Two Ylas

Imagine discovering that you are not the only person in the world with your first name.

For most of us, that’s not difficult to imagine at all. However, for the SFO’s principal soloist, Yla Steven, it came as bit of a shock.

Yla’s name – pronounced “Eye-La” – is the old spelling of Isla (as in, Glen Isla, in Angus).

As many visitors to this website will already know, most SFO concerts feature Yla playing a slow air, accompanied by the orchestra. This season’s programme includes John Mason’s composition, “Lament for the Death of the Rev. Archie Beaton”, with Yla taking the lead.

Yla Steven and Yla Lloyd, Fiddlers with the SFO

The 2 Ylas in rehearsal

Yla has performed solos with the SFO all over the world.

Yla’s influence is demonstrated not just in her playing but also in the way she has passed on her skills and knowledge to younger generations of violinists.

Until her retirement in 2010, Yla worked as an instrumental teacher in Edinburgh.

She has taught hundreds of students, several of whom have gone on to join the SFO. (The current management of the SFO includes 3 of Yla’s former pupils).

In 2015, Yla was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to Scottish music.

Having taught violin to so many pupils, inevitably, Yla lost contact with a lot of them after they left school and moved away from the Edinburgh area.

One such pupil was Tudor Lloyd, who was one of Yla’s most talented students during the 1970s.

After decades of lost contact, Yla was delighted to receive, out of the blue, a card from “Tudor and Clan” at Christmas 2015. This included a note to the effect that Tudor was married with 3 children and living in the Midlands. His middle child, a daughter aged 11, had been called “Yla” in honour of his former teacher.

Not only that, Yla (junior) had been learning violin and was already up to Grade 6 standard.

As Yla (senior) says, “I was completely gobsmacked. It was disconcerting to find out all these things and then turn to the back of the card to see that it had been designed by ‘Yla Lloyd’. I was honoured that Tudor should name one of his two daughters after me.”

Yla (senior) quickly contacted Tudor to suggest that he and his family might like to come to see her playing with the SFO at their Nottingham concert in April 2016. He replied, saying that they already had tickets for the concert.

From there, it was only matter of time before arrangements were made for Yla (junior) to join the orchestra as a special guest for the Nottingham concert.

Yla Lloyd and Yla Steven, Fiddlers with the SFO

The 2 Ylas ready for the SFO’s Nottingham concert

The 2 Ylas sat side by side in the orchestra throughout the rehearsal and concert.

They received a special ovation from the audience for their efforts.

Yla (junior) has clearly been well brought up because, when questioned after the concert as to how much she had enjoyed the experience, she confirmed that the SFO is the best orchestra she has played with so far (!).

We wish Yla (junior) all the best with her future in music. May it bring her fun and friendship, in the way it has done for all of us in the SFO.

This article originally appeared in the SFO Newsletter for April 2016, which you can find and download from the “Join the Friends of the SFO” page of this website

Aly Bain – Take a Bow

Boys of the Lough Concert Ticket - 1984

Aly Bain helped get me through my Highers.

A cassette recording of the album “Open Road” by Boys of the Lough was the soundtrack to much of my revision.

At that time, the Boys were a four-piece band, featuring Irishman Cathal McConnell and Northumbrian brothers, Dave and Tich Richardson, alongside Aly.

Though Aly’s Shetland music certainly featured, the bulk of the Boys’ repertoire was (and still is, today) Irish music. The album includes sets of driving reels and jigs, including the first recording of Dave Richardson’s ‘Calliope House’ (first and last tune in the set), these days a staple of sessions all over the world – and part of a set of jigs in this year’s SFO programme. [Read more…]

The SFO Returns to Nottingham

The SFO returned to Nottingham for a concert in the Royal Concert Hall on 09 April 2016. Orchestra members arrived from all over the UK by car, bus, train and plane.

A novel feature of our promotion of the concert was the use of advertising space on East Midlands buses – as illustrated here by the SFO’s own left-handed fiddler, Campbell Smith.

