Distil, established in 2002, provides creative development opportunities to musicians currently working in the traditional music sector, by offering opportunities to learn from and collaborate with established musicians from other musical genres. With a view to facilitating new work and creative partnerships.


20140512-013557.jpgWell that was another great Distil Showcase! Congratulations to all the composers and Mr McFall’s Chamber (and soloists) who made the night so memorable. You can listen to the music below. The running order was:

  1. Pete Stewart: The road to Ae
  2. Tina Jordan Rees: Albert
  3. Gillian Fleetwood: Craft: part 2
  4. Tom Richardson: The Spaces Between
  5. Catriona  Macdonald: Norrœnn
  6. James Mackintosh: Eilean Fhionnan (The Green Isle)
  7. Matt Seattle: Theme for the Early Days of a Better Nation
  8. Jen Austin: Water
  9. Lori Watson:  Lowood 1
  10. Andrew Dunlop: Hoolie in Blue
  11. Catriona Price: Ness

Read more about the compositions here. Download the Distil Showcase 2014 programme.

Produced for Distil by Simon Thoumire and David Francis

Thanks to: Judith Walsh, Brian Schiele; Carolyn Paterson and all at the Tolbooth; all the Distil participants and mentors; Persephone Nichol-Bose; Creative Scotland.

Have a listen!


It’s been a busy time at Distil lately. We are just getting ready for the Distil Showcase featuring

  • Tina Jordan Rees
  • Catriona Macdonald
  • Catriona Price
  • Jen Austin
  • Gillian Fleetwood
  • James MacIntosh
  • Andrew Dunlop
  • Pete Stewart
  • Matt Seattle
  • Lori Watson (solo piece)
  • Tom Richardson (solo piece).

All the new music will be played by Mr McFall’s Quintet. It starts at 7.30pm on Friday 9th May in Stirling Tolbooth.

We also had our first Distil scratch day with Mr McFall’s where the composers for the showcase went to listen to Mr McFall’s talk about string writing techniques and how to write interesting music for the quintet. Read about that day here

A few of us also met up with Tigerstyle DJs to talk about the anatomy of making a dance track. It was a really interesting day with new thoughts and techniques learnt. You can read about that here

Finally for just now we are just preparing our first scratch band day where musicians will be invited to try writing ideas for bass and drums. Our MD is pianist Dave Milligan and it will be held sometime in September 2014.

Read more about Distil here


On Tuesday 11th March 2014 we held our first Distil Scratch Day. It was suggested by composer Brian Irvine at our last Distil Residential that we should get together ahead of the Distil Showcase (Friday 9th May, Stirling Tolbooth) and chat to Mr McFall’s Chamber about the writing possibilities for string quintet.


11 of us met in North Edinburgh Arts on Tuesday morning exited to learn what we would learn! Robert McFall had thought it all out. McFall’s started by playing one of the first string quartets written and they talked about how in many ways string quartets were for the enjoyment of the performers and not so much the audience. They showed us how all the musicians get their own lines and how the tune weaves its way across the quartet.

They covered many different techniques including comments that we should always write as difficult a bass part as possible for Rick Standley! We heard lots of beautiful music delivered with great sympathy and skill.

Thanks Mr McFall’s Chamber! I’m looking forward to the 2015 Scratch Day already!



kate-youngWe are very happy to announce that the composers for our 2014 Showcase are:

  • Tina Jordan Rees
  • Catriona MacDonald
  • Catriona Price
  • Jen Austin
  • Kate Young
  • Gillian Fleetwood
  • James MacIntosh
  • Andrew Dunlop
  • Pete,
  • Matt Seattle
  • Lori Watson (solo piece)
  • Tom Richardson (solo piece)

The Showcase will be held on the 9th May in Stirling Tolbooth at 8pm. It is always a great night of music. Have a listen to last year’s Showcase below.

Thanks to Creative Scotland for their support in making this project happen.

