Gone walkabout: Strontian singer/songwriter shares experiences abroad
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Since winning Oban Live Unsigned in 2018, Highland musician Kathleen Robertson, 23, has made her way to Australia, working, writing songs and performing away from her upbringing in Lochaber. We catch up with her, as she faces a big decision.
Melbourne is about as far as you can get from where Kathleen grew up, first to Eigg, then to Lochaline and Strontian. After Ardnarmurchan High School, she went to the University of the Highlands and Islands in Fort William, where she earned an HNC in Music Performance, Composition Skills and Music Theory.
But entering an unsigned talent show at the Oban Live music festival, performing alongside Skerryvore, Hermitage Green and Blazin’ Fiddles, turned out to be a life-changing choice.
“I was surprised when I won!” she told the Oban Times. “I formed three fixed performances including a Gaelic song Buain a choirce, by Martyn Bennett, Blackbird by Lizzie Higgins, a cover by Aberdeenshire ballad singer and one of my own compositions named Sinner.
“My performance wouldn’t have been a hit without my bandmates at the time, Jay Carnie, Dave Sutherland, Iain Gordon Macfarlane and Alex Campbell.
‘Oban Live Unsigned was a great opportunity for me. I left Scotland shortly after winning. I decided to deepen my creativity and escape my usual job as a waitress at Strontian, to go to Australia and seek inspiration.
“I left Scotland aged 19 with a rucksack, $4,000 (£2,300) and no knowledge of airports as I had never left the country before or been on a plane. ‘a plane. However, I survived!
“The villages I grew up in and the little island I grew up on definitely played a huge role in my creativity and songwriting. It wasn’t until I came to Australia that I realized my childhood was quite different. I didn’t know I came from such small communities.
“I have traveled the entire east coast of Australia, the Whitsunday Islands, Brisbane, Cairns, Fraser Island, etc.!” I bounced back from travel, the streets, songwriting, farming and fundraising. Financially, things were tough. It was quite intimidating, but somehow I managed to figure it out.
‘In April 2019 I felt like a change and applied to become an au pair in Melbourne. I’ve been with the family for about three years and couldn’t have asked for a better placement. They are like a second family and were very encouraging!
“Since accepting the role of au pair, I have been able to focus on my songwriting, musical studies and musical performances. My musical influence has definitely changed. The family also took me to the States United for six weeks. My genre is now more indie rock, acoustic songwriter. I don’t play a lot of Scottish songs. But I still have my roots!
“People like to know where I come from. They all seem in disbelief, I come from such small communities. There seem to be flourishing opportunities, maybe the same lies in Scotland, but I was too young to know that at the time.
“I now have a music distributor called DITTO, which sells my music on platforms such as iTunes, Amazon Music and Spotify. I don’t make a lot of money selling my songs, although that’s a satisfying feeling. and gratifying to have my music in these stores.
“The pandemic in Australia has certainly allowed me to write, and I have been extremely lucky to have had the luxury of being in a safe environment, a stable job and a place to live. I know a lot of backpackers had a different fate.
“My plans are very up in the air. It looks like I’ll be going home on June 13. I’ve been away for four years so it will be strange at first but I’m excited to get home and see if I can get similar opportunities. I also now have an American accent, which I’m not sure how my parents and friends will react to!
“I just got a last minute offer to work in partnership as a keyboard player with a rock band called DOLLSQUAD, who are working on a new album for an American label, and planning a tour through Europe around September 2022.
“I am about to try to get an entertainment visa to take advantage of the opportunity, but time is very tight, money is also a problem. I’m a little hesitant about what to do.
“Although, looking up, I am delighted to see what is happening, whether it is at home to study or to travel more. Let’s just say my life and experiences have been difficult but exciting, and I can’t wait to tell my friends and family about it.