Campbell Smith of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra points to a Nottingham bus bearing an ad for the SFO's concert

Campbell Smith points to one of the SFO’s bus adverts for the Nottingham concert 2016.


For the concert, we were joined by Robert Lovie as compere, Colette Ruddy and Dennis Haggerty as singers, the Nottinghamshire Police Pipe Band and, within the orchestra, by 11-year-old Yla Lloyd from Leicester. [Read more…]

Macpherson’s Farewell


One of the highlights of this year’s SFO programme is “Macpherson’s Farewell” (also known as “Macpherson’s Rant”), which our conductor and musical director, Blair Parham, has arranged for orchestra and bagpipes.

This famous air was written by the infamous James Macpherson (1675 – 1700), freebooter (pirate) and fiddler, in the final hours before his death, by hanging, at the Market Cross of Banff on 16 November 1700. Macpherson reputedly played the melody at the scaffold, before offering his fiddle to anyone in the crowd who would take it. [Read more…]

SFO Visits Orkney

The SFO had a fantastic weekend in Orkney, with a concert in the Pickaquoy centre in Kirkwall on Saturday 15th August.

The concert was in aid of Friends of the Neuro Ward Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (Scottish Charity SC044430). [Read more…]

Blair Parham SFO Conductor

Blair Parham conducts SFO at Usher Hall rehearsal - 13.06.15 - 1

This article first appeared in the SFO programme for the Usher Hall concert of 13 June 2015:

Originally from Ayr, Blair’s first proper introduction to music began at the age of six when he took lessons on the recorder, before beginning to learn the cello when he was 8 under the instruction of John Leitch. Blair performed annually at the Ayrshire Music Festival, playing cello and recorder and participating in all manner of ensembles. One of the highlights was performing in Holmston Primary School’s cello quartet – a quartet that performed together through most of their secondary schooling at Belmont Academy in Ayr.

Introduction to traditional music

In 1987, Blair was introduced to traditional fiddle music when he went to his first rehearsal with the (then) Ayrshire Junior Fiddle Orchestra formed by one of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra’s founding members, Wallace Galbraith. [Read more…]

Fiddling for Scotland

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra at the Music Hall, Aberdeen

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra at the Music Hall, Aberdeen. The proceeds of all their concerts go to charity.

This is the text of an article – “Fiddling for Scotland” – which appeared in the Scots Magazine in April 1987 (by Margaret Henderson). It is reproduced here by kind permission of D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. [Read more…]

A Message from the SFO President, Bill Cook

Hello folks.

This is a quick update, following our AGM (05 April 2015), on what has been a very exciting year for the orchestra. [Read more…]

The Traditional Scottish Fiddler (A Layman’s Guide)

Drawing of Willie Dunlop, Kilmarnock, by Reesa McGinn, AyrHere, we have an excerpt from the SFO’s archives.

Though Reesa McGinn’s gift to her friend and fellow fiddler, Willie Dunlop, pre-dates the formation of the orchestra, they were both founder, and stalwart, members of the SFO.

This “Layman’s Guide to the Traditional Scottish Fiddler” (male variety) is as conceived and drawn by Reesa (July 1978). [Read more…]

The Big Draw: 25 Years On

John Mason pictured on the cover of "The Big Draw of the Decade" by Reesa McGinn (1990)

Cover of “The Big Draw of the Decade” by Reesa McGinn (1990)

Reesa McGinn was a founder member of the SFO and, together with her great friend, Betty Henderson, an essential ingredient in any SFO concert of the 1980s and into the 1990s.

John Mason (pictured above) composed several lovely duets for Betty and Reesa to play, each one partly accompanied by the Orchestra.

The two ladies were both teachers in their day jobs. Reesa was an art teacher and, when the SFO reached its 10th anniversary in 1990, Reesa undertook the massive task of drawing each member of the Orchestra, plus some former members and supporters, for a book entitled “The Big Draw of the Decade”. [Read more…]