Traditional Singing Competition

PLEASE NOTE: Information here currently refers to our 2019 Festival.  Our Programme for 2020 is still to be announced, but will be similar in style and content to last year’s event.

A traditional singing competition has always been a part of Girvan Folk Festival and for a few years we also had a ‘Songs of the Sea’ competition recognising Girvan’s history as a fishing port. For our 45th Festival, in 2019, we are introducing a few changes in our competitions, which we hope will have a positive impact. The Traditional Singing Competition will still be happening in its usual format, but we will also keep an eye open for singers who for a variety of reasons might be wary of entering a formal competition and try our best to acknowledge them.

We will also be offering options for more informal and constructive feedback for those who would value it

Historically, Traditional singing competitions have been popular events at Scottish festivals, often offering unique opportunities to hear great songs sung in nice acoustic spaces and many of us have wonderful memories of individual performances. I for one recall hearing Gordeanna McCulloch singing Poor Rovin’ Lassie at a TMSA event. It was the first time I had heard that particular song and the experience will live with me forever.

We are planning to offer opportunities for more informal and constructive feedback for those who would value it. We will be scheduling various events over the weekend and we anticipate that people will be singing traditional songs, some with accompaniment, throughout the festival as they participate. Various ‘hidden judges’ will have their ears and eyes open and we may award an additional Cup to a person who we feel has contributed significantly to the singing over the weekend.  

Among our guests for 2019 there are quite a few people who are respected as traditional singers. Longer term, the festival has ambitions to develop some form of mentoring scheme, but for 2019 we hope that informal opportunities to meet and discuss with some of the singers will fill the space meantime. 


Entrants to the competition will be expected to be participants of the Festival, which will typically mean that they will be ticket holders for one or more events. Access to specific mentoring opportunities will generally be restricted to full participants of the festival, although the overall aim is to encourage traditional singing and each request will be considered on an individual basis particularly if any entrant for any reason is not able to fully participate over the weekend.

What do we mean by a ‘traditional song? Over the years some competitions have taken a very strict view on what is a traditional song, even going so far as to disqualify someone for singing, for instance, a Burns song even though it had clearly entered the tradition. It will be up to our judges to decide what characteristics of any performance define it as being traditional. My personal view (Pete Heywood) is that the tradition is a continuous thing and we can’t exclude a song purely on the basis of the fact that we know who wrote it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every song is a traditional song – but we are sensible people and we know what we mean. (Even though we might argue about it, and even be open to changing our view!)