Distil is looking for composers to take part in our 2014 Showcase on the 9th May 2014 in Stirling’s Tolbooth. This popular event has been running for the last few years and we have heard some brilliant compositions, If you would like to write music for a string quintet + a solo musician (or any variation of that) why not fill in the form below. All we need is your idea. We will then select the top eight entries for performance in the Showcase. The deadline for submissions is Friday 24th January 2014. (All composers must have attended a Distil Residential to be eligible for this project)

Visit for more information.


Photo by Martin ForryWhat a great time was had in New Lanark at the weekend. 9 traditional musicians and 3 workshop leaders worked together on composition skills, improvising and musical thinking in our 11th year of Distil in The Mill Hotel, New Lanark.

Everyone arrived on Thursday lunchtime and we started off with a free improvisation workshop with Joost Buist from The Netherlands. This was followed with one-to-one workshops between participants and workshop leaders. On Friday we started off with composer Brian Irvine’s inspirational workshop on composition and then Chris Wood chatted about composition within folk music. Gillian Fleetwood came down on Friday night and played her Distil Showcase composition ‘Craft’ to the group. We then used the Critical Response technique (led by Dave Francis) to give her positive feedback and also the opportunity for Gillian to ask questions about aspects of her writing and what the assembled audience thought.

Saturday started another round of workshop leaders group sessions, a creative exercise and a beautiful walk up the Clyde Valley. We had a great ‘tune’ in the bar on Saturday night and Sunday finished off with a free improvising session.

Distil is always refreshing and fun and everybody (including the workshop leaders) always leave saying what a fabulous time they’ve had. I look forward to Distil Residential 2014!

Check out our photos

Brian IrvineIt’s not long until our latest residential. It is always a fantastic event full of new ideas and sharing. Everybody leaves feeling refreshed and ready to take on new challenges and try new ideas.

One of our workshop leaders Brian Irvine taught at Distil a few years and he conducted large improvising ensembles. He then went on to work with Lau including composing a piece of music for them that was showcased around Britain.

The beauty of Distil is that everyone is the same. The workshop leaders we bring in are top in their own fields and they are getting the chance to work with musicians who are top Scottish musicians. There is no hierarchy.


Mr McFalls ChamberWe had a fantastic Distil Showcase in Stirling Tolbooth this March. The composers were

Day a Month – Mike Vass and Mairearad Green
Croft – Gillian Fleetwood
Act of Union? – Mhairi Hall
Lament for John McGann – Hamish Napier
Earthrise – Duncan Lyall
Airing – Jen Austin
Lewisman in Exile – Ailie Robertson
Constant Without Me – Amy Duncan
Sunday Funday – Calum MacCrimmon

The pieces were performed by Mr McFall’s Chamber. Have a listen


We had some great informal music at Distil 2012. One of our workshop leaders taught us some African songs. Here is one of them.

joost buis

We are really excited about our next residential in October 2013. Our 3 workshop leaders are:

  • Chris Wood (fiddle, songwriter, traditional musician)
  • Brian Irvine (composer and improvisor)
  • Joost Buis (composer and improvisor)

and the participants are:

  • Patsy Reid
  • Andrew Dunlop
  • Megan Henderson
  • Rona Wilkie
  • Marit Falt
  • James Mackintosh
  • Pete Stewart
  • Catriona Price
  • Tina Jordan Rees

Both Chris Wood and Brian Irvine have worked with Distil before but it is Joost’s first time at Distil. I (Simon Thoumire) have worked with Joost many times and he is a brilliant trombonist and composer (and is very funny!).

The layout of the weekend will be our usual group and 1-1 sessions plus lots of informal playing around the venue. I can’t wait! The dates are 24-27th October 2013 in New Lanark.

Distil’s 2012 residential was held at New Lanark, South Lanarkshire. The dates were 25-28th October 2012.

All the musicians arrived on Thursday 25th to start workshopping at 2pm. The timetable of Distil is made up of plenary sessions led by the workshop leaders which are interspersed with one-to-one sessions where the participants can chat to the workshop leaders about composition or improvisation.

Cath Burlinson led the first workshop and she had the musicians thinking about their inner creativity and how they can bring their thoughts and plans out into the open. It was a very successful workshop and a great opener to the weekend.

