Scottish folk musician William Jackson was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Somerset Folk Harp Festival (July 21-24, 2016) for his far-reaching impact on Scottish traditional music.
Jackson not only set an example for how Scottish traditional music was played but also how folk musicians operated in the music business. The band he was a part of for over a decade in the 70s and 80s – Ossian – was known for its unique sound and style of arrangements, which can be heard on their recordings (and in the video below). They have since become a benchmark for other Scottish musicians. Ossian also became the first band in Scotland to create their own record label, Iona Records. Their success inspired other independent folk musicians to take more control over every aspect of their business.
As a composer, Jackson created a new genre called “folk orchestra,” which marries folk instruments with classical orchestrations. Later on in his career, Jackson obtained a degree in Music Therapy from the Guildhall School of Music in London. Upon moving to Asheville, NC, he went on to work as a music therapist at Mission Hospital with children with disabilities for 14 years. In 2004, he received Swannanoa’s Master Music Maker Award for Lifetime Achievement, given his long tenure teaching at Warren Wilson College’s Swannanoa Gathering.
Born in Glasgow to Irish immigrant parents, “Billy” Jackson, as he was known, spent his summers at his grandmother’s home in Donegal. Growing up between these two places, his greatest musical influences were the Irish and Scottish folk music of bands such as Clannad, Chieftains, and Sweeney’s Men. From as early as age 13, Jackson began playing with folk bands himself, first on the guitar and banjo, then later bass, and even electric bass. In the ‘70s, Billy saw a clarsach in a shop window in London and sold his bass to buy it. He says, “All my friends said I would never work again.” Their prediction was clearly proven wrong.
When presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award, Somerset Director Kathy DeAngelo said:
I am thrilled to recognize and honor William Jackson’s immense talents with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His vital warmth of spirit and humanity is greater than the aggregate of his impressive musical and professional accomplishments and I know he’ll keep rocking us by throwing musical gems (or should I say boulders?) into the pond and we’ll keep welcoming the effects as they ripple over us.
In 2005, Jackson began performing and touring with Irish harper Gráinne Hambly. Their harp “dream team” and has since moved to Ireland, returning to the U.S. for twice annual tours.