Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente

A rushed, last minute collaboration brought Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente together, and sent them on a new and award-winning musical path.

Josie, a singer, songwriter and clarsach player from the isle of Lewis, teamed up unexpectedly with Pablo, a guitarist and fiddler from Spain via Stirling, at last year’s Celtic Connections.

“I got a very last minute call from the festival because someone had cancelled and they needed a slot filled”, said Josie. “I had a few ‘go-to’ guitarists and Pablo at the time wasn’t one of them.

“After having no luck with the others, I phoned him up and asked him to do the gig because I knew I really liked his playing. His response was ‘Can I finish my pint first?’. We ended up with about 15 minutes to put our set together. It went much better than it should have and we’ve been doing gigs together since then.”

Combining their rich musical backgrounds, they have been performing in and around Glasgow and have a full summer of festivals booked, including the award-winning Hebridean Celtic Festival in Josie’s home town of Stornoway in July.

Last month their new-found success was crowned when they were named BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners 2017.

The pair were among 200 acts who sent in recordings for the awards, from which ten were picked. Having reached the semi-finals, they took part in a concert, performing The Auchengeich Mining Disaster’ by Norman Buchan (which features on the Folk Awards 2017 album) and a set of puirt à beul, a traditional form of song native to Scotland, Ireland, and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Josie, who will graduate in Scots song, clarsach and Gaelic song at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland just before HebCelt, said: “We were happy with our performance but were so blown away by the other acts that we weren’t sure that we’d make it to the final.

“The next day we had to rush away early as I was to perform in Phil Cunningham’s Highlands and Islands Suite at Celtic Connections and Pablo drove me up to Glasgow. Celtic Connections was such a busy time that I almost forgot about the competition. I was on the treadmill when Pablo phoned me up to let me know that we were among the four finalists. I was so shocked that I nearly went for a flyer!”

They went one stage further in the final at the Royal Albert Hall: “When we heard our names we were so surprised that we didn’t know what to do. Someone at the table shouted ‘go!’ and so we went up to accept our prize.  I certainly wished we had prepared a speech.”

Following their rapid success, the pair released an EP in December and have plans to record an album and to tour later in the year, whilst maintaining their individual projects. This year Josie has started singing with the band Inyal with whom she will also be performing at HebCelt and other festivals. And in August she will be part of ‘Blasta’ (Gaelic for ‘tasty’ or ‘delicious’) a specially-commissioned show for this year’s Inter-Celtic Lorient Festival in Brittany and featuring other multi-talented Gaelic singers Calum Alex Macmillan, Anna Murray, Mischa Macpherson and Ceitlin Smith.

Pablo, who moved to Glasgow after studying at The National Centre for Excellence in Plockton, is in demand as a full-time guitarist playing with bands including Barluath, Sketch, The Outside Track and The Grouse Ceilidh Band, as well as Galician bagpipe player Anxo Lorenzo in Spain. He is also working on a new project with percussionist Iain Copeland and flautist Joe Armstrong.  

He is making his debut at HebCelt and, as well as teaming up with Josie, will also play with fiddler Ryan Young on the festival’s acoustic stage.

“Although Pablo hasn’t played the festival before, he was up last year as we recorded our EP at the Wee Studio (in Stornoway) and we did lots of gigs around the island as well as seeing Treacherous Orchestra at HebCelt”, said Josie.

“We were hoping to be playing at the festival this year because we loved the atmosphere and had such a fun time.  I played the festival two years ago and I really liked the intimacy of the acoustic stage. 

“I think festivals bring together such a vibrant network of traditional/folk music lovers and musicians. People come to find new music and so a very particular type of audience is created that it’s exciting and very much a pleasure to deliver your music to.”