And the Shetlander would know, having played professionally within the trad scene for 20 years.
As a solo artist she has put out five solo albums — the most recent, Working Hands, was released in early 2019.
Alongside her solo work Jenna is also a member of Blazin’ Saddles and RANT.
She found early success in 2005 when she was awarded the Best Up and Coming Artist gong at the Trad Awards.
Her achievements at the prestigious event didn’t end there after she was honoured twice at the 2019 edition of the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards.
As well as taking home the PRS Traditional Composer of the Year Award, her group Blazin’ Fiddles scooped the folk band of the year prize.
We caught up with Jenna to get her reaction to the wins, her take on contemporary traditional music and more…
You were recently awarded the the PRS Traditional Composer of the Year Award at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards: how does it feel to be recognised in that way?
It feels humbling and also very inspiring. There are so many folk musicians writing and creating new music and it was incredible to be shortlisted for this award. When my name was called out it I was absolutely thrilled and hugely encouraged.
How would you define traditional music?
For me traditional music is a language within itself that is handed down over the generations, from teacher to pupil in a lesson or a great music session in a pub, workshops at festivals and summer schools or a concert setting. Each one inspiring and unique and each one with as much importance in preserving the music that has been around for hundreds of years.
What drew you towards making traditional music?
Growing up in Shetland, my mum was really keen for us all to learn the fiddle. It was a massive part of the culture in Shetland and still is — with tuition available in schools throughout the Isles.
And more specifically, what was it about the fiddle that attracted you?
I grew up listening to Aly Bain and used to learn his music from tapes — I was just such a massive fan and I still am. I loved the music of Capercaillie and Runrig and that continues to this day. My teacher, Willie Hunter was an incredible player and I was in awe of his fiddle playing. The dream was to sound like him.
Can you tell us more about your work with RANT and Blazing Fiddles?
Blazin’ Fiddles was formed 20 years ago as a celebration of the fiddle music of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Fellow fiddler and founder Bruce McGregor put it together as he feared that the regional styles of Scotland were beginning to lose their voice. He put the band together for a one-off tour 20 years ago and to this day we still record, write and perform fiddle music from across Scotland. It’s a joy to be part of.
RANT is a four piece fiddle group, almost chamber folk-like. We play folk music from across Scotland and beyond with just the four fiddles weaving together with harmonies and percussive fiddle accompaniment. We love to play acoustically and recorded our most recent album in the Charles Rennie Mackintosh church in Glasgow.
What was the thinking behind your latest album, Working Hands?
I invited string quartet Mr McFall’s Chamber and fellow Shetlander
Harris Playfair on piano to join me in an album of brand new compositions. I was inspired to write music for our hands — the tools of our trade. I set about writing the album whilst expecting my second child and finished it just in time! I wanted to be out of my comfort zone and write for instruments that I didn’t play, using a formation that was new to me. I’ve admired Mr McFall’s
Chamber for years and really enjoyed a series of lessons with their founder, violinist Robert McFall. They are an incredible group of musicians and a real privilege to work with. Harris Playfair is one of the finest piano players in the land and playing alongside him is nothing but exhilarating.
Are you most comfortable with your solo work or with bands?
I’m a busy mum of two and getting up on stage as a soloist requires many many hours of preparation. Walking onto stage with a band around you is such a great feeling of comfort and excitement in equal measures — after all it’s to be enjoyed! Perhaps when my children are a little older there will be more time for solo practise!
How does your songwriting process work?
Often a little idea for a melody followed closely by counter melodies and harmonies, usually on the fiddle and sometimes at the piano.
The Traditional Music Forum are holding a series of workshops that focus on rights and publishing, negotiating skills and stage presence. How important do you think it is that traditional composers have this kind of knowledge?
It is so important to have an understanding of rights as a writer and how that works when it comes to publishing. I think stage presence is something that naturally evolves over time and comes with experience of playing live.
What’s your take on the traditional music scene in the UK currently?
It’s bursting! With an incredible amount of musicians and singers producing
beautiful music from across the length and breadth of the UK. It’s amazing to see it at key festivals like Glasgow’s Celtic Connections. It’s an inspiring time to be within such a healthy, rich tradition where there is room for everyone’s voice.
Do you have any advice for emerging traditional composers?
Listen to music — across all genres, most of all just go for it, get started and enjoy it.
What’s next for you?
I’m releasing a Song EP later this year — my first offering of vocals so I’m excited about that. Also looking forward to releasing my second music book. Both will be available from my website.
Working Hands is out now via Lofoten.
For more information about the Traditional Music Forum workshops, please visit traditionalmusicforum.org