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Liam Colgan student music awards announced by University of the Highlands and Islands; awards were set up in memory of Highland man following his untimely death

By Philip Murray

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Liam Colgan.
Liam Colgan.

MUSIC awards set up in memory of an Inverness man have revealed their latest winners.

The winners of the University of the Highlands and Islands Liam Colgan music student award winners for 2020 are Aiesha Hunter (21) from Fife and Jack Birnie (22) from Perthshire.

The competition was set up by the family of Liam Colgan last year following his death in 2018. Mr Colgan (29) was an active musician who performed in bands and as a solo artist.

The latest winners of the award named in his honour both studied at Perth College UHI, where Mr Colgan also studied and graduated.

Ms Hunter and Mr Birnie both graduated this year with first-class BA (hons) popular music degrees. They will each receive £500 towards a mentoring opportunity with a renowned artist.

Founder of the award, Brian Colgan said: "It was great to be able to meet and award last year's winners Lora MacLeod and Liam Cole at their graduation ceremony at Perth College UHI where Liam also graduated from.

"We thought it would not be possible to do the same this year due to the pandemic but were delighted when we found out that an online awards evening was being arranged by the university.

"We set up this student award with the University of the Highlands and Islands as a way to help young people realise their ambitions in the world of music, and to make sure that positives could come out of the devastation caused by Liam's untimely death."

Alison Wilson, head of development at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: "We are really grateful to receive these donated funds, gifted in Liam's memory. They help ensure his love of music lives on by providing much needed support to other University of the Highlands and Islands music graduates following in Liam's footsteps. To see these awards providing additional opportunities for our talented musicians to develop their skills is really humbling."

Speaking about why the latest winners were chosen, Dr Seán McLaughlin, BA (Hons) Popular Music Programme Leader said: "Both students demonstrated outstanding resilience, creativity and dedication in adapting their honours year projects to difficult circumstances following the outbreak of Covid-19.

"Aiesha produced a fantastic collection of original songs, but also designed a free online songwriting education programme during the spring/summer lockdown. I'm looking forward to seeing her continued development and output in both of these areas with the help of the Liam Colgan Scholarship.

"Jack produced a raw and honest album of material that really captured a sense of isolation - reflecting the mood of the moment through his songwriting and music production. With this scholarship opportunity I am certain he will continue to grow his practice, and I can't wait to hear his next record."

Aiesha Hunter.
Aiesha Hunter.

Speaking about her award, Aiesha Hunter said: "Songwriting for me, has always been a way to explain things that I'd often have trouble doing so otherwise. It's an escape, a way to vocalise emotions, a way to tell a story and a huge passion of mine. Prior to starting at university, the only thing I had ever written was a poem to the tune of Three Blind Mice and I thought I had created a masterpiece.

"In just four short years, I have built the confidence and skills to create music that I am incredibly proud of. I can't wait to continue writing music and for the release of my first solo EP early next year.

"I am so thankful to the University of the Highlands and Islands, my tutors, my fellow music students and of course Liam and his family, who I can't thank enough for this amazing award."

Jack Birnie described how he felt when he was told he was going to receive this award and offered advice for those considering applying to study music: "It was absolutely fantastic to hear that I had won the Liam Colgan Music Production award. It reassured me that the time and effort that I put into the project was enjoyed by others. Receiving this award has also given me the confidence and the drive to keep going and keep learning, which my course also encouraged me to do from the ‘get go'.

Jack Birnie.
Jack Birnie.

"For anyone considering joining a music degree course at the University of the Highlands and Islands, I would highly recommend it. If like me when starting, you are unsure about what to career to pursue after graduation, this is the course for you.

"It has given me to gain a broad education regarding many aspects of a career in the music industries like teaching, song-writing and production. Alternatively, there is great scope for delving deep into one particular area, allowing for detailed study and developing specific skillsets. The course is what you make of it!"

Now in their second year, the awards were set up in 2019 by the family of Liam Colgan with the University of the Highlands and Islands to provide an opportunity for aspiring artist to develop and enhance their music skills.

A new charity, the Liam Colgan Music Fund, which launched on October 13, has been set up to help people to realise ambitions in the world of music, whilst adding to Liam's legacy.

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