of online Scots language classes.

“I don’t know what will happen next. But I think we’re all getting used to that feeling. I’m just looking to keep going, keep taking opportunities, and keep trying to find ways to spend my time meaningfully. And really, just to emerge from all this in one piece.”

Highland filmmaker, broadcaster and outdoor adventurer Calum Maclean made two new shows for BBC Alba around Scotland - and an award-winning film made in his garden.

He said: “In late 2019 and early 2020 I worked on a variety of tourism campaign videos which were due to be launched last year – I think they’ve been sitting on hard drives ever since! But I’ve worked on projects on a personal and professional level that wouldn’t have happened without lockdown.

Jenn Butterworth is one of Scotland's leading trad music stars. Picture: Louis DeCarlo

“A recent BBC ALBA programme I presented was a documentary meeting people who had all got into, and back into, enjoying the great outdoors through a variety of activities.

"It really highlighted how vital it has been for people during lockdown - and it was as a result of the situation we ended up in.

“A highlight for me was a short film I made exploring my own garden as a miniature person, filming myself in front of a green screen & shrinking myself to sit under leaves & climb twigs. It ended up winning a competition, which was a nice bonus.

“When lockdown eased last year, I ended up being a bit too busy. I said yes to almost every piece of work coming my way. This resulted in me maybe taking on too much work at once, feeling like I didn't do some of it justice and actually not enjoying the process of much of it.

"I think keeping active and busy on social media over lockdown paid off for me, with lots of approaches & opportunities coming from that.”

Louise Marshall, official bagpiper to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, had her busiest ever schedule of bookings for events around the world in place when the pandemic struck. Social media proved to be her salvation.She said: “I decided to put my energy, expertise and passion into full use by recording videos of me playing and sharing my music, with the aim of uplifting people's spirits.

"I also played on my street and round the block every week during the ‘Clap for Carers’ to thank our incredible frontline staff and key workers. The response was amazing.

“I’m completely honoured to have been asked to play at many funerals during lockdown, which has been incredibly special. The messages I’ve received from families have been so moving and beautiful. I’m just pleased that I’ve perhaps been able to help make their loved ones’ final send-off a wee bit more special.”

Leith-based comic Jo Caulfield says the last 12 months have been “so much busier” than she feared this time last year, notching up more than 100 live gigs via Zoom, as well as appearances on BBC Scotland shows like Breaking The News, The Good The Bad and the Unexpected, and Socially Distanced with Susan Calman.

She said: “I absolutely love doing Zoom gigs, there's an intimacy that is different to performing in a club.

"They've also been a great way for people living on their own to interact with other people, they have a 'night out' while at home on their own, the audiences have made friends with each other and became a community.

“The fact that I wasn't travelling every week seems to have given me more time and energy to write new material and I've also written a book.

“I’ve been so much busier than I had thought I would be a year ago. It's been amazing seeing club promoters adapt to putting on online shows. Radio has been easy to to do from home so shows like Breaking The News and The Good The Bad and the Unexpected on Radio Scotland have worked really well even without a live audience.”

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Filmmaker and broadcaster Calum Maclean.
Writer and broadcaster Alistair Heather.
Louise Marshall plays at dawn on Edinburgh's Portobello Beach last year on the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Picture: Jane Barlow