The next workshop was led by Andro Biswane from the Suriname and he led the group in rhythm workshops and talked about African music. Andro had all the musicians playing along and smiling :-) To end the first pass of the workshop leaders composer Karen Wimhurst talked about composition and her work to date. She also set the participants a project of writing a short piece of music for the other musicians present to be performed last thing on Sunday.

The rest of the weekend was made up of further sessions from the workshop leaders, a creativity game where everyone has to make music from items discussed in the group and a walk to the Falls of Clyde.

It’s always amazing who quickly the weekend goes and how much the musicians enjoy the experience. Everyone comes out energised and geared up to make music. Next up is their chance to write music for Mr McFall’s Chamber as part of our Distil Showcase in March 2013.

Below is a slideshow of all our photos from the weekend and below that is information about the participants and workshop leaders.

The participants were:

Jen Austin (piano)
Ewan Robertson (guitar)
Jack Smedley (fiddle)
Maeve MacKinnon (song)
Rua MacMillan (fiddle)
Simon Bradley (fiddle)
Amy Duncan (bass)
Mhairi Hall (piano)
Innes Watson (guitar, fiddle)

and the workshop leaders were:

Kath Burlinson


Kath Burlinson, Ph.D (London) is a professional theatre director with extensive experience working in the corporate sector.

Kath founded and is director of the Authentic Artist Collective. Her Authentic Artist workshops have been running since 2007, attracting actors, directors, composers, musicians, dancers, choreographers, performance poets and painters. As a theatre director, performer and writer Kath has many professional credits. She brings passion, enthusiasm and energy to everything she does.

Karen Wimhurst


Karen Wimhurst is a widely commissioned composer ranging from chamber works to music theatre and large-scale, collaborative productions. She works across musical genres, bridging jazz, folk and contemporary classical ensembles.

In the last five years she has been commissioned music by SoundStorm, Peninsula Arts, Communicado, Maran Productions, WNO, Bristol Choral Society, Electric Voice Theatre, Manchester International Arts, Red Earth, Manchester Camerata, Common Ground, Sage Gateshead, the Guild of Lillians, BBC Radio 4, Dorset Youth Jazz Orchestra, Taigh Chearsabagh.

Inspired by culture, identity and the natural world she has a long-term association with the environmental charity Common Ground (resident composer on the Confluence Project 1999-2001) and is currently working on Apple Journeys in association with Cecil Sharp House and the National Trust, celebrating the 21st anniversary of Apple Day.

Andro Biswane


Andro Biswane was born in Suriname, South America. He started studying classical guitar when he was 13 years old and eventually graduated in classical guitar performance from the prestigious Rotterdam Conservatory. He went back to the same conservatory to get a degree in Jazz guitar a few years later. Extending his eclectic background further, he studied west African culture for several years living in Gambia, Mali and Senegal. Andro’s unique guitar playing and writing has been an integral part of some of the best European Afro-Jazz/Funk bands such as Kara Dara and FraFra sound. Andro’s music skillfully blends American Jazz, Surinamese Kaseko and African rhythms along with Funk and Caribbean music styles. He has performed at festivals including North Sea Jazz Festival, Havana Jazz Festival, Malta Jazz Festivals, Heineken Jazz Festival Gran Canaries and various African Caribbean Festivals in Europe. Andro has performed in Cuba, USA, all across Africa, Suriname, Malta, Jamaica, Curacao, Bonaire, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, Romania, Croatia, UK etc.

We had a very successful Distil Showcase on the May 4th in Stirling’s Tolbooth. We asked at the end of 2011 for submissions from all our previous Distil attendees to write for Mr McFall’s Chamber + guest musicians. We had our highest submission rate yet with 20 entries. After lots of discussion we decided on the composers:
Suzanne Houston
Mike Vass
Kate Young
Steven Blake
Lorne MacDougall
Mairearad Green
James Lindsay
Rachel Hair
Fraya Thomsen
Iain Fraser
Jo Fraya
Amble Skuse
All the guys wrote fantastic pieces and it was a great night. Our evaluation of the process told us that all participants really valued the project and felt that had gained real experience in composition. Above that they also wanted to take the process further still and look for other opportunities. 

