Feature – Sheena Wellington

How do you describe yourself and your work?  

I am a traditional singer, a singer in Scots a song carrier, a song passer-on, a promoter of musical events and an enthusiast.

What’s important to you about the work you produce or the way you make it? 

The culture and languages of Scotland are my passion. Scotland has a rich fascinating and ever growing body of songs encompassing life, love, work, history, and every emotion the human person is heir to.  Powerful words and beautiful tunes.

What effect do you hope your work will have (or currently has) on listeners/audiences/people/the world?

I hope people will be amused, moved, inspired and made to think.

What do you enjoy about sharing your work?  

I love being with an audience whether it’s a dozen at a workshop or 1000 in a concert hall.  Seeing people ‘get’ it matters.  When you sing a song they may have heard a hundred times but your interpretation reveals something to them they haven’t seen before that is a magical moment.

What does making new work mean to you? 

I still love learning new songs, or old songs I haven’t sung before.

Who or what inspired/inspires you to commit to your creative work and how?  

I come from a family where singing was practically compulsory and I absorbed songs naturally.  I love a wide range of human voices from Amelita Galli-Curci to Ella Fitzgerald but the clear straight from the heart singing of my childhood is still the standard!

What’s the next big challenge for you creatively/artistically and/or in business? 

I am working with the fine Irish musician and composer Lorcán Mac Mathúna at the Orkney Science Festival.  It’s exciting but challenging.  I don’t do folk clubs any more but people keep inviting me to do interesting things so I am very lucky.

What skills have been essential in your work so far? 

A good ear, a facility for remembering words and a voice which can carry a tune.

What makes you feel determined to produce great work/music/art/projects?

Sheer thrawnness!

Any idea, approach or message you want to share?

Make your music to your own highest standards, always take press reviews with a pinch of salt and respect your audience – they do not owe you a living, you owe your living to them.

What would make your creative/working life better and/or fairer? 

At my age, having less creaky joints!

Do you have an experience of discrimination or abuse that you want to share?

I think all women, in or out of the arts, have!  I had hoped the “We can’t book you for our festival because we’ve got a girl already!” nonsense had died a death but my younger colleagues tell me it’s as prevalent as ever.  I’ve also been shocked at how many male folk artists who I have long known as good left-of-centre fighters against all sorts of discrimination went into total meltdown when the women suggested organising themselves to work for fairer treatment.

Do you have advice for female and/or LGBTQ2 musicians/artists who might be struggling or experiencing invisible barriers (perhaps that they’re not yet aware of)?   

Be true to yourself.  Your talent is your calling card, believe in it.  Beware of the creeps and predators – they are always around but rarely help.

Any other thoughts?

Life, and art, should be about collaboration not competition.

A piece of work I’m proud of..

I love the poetry of Violet Jacob and the music of Jim Reid, the Celtic Connections Scots Women concert was one of the best I have ever been in and it was such a joy to duet with Karine Polwart.

A piece of work that has inspired or encouraged me..

How long do we have……? For many years I had the privilege of being friend and frequent singing, touring and laughing together partner of the great Ishbel MacAskill who I still sorely miss.  I could sing the Gaelic choruses and I understand a fair amount of the language but have never managed to speak it with any confidence.  At the last gig we did together I mentioned that after all these years my Gaelic was still mince.  The inimitable Ishbel patted me gently on the arm and said “Never mind, Sheena, your English is coming on quite well!” What a wummin!