Simon Thoumire is a concertina player, composer and the dynamic force behind the traditional music advocacy outfit Hands Up For Trad. A recognised virtuoso musician in his own right, Simon has performed all over the world, made many CDs with fabulous musicians including guitarist Ian Carr and pianist David Milligan His compositions for various ensembles have been performed at major festivals including Celtic Connections. The high profile Scots Trad Music Awards, and the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award are among his numerous and varied projects designed to put Scottish music on the map.
Long (winded) Biog…
An acknowledged concertina virtuoso, Simon Thoumire has dazzled audiences with his playing all over the world. A winner of the prestigious BBC Radio 2 Young Tradition Award in 1989, Simon has always been keen to explore different genres of music, releasing many records over the years delving into folk, jazz, improvisation and composition (see discography). Simon has also pursued interests in the industry side of traditional music forming Foot Stompin’ Records in 1997, Scottish Traditional Music Trust (2000) and Hands Up for Trad (2003). Check out Simon’s photo gallery. Music: Simon started playing recorder aged 7 at Riccarton Primary School in Edinburgh. He immediately loved it and learned to read music with his teacher Mrs Hobson. There was no thought of traditional music until, through the Boy’s Brigade (65th Edinburgh) Simon (aged 9) started to learn the bagpipes with Pipe Major Neil Macpherson. All the young boys sat round the table with their practice chanters at Curriehill Primary being schooled in scales, exercises and grace notes until they got it right. The first tune they learned was a slow air called ‘The Mermaid’. There was no suggestion of getting a set of pipes until at least 18 months after you started. Simon’s set (received on loan from the BB’s) were made of Rosewood with nickel-silver and ivory mounts. Simon enjoyed playing the Highland pipes and won many awards, played in the Tattoo twice, piped at the Albert Hall in London, marched the casket into the Usher Hall to celebrate the Edinburgh Boy’s Brigade’s centenary and did the rounds of many gala’s usually in the rain.
At the age of 12 Simon got his first concertina. It wasn’t his first choice as after hearing the McCalmans ‘Smuggler’ LP and loving Hamish Bain on it he chose to learn the mandolin. Unfortunately there was no-one to teach mandolin in Edinburgh so the next step was concertina. Luckily at the time Simon’s sister was learning accordion with the famous Christie Leathem (Phil Cunningham’s teacher) and she was able to put him in touch with a player called Tom Ward. Tom agreed to get Simon his first concertina, a Lachenal 48 key wooden ended concertina with ivory buttons, and also gave him a copy of Alistair Anderson Concertina Workshop tutorial book and LP. From the moment of receiving his concertina Simon fell in love with it and with his mother Elizabeth, worked through Alistair’s book at a rate of knots.
Through the 1980’s Simon started performing at accordion clubs throughout Scotland and in 1986 answered an ad in Gordon Simpson’s music shop from Seannachie looking for new band members. He auditioned and got in and started gigging with them in the Green Tree pub in Edinburgh. The next year they made the band’s second and Simon’s first CD ‘Take Note’. It was also around this time that one Saturday night Simon was practising in his parent’s dining room when Betty Verrill walked past the house. Betty was a one-time agent and promoter for Silly Wizard (Simon’s favourite band) and other Scottish bands touring in England and she was still actively engaged in going to lots of festivals down south. It was Betty who introduced Simon to Alistair Anderson and also helped Simon get involved with the Radio 2 Young Tradition Award which he won in 1989. This Award introduced Simon to Ian Carr which heralded a new musical direction for them both.
Throughout the 1990’s Simon made many recordings (see discography) and toured extensively. He worked many including Ian Carr, Simon Thoumire Three (Kevin Mackenzie, Simon Thorpe), John McCusker, Keep it Up (Eilidh Shaw, Malcolm Stitt, Kevin Mackenzie), Somotherland, Jim Sutherland, Phil and Tom Bancroft. He toured the Netherlands with Drones in the Bones, a free improvising combo and in 1997 wrote his first large scale composition Celtic Connection’s Suite. This was the start of a new period for Simon. This piece was performed 3 times at Glasgow’s Celtic Connection’s festival for which it was written. It was followed in 1999 with Music for a New Scottish Parliament a piece that celebrated Scottish devolution and the new parliament. 2000 premiered The Scottish Requiem which looked back at all the people who have come before us in the previous 2000 years and looked forward to the next 2000. It featured the Latin mass texts translated into Scots and sang by choir and Rod Paterson. See complete list below.
In 2001 Simon made his first CD with pianist David Milligan entitled “The Big Day In”. It was recorded in one day at the Sound Café Studios in Edinburgh and received great reviews which enabled the duo to travel to Europe and Australia. Simon’s latest CD (Experiments in Culture) is a continuation of his interest in Scottish culture and features real-life recordings of existence accompanied by musicians improvising freely over the top. These musicians are the people within the culture.
