Shona's project wins international acclaim

AFTER becoming famous locally across 2009 for her 'People and Songs of the Sea' project there was an unexpected start to 2010 for Shona McMillan when she received a call from America on Hogmanay to say her compilation album had just scooped a top international award.

The CD was just one part of Shona's multi-media project which also saw her tour Scotland with an exhibition of photographs of the country's close knit fishing communities.

'People and Songs of the Sea' originally started as a small poignant tribute to Shona's mum Jean who passed away in 2006. Before Jean died, Shona promised to do something to continue the family's fishing legacy through a celebration of the fishing community' heritage.

From the Thorburn family of Fisherrow, many of Shona's relatives both past and present, played an active part in the fishing community and served in the Navy during WWII.

Shona's great-grandfather Archie and grandfather Billy were Fisherrow harbour masters and Archie was one of the fortunate survivors of the great storms of October 14, 1881 when 189 men lost their lives off the East Lothian and Berwickshire coast.

Today, one of Shona's relatives, Alex Thorburn carries on the family's working connections to the sea, as the current assistant harbour master in Eyemouth.

The 'People and Songs of the Sea' album was released last summer and includes contributions from well known artists such as The Corries, Davy Steele, Cathy Ann MacPhee, Gerry O'Connor, Archie and Cilla Fisher as well as songs from Shona herself.

As well as resonating with people in fishing ports across Scotland, news of the release has spread much further. And now, it is making an impact internationally through Liveireland's studios in Chicago and Dublin, broadcasting across America, Canada, Ireland and all around the world through the internet, so much so that the station named it their Compendium Album of the Year.

Liveireland DJ Bill Margeson decided it best to warn Shona of the breaking news ahead of a series of programmes throughout January playing to over 1 million listeners a month across the world.

Snowed in on Hogmanay, Shona was at home to receive the trans-Atlantic call.

She said: "Hearing an unfamiliar voice I assumed they had the wrong number. When he said he was from Liveireland, the station with the most Celtic music listeners in the world and said I had won, at first I couldn't understand.

"He went on to explain 'Your People and Songs of the Sea album, we've awarded you Liveireland's Compendium Album of the Year!'.

"To say it was all a tremendous shock is an understatement."

Just as the news that she was an award-winner was sinking in, a few days later, he called again.

Shona commented: "When I picked up the phone he asked was I near a computer and told me to get listening quick as he had to go. I didn't put the phone down and as I kept listening it dawned on me he was broadcasting live - and they were talking all about the fishing communities here.

"In complete shock, thankfully, I managed to recover myself sufficiently to record at least part of the show on an old recorder.

"But then, I had the idea to do a link to the broadcast via my Facebook page. In my excitement that was difficult but fortunately, my on-line friends realised what I was trying to do and posted the live link so everyone could hear.

"As the programme broadcast, over that hour, I received 270 incoming e-mails from people listening around the world and wanting to pass on their congratulations - it took me hours to reply to them all."

Explaining just why 'People and Songs of the Sea'- which the station dubbed "a masterpiece from Scotland"- beat off competition from other releases to win 'Compendium Album of the Year,' Liveireland talked listeners through some of the 21 tracks, and one in particular merited a special mention.

That track was 'Will Your Anchor Hold' where Shona had brought together 100 local fisher folk to record at Cockenzie and Port Seton's Church of Scotland in March last year, featuring the local voices of representatives from east coast fishing communities.

Among them were Johnny Johnston, former Eyemouth Harbour Master, George Power, former Superintendent of Eyemouth Fishermen's Mission, Alasdair Hutton, Convenor of Scottish Borders Council and Alex Thorburn.

Shona said: "Hearing that song being played from Chicago was amazing. It was very emotional to hear them talk about the people I had detailed in the album's accompanying photo and booklet.

"For Fisherrow, Port Seton and Eyemouth to be named and to hear back our local fishing history being broadcast to me from America - it was an incredible experience!

"I had especially wanted to bring the Eyemouth people in to my recording - in tribute to the huge number of fishermen lost in the Fishing Disaster. It is amazing, not just to have lifted the profile of Eyemouth's historic loss at home in Scotland but now - people around the world are learning about Eyemouth and Scotland's rich fishing heritage."

Since the programme went out on Liveireland, Shona has been contacted by people from many countries, including a Thorburn whose family left Fisherrow 50 years ago to build a new life in Canada and a family from Dunbar who settled in America.

Her new found fame has even put her in contact with an ambassador from Canada and many other useful contacts, some of which have upwards of 6,000 fans on Facebook.

And, all of this excitement came as the 'People and Songs of the Sea' exhibition was drawing to a close in the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther.

Shona thought this would be the beginning of a wind down for her project. However, as 2010 gets underway, people around the world are talking on the internet about her project.

Shona has so far received invites to take the 'People and Songs of the Sea' exhibition to Ireland, America, Canada, Cape Breton, Australia and New Zealand.

Plus, in recognition of all her hard work with the project and in her promotion of Scottish culture, Shona has just been installed as an Honorary Member of an International Robert Burns Club celebrating all things Scottish.

She added: "People have asked me if any TV or film companies have been in touch with me and in fact they have. A Scottish team contacted me at the end of 2009 and an American/Canadian group has just expressed their interest so, watch this space!

"The funniest thing is, with it being New Year, people being away and all the snow we've been having, I haven't yet been able to tell everyone who was involved in the project.

"The album's award is not just my success. My original tribute to mum and local fisher folk has grown to be of value to the people of the sea from all around the world and I want to share this success with everyone!"