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A group of people in traditional Scottish dress, including tartan trousers. Most have drums but one person at the front has a big staff.

Finlay MacDonald

Why I love Glasgow's music scene: Finlay MacDonald

June 21, 2022

Artistic Director for Piping Live! and regular at The World Pipe Band Championships, Finlay MacDonald answers our questions on why Glasgow is a top city for music lovers.

A man smiling and holding an instrument in his lap, potentially bagpipes.

1. What makes going to a gig in Glasgow so special?

Definitely the people. It’s always an absolute pleasure playing a gig or going to see another band in Glasgow. Of course, there are so many iconic venues all with their own special character, but there’s a real honesty and edge to the audiences. You certainly need to be up for anything at a gig in Glasgow!

2. Tell us about a music moment that sums up your experience of the city?

A view from behind and to the left of a group of people on stage at the end of a performance. There is a big crowd clapping.

Credit: Sam Hurt

I was invited to guest with the great folk band RURA at a show in Saint Luke's last September, just as the Covid-19 restrictions were allowing gigs with full audiences again. The atmosphere was amazing and when I came on to play the tune I wrote, 'Elliott’s', the whole crowd sang in full voice throughout the track. It was incredible to see and hear so many people sing a pipe tune back, the way people usually do with pop songs. I guess it shows the level of support for the traditional music scene in Glasgow.

3. Why do so many talented musicians come out of Glasgow?

It’s a really open scene in Glasgow. The way the music is taught on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and National Piping Centre courses really does bring cross-genre learning to the fore. There is a real confidence and belief in the tradition, but also a great hunger for experimentation and collaboration. It results in a very respectful but inquisitive scene. There are also some great studios and a great session scene where people socialise through the music. It really does feel like you are part of something bigger, a real community.

4. What's your favourite Glasgow venue?

View from above and behind of a crowd watching a gig at a venue known as Old Fruitmarket.

Old Fruitmarket credit: Gaelle Beri

I love the Old Fruitmarket. It's just got something special, I’ve been to so many amazing nights there and been lucky enough to have played there with loads of different bands. Each time the atmosphere has been amazing.

5. When travelling the world, how do you describe Glasgow and the city's music scene?

Burgeoning!

6. What would you recommend to first-time visitors to the city?

Traditional musicians sit around a table in a pub playing guitars and violins. People stand at the bar area which has a large display of whisky.

Get to a session! There are so many trad music sessions in the city. You’ll get a real sense of the energy and passion for the trad music scene in an informal atmosphere. But make sure you also get to some of the amazing venues the city has to offer.

Piping Live! and The World Pipe Band Championships (The Worlds) both take place every year in August. Visit Piping Live's website and The Worlds website for more information.

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