An Comunn chief executive James Graham shares the 10 thing that changed his life...

1. Lochinver Primary School

That gave me my introduction to music, especially traditional and Gaelic music. Our head teacher, Kenny Mackenzie, was passionate about music and instilled it in the whole primary school. We were encouraged to take part in the Mòd and that stimulated my interest in music from very early on.

My aunt, Seòrdag Murray, also visited the school to help teach the songs and language. I often wonder if I would have been as interested in music or had access to it if it had not been for Kenny Mackenzie and my Aunt Seòrdag.

My grandparents on my father’s side had Gaelic but we did not have it in the house. We got the songs in Gaelic at school so it was almost part of the curriculum. It was fantastic.

2. Assynt

That's the parish I am from. I don’t think you realise how special a place is until you go away. I loved the community I grew up in as there were so many characters in the place and we had a brilliant upbringing there.

The scenery is stunning and completely inspiring. It’s true that the early years mould your lives, so I will always call it home and I try to get there every time I can. I feel really lucky to have grown up in that place.

3. My grandparents

They were a massive influence on myself and my two siblings. We were fortunate to have one set of grandparents 100 yards away from one side of our house, with the other grandparents 100 yards away on the other side.

We would have been in and out of their houses several times a day so they were a massive part of our lives and they gave us a really good grounding over and above our parents.

I’ve always felt a good connection with older people because I have spent so much time with them. I would say my grandparents definitely influenced my life.

4. Working when we were young

We always had summer jobs. It’s probably illegal now but I think I was working from when I was 13.

I started learning the pipes at school when I was about eight and my first job was as a piper – I used to pipe people into dinner at a really nice guest house and restaurant in Lochinver called The Albannach. Then I started as a kitchen porter there, so I was doing two jobs on the one night.

I would go in my kilt, then quickly change into my kitchen porter gear and do dishes. It instilled a good work ethic and took the pressure off my parents.

It made us a bit more independent because we would work all summer and through school term as well and at the end of it, we could buy our own clothes for school.

5. Leaving home for Glasgow

I was a real home bird. I had never really been away and was surrounded by friends and family until I was 17 and moved away to study in Glasgow which was a complete culture shock.

I remember being really homesick and almost jacking it in, although I knew deep down, I was doing the right thing to broaden my horizons.

Moving away was life-changing, there’s no doubt about it, but it was hard. Right up until the end of the first term, I was still swithering about whether to stick it out or not.

I remember going home that Christmas and my parents telling me to go back and try it again and if I still didn’t like it to make a decision then. I went back and actually settled really quickly.

I studied at the RSAMD, now the Conservatoire, and made some lifelong friends and connections which would not have happened if I had stayed at home.

6. Gaelic

It's the language I perform in and use most of the time at my work. My wife is a Gaelic speaker and it is the first language in our house for our children.

I had very little of it when I was young and learned most of it at the RSAMD and then in Skye at the Gaelic college where I spent two years. We got Gaelic as a subject at the RSAMD but I wanted to be completely immersed and I enjoyed learning in that environment. I remember my granny speaking certain words and phrases in Gaelic but it was not passed on to my father.

Many parents from that generation stopped passing down the language, being led to believe that to get ahead, their children had to assimilate into English-speaking culture. That was why I was passionate about making sure I had it. I wanted to reclaim it.

7. Winning BBC Young Trad Musician of the Year

That was in 2004. I had just graduated from the RSAMD and was thinking about embarking on some sort of career in music.

I didn’t know about the competition but a friend told me about it and I thought I might as well try it. I won it for singing and it was definitely life-changing.

It gave me the opportunity to go abroad, take part in amazing festivals, work and collaborate with unbelievable musicians and do TV and radio programmes. That all came from having the profile from the competition. It thrust me forward.

After winning that, I was out doing gigs all the time; probably something I would not have had the opportunity to do if I hadn’t won it. I still feel so fortunate and grateful for that.

8. Coffee

I have turned into a total coffee fiend. I love it to the point that I can’t function in the morning without it. I think I have about three or four different coffee machines in the house and I go looking for good coffee on websites.

I can’t drink instant coffee now. I try and drink it all early on in the day and I have four good cups before lunchtime. I can get pretty grumpy until I’ve had a coffee hit!

9. Online meetings

I used to drive up to 25,000 miles a year for my work and the ease of jumping onto a meeting now is fantastic.

Before, I used to maybe travel to Oban for a one-hour meeting but it would take a full day because of the travel, plus there was the cost and the resulting tiredness. Then Covid happened and everyone was online.

Of course, you can’t beat a face-to-face meeting but to be able to prioritise your time and have that option is life-changing in terms of work. For my own productivity and use of time, it has been very beneficial.

10. Having kids

We have two girls who were born in 2019 and 2022 and that has really changed my perspective on life.

I don’t worry about the silly things in life and try not to take life too seriously. Children come with their own stresses but it is a different kind of stress. You can have a really bad day and come home to them and it all pales into insignificance.  

The oldest is showing signs of being musical but we won’t push them into anything. She is always singing her head off, so that must be a good sign.

This year’s Mòd is being held in Paisley from October 13-21.