Ross Ainslie

Ross Ainslie is one of Scotland’s finest traditional musicians and composers, highly sought after on the Scottish contemporary folk scene for his skill on pipes, whistles and cittern.

Born in Perthshire in 1983, Ross’s interest in music was instilled at an early age when he first picked up a chanter at the age of 8. He became a member of the Perth and District Pipe Band, before his first piping tutor, Norrie Sinclair, recognised his potential to play at the highest level and encouraged him to join the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band. With a global reputation for innovation and excellence, the Pitlochry-based Grade 1 band offered Ross an opportunity to learn from some of the greatest pipers in the world, and in 1995 Ross joined the Novice Juvenile Band, of which Perthshire piper Gordon Duncan was Pipe Major. Ross spent the early part of his piping career under Gordon’s mentorship, hugely inspired by the pioneering musician, and within a year of joining the band, he won Best Improved Player in its annual competition, before shortly progressing to the Grade 1 band.

Now with a wealth of pipe band experience under his belt, a chance meeting with the legendary Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean led to Dougie inviting the young piper to join his band for the occasional gig, and Ross’s career as a musician entered into an exciting new phase. He was fast developing a reputation as an outstanding musician, and in 2002 he was a finalist in the prestigious BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition. His impressive performance led to an invitation to join that year’s winner, Emily Smith, as the newest member of her band.

After leaving Emily’s band in 2004, Ross returned to Perthshire, where he continued to learn from his mentor Gordon Duncan. Hugely influenced by Gordon’s fearlessly innovative spirit and groundbreaking compositions, Ross began exploring his own abilities as a composer, writing more and more of his own tunes. Gordon’s tragic death in 2005 led to the founding of the Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust, set up by the late piper’s family and friends to preserve his tremendous legacy and fund and support young traditional musicians. With Gordon’s influence continuing to inspire Ross’s own playing and composing, he was appointed as musical director for a tribute concert in honour of his late mentor, Scotland’s National Treasure – A Celebration of the Music of Gordon Duncan. The concert proved a huge success, and for the past five years it has been held annually in Perth Concert Hall, showcasing new commissions by some of the most accomplished young musicians writing and performing in Scotland today including Mairearad Green, John Somerville, Duncan Lyall, Jarlath Henderson, Innes Watson, Adam Sutherland, Kevin O’Neill, the Gordon Duncan Experience, as well as Ross himself.
In 2005 Ross was invited to join Scotland’s highly acclaimed world/trad fusion group Salsa Celtica, with their improvised jazz and salsa style once again diversifying his musical influences. An exciting new direction for the piper, his involvement with the band has seen him tour all over the world, as well as appear with the group in Jeremy Brock’s acclaimed film Driving Lessons, starring Julie Walters and Rupert Grint.

For years Ross had been writing and performing as a duo with the Irish Uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson, who he first met at the William Kennedy Piping Festival in 2003, and by 2008 they were ready to release their debut album, Partners in Crime. A groundbreaking fusion of Border and Uilleann pipes, the album was the first recording of its kind and earned the pair major critical acclaim, hailed as “a thriller” by MOJO and a “sparkling debut” by The List.
Continuing to experiment with different musical styles and genres, the most recent chapter of Ross’s career has seen him explore the synergies between Indian and Scottish musical traditions. Ross joined India Alba – a unique ensemble comprising two Indian classical musicians and two Scottish trad artists – in 2006. Regularly visiting India to perform and record with the group, their latest album was recorded at over 7000 feet in the Himalayas. He has performed alongside the Indian percussion genius Trilok Gurtu in two collaborative shows, and in 2010 he was invited to work as a tutor on River of Music – a collaboration between Celtic Connections and the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Programme celebrating the connections between Scottish and Indian music. Music from the project is due to be showcased as part of the London Olympics’ cultural celebrations in 2012, and also featured in the opening concert of Celtic Connections 2011, which saw Ross take part in a glittering cross-cultural collaboration featuring the globally renowned Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain together with a stellar array of Scottish and Irish traditional musicians and a host of Indian stars.

Continuing to take tradition to exciting new levels, Ross is a founding member of the turbo-charged 13-piece musical powerhouse Treacherous Orchestra. Featuring some of Scotland’s most talented young musicians, the band combine astounding musicianship and sophisticated musical arrangements with explosive results, and have a fearsome reputation as an incendiary live act. Influenced by pioneering fusion acts such as Shooglenifty, Martyn Bennett and the Afro Celt Sound System, the band take Scottish dance music into a thrilling new dimension with a sound which draws on traditional roots and contemporary influences. Their repertoire consists almost entirely of original tunes, including some of Ross’s own compositions, as well as pieces by Gordon Duncan and Martyn Bennett.

A highly in demand musician, he has joined an array of acclaimed bands and musicians on tour and in the recording studio – as well as his work with Treacherous Orchestra, India Alba, Salsa Celtica and Jarlath Henderson, other engagements include tours with Gordon Duncan, Flook and Ivan Drever’s band Clueless. Having toured around the world, Ross has taken part in many prestigious events festivals and events – from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games announcement celebrations. He has also received industry recognition for his talent with a nomination for Best Instrumentalist at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2010, as well as nominations in Best Live Act category at the Scots Trad Music Awards for the past three years (with Jarlath Henderson in 2008, and in 2009 and 2010 with Treacherous Orchestra).

In a career with many highlights so far, Ross continually pushes new musical boundaries and takes on fresh challenges. Exciting projects on the horizon include the release of Treacherous Orchestra’s debut record, as well as an album of his own, showcasing many of his own compositions.


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