Have a listen to the music.

Here are some photos from the event.

Read more about Distil


Duncan Black and Band playing at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2011


Manran winning the Album of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2011


Large crowd at the St Rochs Winter Festival in the Couper Institutute


A design from the Tinto Summer School Tidy rooms competition where everyone tidy’s their room to get a prize


Brilliant English Folk musician Chris Wood spours forthwith to two of the participants of Distil Residential 2008.


The late Ishbel McAskill singing at the inaugural Scots Trad Music Awards in 2003


Our Distil residential took place in New Lanark Mill Hotel from the 13 – 16th October. The musicians taking part were:
Duncan Lyall
Fraya Thomsen
Kate Young
Laura-Beth Salter
Mike Vass
Roisin Anne Hughes
Steven Blake
Suzanne Houston

And the workshop leaders were
Paul Rogers – double bass improviser from France
Mihaly Borbely – sax/ whistle player from Hungary
Eddie Maguire – composer from Glasgow

Each workshop leader led 2 group sessions and had a one-to-one session with each of the participants. Paul Rogers took the first session and he led the class in free improvisation techniques. It was great fun and was new to many of the musicians.

Throughout the weekend Mihaly talked about playing in different rhythms. He showed the group different techniques to make it easier and also demonstrated how natural it can be to play in 11/8! Eddie Maguire looked at compositional techniques and discussed his work over the years in getting commissions. All the participants also wrote a short piece over the weekend that Eddie helped orchestrate each one was performed on Sunday evening before everyone went home. This was a big success and everyone got to try out their ideas

It was a very successful weekend (as usual) and everyone left bursting with new ideas and enthusiasm. In particular Laura-Beth Salter and Ducan Lyall felt they some great tips and info for their upcoming New Voices commissions at Celtic Connections. At the final roundup we talked about our Distil Showcase and invited everyone to apply to write a piece of music for Mr McFall’s.

In November we asked all past Distil Participants to propose a new piece of music for the Distil Showcase which is taking place in Stirling Tolbooth on 4th May. We had a record amount of submissions and we chose the following musicians to compose a piece for Mr McFall’s.

Amble Skuse
Iain Fraser
Fraya Thomsen
Rachel Hair
James Lindsay
Mairearad Green
Lorne MacDougall
Steven Blake
Kate Young
Mike Vass
Suzanne Houston

Each will write a new piece of music between 3 and 10 minutes and will get the opportunity to have a ½ day rehearsal with Mr McFall’s in the week running up to the 4th May and performance of their music.

We are currently timetabling the showcase rehearsals and hearing if the musicians need any extra players for the piece – bagpipes, fiddle etc.

Here are some photos from our 2010 showcase

Hi there, Just joined Creative Futures Ning site which is interesting as we run our own Ning site for Distil ( Good to see it from another angle!

In 2002 Distil was set up to provide musicians with the opportunity to take time out and learn from other musicians in different genres. With the help of the Scottish Arts Council and PRS Foundation we hosted 2 residentials a year (in New Lanark) concentrating on giving traditional musicians the opportunity to learn new skills mainly geared towards writing new music. In 2006 we held our first Distil Showcase at the Stirling Tolbooth where we employed an ensemble to perform music written for them by our Distil composers.

The Distil model has been very popular and we’ve been employed by both the Arts Council of England and Wales to reproduce the model for their roots musicians.

Distil is still going strong in 2011 and in October we host our 2011 residential. The tutors are Paul Rogers (improvers), Eddie Maguire (composer who taught at the very first residential) and Mihaly Borbey (trad musician from Hungary). Our participants are: Amble Skuse, Steven Blake, Bob Turner, Mike Vass, Laura Beth Salter, Duncan Lyall, Suzanne Houston and Freya Thompsen. The Showcase is in March 2012 in Stirling Tolbooth.