Acclaimed Scottish singer-songwriter performs local concert

Vashon will be the final stop on her first North American tour.

By Juli Goetz Morser

For Vashon Center for the Arts

Singer-songwriter Iona Fyfe understands the nature of an island, no matter its size.

She grew up in North East Scotland, where the deeply-rooted sense of place saturates her many award-winning songs.

Called one of Scotland’s finest ballad singers, the Aberdeenshire native will bring her signature folk songs and ballads, sung in English and Scots, to Vashon Center for the Arts, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30.

Considering the singer’s stellar trajectory — from graduating with first-class honors in traditional music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, to being the first singer ever to win the prestigious Musician of the Year at the 2021 Scots Trad Music Awards, to advocating for official recognition of the Scots language, not to mention her acclaimed albums and EPs — it is clear that the 24-year-old’s passion for Scottish music and the Scots language began early.

“I started learning Scots poetry when I was four as all my cousins had instruments, and I wanted in on the action,” Fyfe said. “My aunt took me to the Traditional Music and Song Association competition in Keith in the North East of Scotland, and I won the under-6 poetry competition. I then met traditional bearers and singers, who encouraged me to sing traditional songs because they were effectively just Scots poems, but sung.”

That first competition began her attendance at sing-arounds, ceilidhs and competitions, where she learned much of her repertoire through oral transmission. Her mentors in ballad styles included Jock Duncan, Joe Aitken, Jimmie Hutchison, Carole Prior and Geordie Murison, among others.

Deeply committed to preserving and recognizing the Scots language, Fyfe serves as director of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland and is a founding member of Oor Vyce, a campaign for a Scots Language Act, similar to the Gaelic Language Act of 2005.

Currently, Scotland doesn’t recognize Scots as a legal language, despite the European Charter of Minority Languages recognizing Scots, Fyfe said.

Scots is spoken by more than 1.5 million people, while Doric Scots is the North East dialect of the Scots language. Scottish ballads are traditionally sung in both languages.

“The North East is an extremely rich part of Scotland. Some scholars believe that Aberdeenshire is the ‘ballad capital of the world,’” Fyfe said. “Many of the traditional ballads were passed down in the Scots language, and for me, it just makes sense to sing them in the language that the traditional bearers intended them to be sung.”

Yet, Fyfe also feels strongly about bringing the rich, musical history of Scotland firmly into the present, making it accessible to younger audiences. Her emotive delivery, acclaimed arrangements and musicianship of ballads and songs found in both Appalachia and Aberdeenshire have been cited as “a new interpretation of the country genre.”

“Whilst the Scots language is intrinsically linked with our traditional music, I believe that we must change this in order to encourage the next generation of speakers and singers to embrace the language and their own sense of cultural identity,” she said. “Gaelic and Welsh have managed to break away from only being linked to traditional song, but Scots language has not. Pop, punk, rock, folk, indie and acoustic Welsh and Gaelic songs have inhabited new genres, and I am doing this with the Scots language.”

Her folk-pop song, “The Cauld,” received considerable airplay on programs such as BBC Radio 2, while other blended work includes a performance with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as part of the world premiere of Disney Pixar’s “Brave in Concert” at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

“I perform translations of pop songs in my live set, also on my TikTok, with the hope of engaging younger listeners to embrace their language,” she said. “In our live set on Vashon, we have a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song in Scots, as well as translations of Taylor Swift and Sarah Jarosz.”

Fyfe’s previous sold-out tours have taken her throughout the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Czech Republic, Poland, Canada and Australia.

Vashon will be the final stop on her first North American tour.

“Performing live is the best part of being a musician,” Fyfe said. “The connection and rapport you can build over a 90-minute show are incomparable to releasing CDs or doing live streams.”

Get tickets for Iona Fyfe’s concert at