Simon plans to continue touring and recording with David Milligan, Keep it Up and Experiments in Culture and is looking forward to an exciting and explorative time as well as being a husband to Clare McLaughlin (from Deaf Shepherd) and father of Charlie and Joseph.
Celtic Connections Suite: Commissioned by Celtic Connections Festival to mark the opening of their late night club.
Day Trip to Glasgow: Commissioned by Glasgow Jazz Festival.
Music for a New Scottish Parliament: Written to mark a momentous time in Scottish history this piece was chosen by the BBC for the opening concert of their Music Live Festival at GRCH Glasgow.
The Scottish Requiem: Commissioned by Celtic Connections.
Ceilidh: Commissioned by Yehudi Menuin’s organisation Live Music Now!
Myth: Commissioned by South Lanarkshire Council’s ARTSNET organisation for the children of South Lanarkshire Schools.
Scottish Fiddle Concerto
Teaching: Encouraging young people to take an interest in their heritage through traditional music, Simon has been involved with all of the major providers of workshops: the Youth Gaitherin’, Edinburgh; the Edinburgh Feis, Feis Rois, Folkworks,; Comhaltas, Glasgow; Celtic Connections Education Programme; Fife Schools; South Lanarkshire Council; Yehudi Menuin’s Live Music Now! As well as travelling to England and Ireland to teach.
Foot Stompin’ Records: In 1997 Simon, Elizabeth and John Thoumire realised a lack of proper traditional music in the Scottish tourism sector and formed Tartan Tapes, a company that was going to redress the balance! They released Trip to Scotland featuring Simon, the Wrigley Sisters and Julia Legge under the pseudonym of Hamish MacGregor and the Blue Bonnets thinking that it was going to the top of the charts. The CD was great however they found the market totally sewn up and not really willing to take new product. They kept on trying with a few more releases and eventually formed Foot Stompin’ Records a label that planned to highlight the massive amount of young talent in Scotland’s traditional music. The label has gone from strength to strength and now has over 30 releases. The CDs feature individual musicians, traditional bands, compilations and contemporary crossover music and a range of instruments including fiddle, bagpipes, concertina, clarsach, accordion and voice.
The label has spawned a successful Scottish music website – Foot Stompin’ Celtic Music (www.footstompin.com). The site features music from all the Scottish labels and is a source of information and discussion for many people wanting to know about our traditional music. The site won Retailer of the Year in the 2004 Scots Trad Music Awards.
Scottish Traditional Music Trust: Simon is the joint developer and organiser (with Dave Francis) of DISTIL, a project funded by the PRS Foundation and the Scottish Arts Council offering opportunities to professional traditional musicians wishing to acquire advanced music skills. Distil is a twice yearly gathering of musicians rooted in folk and traditional music, but who are interested in expanding their creative horizons into other areas of musical practice. The Scheme allows musicians to work with experienced practitioners from other music worlds: improvised, orchestral, contemporary, in a mutual exchange of ideas and experience. It takes place in historic world heritage site New Lanark, South Lanarkshire. The Scottish Traditional Music and Song Trust administer this project and make it available to a wide variety of traditional musicians. The scheme has expanded into England where it takes place at Dillington House in Somerset.
Hands Up for Trad: Simon set up Hands Up for Trad as an organisation that is dedicated to increasing the profile and visibility of Scottish traditional music through information, education and advocacy. They organise:
BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award, an Award that exists to encourage young musicians to keep their tradition alive and to maximise their musical potential by the pursuit of a career in traditional music.
The Scots Trad Music Awards, the aim of which is to celebrate Scotland’s rich musical heritage and in doing so, create a high profile annual event to bring traditional music centre stage.
St Andrew’s Celebrations, an event that co-ordinates a nationwide series of events around St Andrew’s Day to enable people to experience the riches of our traditional music and song. In the first year Hands Up For Trad managed to stage 32 events throughout the country from the Shetland Islands to the Scottish Borders.
Tinto Summer School, (described as Scotland’s premier summer school by the Sunday Herald), a residential school in July where young people get the chance to learn with some of Scotland’s top traditional musicians.
“If there is such a thing as “Extreme Concertina” then Simon Thoumire does it! A superb mix of traditional and new age, haunting to outrageous… Simon does it all” Sata-Hame Soi Festival..Finland
“Simon Thoumire plays the cheekiest, wittiest, most agile concertina in the land” Alasdair Clark, The Scotsman
“Simon Thoumire is the Master of the English concertina and one of those artists who fills you with both delight and despair if you play the same instrument.” BBC Folk and Acoustic.
“This guy can REALLY fly on the concertina and yet never gives the impression that he’s rushing or doing anything other than exactly what he wants to.” Concertina.net
Check out Simon’s photo gallery.