Tamzene goes to Holywood

By Mark Sheridan in Los Angeles

Tamzene is a 20 year-old student at Leeds college. Her family home is in Cromarty on the Black Isle, where on a good day you can see dolphins in the firth. Last week, Tamzene was in Hollywood, singing to some of the world’s top music industry leaders in A&R and management. The thing is, Tamzene is a remarkable singer and performer with natural skill, presence and charm on stage. On both occasions I saw her perform at the MUSEXPO, LA, she captivated the seasoned audience. Not an easy thing to do with exceptional people who make instant decisions about what will fly and what will fall.

Tamzene is very good, with exceptional potential. And this is just as well because in this business “pretty good doesn’t cut it.” says Zach Katz, president of repertoire and marketing at BMG USA. She also has honesty and integrity in her music, “essential ingredients for success in the global music industry”, according to the Lipman brothers, founders of Republican Records. These folk mean business and they know what they are looking for and how to shape it. And that is why Tamzene is here, supported by Alex Smith, of XpoNorth, and Dougie Brown, of Belladrum Records, to map out a route for her music and for market development.

Alex has been coming to this event for as long as it has been running “to make connections, and to have a presence for music and artists in the Highlands.” Alex believes that Scottish artists need international visibility and his aim has been to create a route to the global leaders. “It’s all about relationships, trust and meeting face to face with the decision makers. It’s not just about being here. We have managed to formalise the XpoNorth role here alongside Atlantic Records, Live Nation and Universal Music.”

Sat Bisla, president of A&R Worldwide, is impressed by the work of XpoNorth. “Alex has worked hard to make the most of the contacts and opportunities. He is constantly networking and his teams are entrepreneurial. Some delegates come here and need to be led by the hand. You show XpoNorth the way and they go for it. I am very supportive of what they are doing in Scotland.”

For Dougie Brown, it is an excellent opportunity for the first signing to the new Belladrum Record label. “I first heard her busking in Inverness outside M&S and I phoned Joe Gibbs and asked if we had any spots still available at Belladrum [festival]. We had to have her.” And the label? “We want to maintain the same feel for a family event and local talent … and this was a natural direction. Tamzene was the catalyst really.”

For Tamzene her focus is on the music. What is the plan? “Make more music.” Her family life was surrounded by music – she played at school in Fortrose and her singing developed at Gordonstoun where she won a scholarship. “I was really encouraged. One of my songs was arranged for school orchestra – it was very exciting!” She also played fiddle and attended Feis Rois.

And that is the connection to my presence here. Highlands and Islands Enterprise and XpoNorth are helping Feis Rois to plan a new development for the professional strand of our work and Alex insisted that attending this event would help with perspectives on the contemporary industry and A&R. Feis Rois is the quintessential grass roots organisation, and the weekly classes, the Feisean and community engagement have made a lasting impact in the last thirty years in Ross-shire and beyond. The ceilidh trail initiative and the professional engagement strategy with emerging performers coming through the Feis community has added new dimensions to the success.

Led by chief executive Fiona Dalgetty, her small team and the numerous musicians she employs, the organisation has evolved to the extent that the turnover is just below £1m per year. Impressive when you consider that £500,000 of that is paid to the musicians. “It is really great that Feis Rois and the University of the Highlands are here at MUSEXPO. The presence of UHI in the north of Scotland is essential to retaining creative talent in the Highlands,” says Alex Smith. “We are entering new territory.” Many of the students and graduates of the Applied Music course at UHI are associated with Feis Rois and this synergy will help strengthen the future of the profes-sional development strategy in collaboration with XpoNorth.

Meanwhile in Holywood, “It is so nostalgic but a bit grubby,” says Tamzene. “But this event has been awesome.” Holywood Boulevard is jaded. But the walk of fame still impresses and sparkles – celebrating every star imaginable from Sinatra to Caruso, Christine Aquilera to Patsy Kline and the Rugrats. I suspect there may be a wee space in future for Tamzene.

XpoNorth 2017: Tamzene is playing at the Scottish Music Industry Association reception, 6-8pm, Thursday 8 June – One Touch Theater, Eden Court, Inverness. Feis Rois are hosting a singer-songwriter stage as part of the XpoNorth showcase on both Wednesday and Thursday at the Penta Hotel where Tamzene is showcasing at 10.15pm on Wednesday, 7 June.


Mark Sheridan is vice-chair of the board of directors of Feis Rois and Reader in Music and Creativity at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Formerly at Strathclyde University, he has worked with UHI since 2011. He is a composer and writer. His newest work, Dreaming Agrakas, a one act opera about migration, celebration and tragedy, will be performed at the Expressing the Earth conference in Seil Island, Argyll on 23 June. He also plans to tour the work around small venues in the Highlands and Islands.