Interview – Jenna Reid

Jenna Reid

Ahead of her Queen’s Hall gig this weekend, Jenna Reid calls up 17 Seconds for a chat.

Earlier this year, Jenna Reid released her latest album Working Hands. Her fourth solo album is fabulous – drawing on traditional Scottish folk, and feeling utterly contemporary at the same time. Apart from three traditional Shetland tunes, she’s been responsible for writing it. The Queen’s Hall gig is the first time she’s played it as a solo artist – indeed ‘the first we’ve done the album since we launched it in January at Celtic Connections.’ She adds: ‘It will be really exciting – the Queen’s Hall is a favourite of mine, it’s an amazing venue [17 Seconds can totally agree to this, by the way!]. It’s probably a special one for McFalls, as well, because that’s their home turf, as it were, and they’ve probably played in there countless times, so it’s really exciting for me to be playing with them there.’

(Ah yes, McFalls…otherwise known as Mr. McFall’s Chamber, the group lead by Robert McFall, who have played on a number of 17 Seconds faves. We digress…)

Raised in Shetland, she’s now based with her family in a small village not far from Glasgow. ‘I’d love to say I lived up in Shetland,’ she says, wistfully. ‘I moved to Glasgow when I was seventeen, it’s the nearest I can get to Shetland, here!’

‘It’s been a lot of years since I did any solo touring,’ she reflects. In her early years she titled it the Jenna Reid Band, ‘but it wasn’t really a band, like Blazin’ Fiddles, it was a solo effort and I was being accompanied by musicians.’

‘I’ve got a really close relationship with Harris Playfair, who’s a piano player from Shetland from the same village as me [Quarff],’ she adds. ‘To me, on the piano, he’s untouchable! We’ve played together for maybe fifteen years, maybe more, and I specifically wanted to work with him.’

She was nine when she first picked up a violin, found in her grandmother’s attic in Ayrshire. It sounds like something out of a fairy story, but in her case, it’s true. The culture of the time helped too. ‘In Shetland at the time, all schools when I was growing up, had fully funded music tuition. I think there was, like, five fiddle tutors that went round every school in Shetland.’ She recalls; ‘There were twenty children in our Primary – and so we were getting a one-to-one lesson every week! It’s unheard-of now, unfortunately.’

And the fiddle from Granny’s attic? It’s played by her Bethany in RANT, another of the groups that Jenna plays with. Jenna herself  was lucky enough to get a bursary from the Donald Dewar Awards Fund in 2008, which enabled her to get a new instrument to her. Said violin is two hundred and fifty years old.

She kept on studying – and at the age of seventeen, she left Shetland for Glasgow, to study at what was then the RSAMD [Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland]. It was here that she joined Dòchas, the Gaelic band, and latter played with Blazin’ Fiddles, of which she modestly confesses to pinching herself about playing with. 

I ask her about what to expect from her live performances. ‘It’s always seated, a listening kind of audience. Largely, even with the Blazing Fiddles music, which is louder and rockier, it still works better for us to play to a seated audience.’

She won’t be resting much – after this gig, she has performances in both London and Scotland, and then goes back onto RANT and Blazin’ Fiddles calendars. ‘But there’ll be some down time in Shetland to look forward to!’ she adds with a twinkle in her voice.

Jenna Reid plays Edinburgh Queens Hall on April 7, with Harris Playfair and Mr. McFall’s Chamber. She will also be playing at London’s Kingsplace on April 28 and Perth’s Horsecross on April 29.



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