One day in April 2020 during the first COVID lockdown I sat in my kitchen feeling despondent, wondering what on earth a folk accompanist could do when working alone from home for the foreseeable future. To keep my brain occupied and stay afloat I threw myself into a lot of projects: growing a Patreon community, digitally collaborating with musicians, teaching, performing, working with the BIT Collective – things have turned out to be quite hectic, but all the time I have missed just playing tunes. I live in the middle of the fabulous City of Glasgow, probably one of the most dynamic and thriving trad music communities in the world, and usually when I have time off at home I hit the sessions. It was a real shock to the system to no longer have access to social music.

I imagined a lot of people would be feeling the same way, so amid all the craziness I recorded some backing tracks and uploaded them to Soundcloud. It felt good to be playing accompaniment for people again, even if it wasn’t in real time, and people seemed to enjoy playing along with the tracks. I decided to build a bigger resource, a website called Karafolkie, and since April I’ve been on quite a journey!

I know a little about building websites, but not enough to create a site fit for this purpose, so I enlisted the help of Paul Galbraith from The 16K Design Works who did a fantastic job building the site and designing the Karafolkie branding. There has been a lot to learn about web-design and e-commerce, and Marissa Waite Creative has been a great help too, developing the store and working on digital marketing. It’s been amazing to see things take shape and exciting to think what could be achievable in the future when hopefully I can invest further in more advanced website elements.

It turns out I had a lot more to learn about recording myself too. The backing tracks are focused on solo guitar so it was important for me to find a stable, even sound that was decent enough quality for people to listen to for a long period of time. Each tune has been recorded at three tempos, a steady pace for learning, a medium pace for general practice, and a fast pace which is closer to Glasgow speed (although a few Glasgow tune playing pals said it still wasn’t fast enough!) so recording 20 tunes meant creating around 60 recordings. Several times over the last 6 months I decided the recording quality wasn’t right, deleted the batch of tracks I’d recorded and returned to the drawing board. It’s been hard, there has been a lot of frustration and tears, but I’ve had a lot of support from my sound engineer partner Keir Long who gave me a great deal of help and advice, pushing me to learn things for myself so I could work independently.

It’s also been lovely to make contact with many composers and custodians of compositions, and each has kindly allowed me permission to record backing tracks to their tunes – I still have a long list of people to contact. I wanted to make sure that people had access to the tunes themselves, and while many composers have great tune books available to buy, some haven’t, so I asked composers who didn’t have sheet music readily available if I could help by selling their music through Karafolkie. Income from the sheet music shop, minus tax and shop costs, goes straight to the composers. I’m also aware that not everyone reads music, so with each tune download there’s also an audio MP3, guitar tab and mandolin tab.

It’s been quite a journey, and I’m so happy to say that Karafolkie has now launched with a small but growing catalogue of backing tracks and sheet music to provide musical companionship in these isolated times, and maybe some new tunes to learn for when we’re allowed to play music with each other again.

You can visit it and sign up at www.karafolkie.com.