Posted by Michele Mele on 31 January 2020
Glasgow born, son of English and Iranian parents, Mohsen Amini has become the greatest ambassador of the Anglo-concertina: his flying fingers and his exquisite skills are some of the most distinctive features of the two bands he plays in, the multi-awarded trio Talisk and the soaring quintet Imar. Moreover he has already achieved an impressive number of individual accolades, including the 2018 BBC Radio 2 Folk Musician of the Year Award.
2020 will be a very busy year for him, starting with a Celtic Connections gig with Imar on 1 February, and continuing with Ireland and UK dates between February and June with Imar, a tour of the USA and Canada with Talisk between March and April and a UK tour with Talisk in May.
He has been so kind as to answer a few questions for Bright Young Folk.
How did you fall in love with the concertina?
If I’m completely honest, picking up the concertina was completely by chance! I attended a local Comhaltas group growing up. There I was taught whistle, flute, guitar and so on until they got a concertina in.
I think I was the only that was naive enough to try it and after countless years of - painful - practice it’s the best decision I ever made. Such a beautiful and diverse instrument which also is no problem for travelling with... that is until you get a pedal board the size of your house!
The concertina is a less frequently encountered instrument in the Scottish tradition; do you find this presents technical challenges in learning or adapting repertoire written for pipes or fiddle?
With the concertina being in general quite niche I found that I exhausted all of the resources pretty fast. I’d listen to other players and learn what I could from them and once that was done I had to turn to other instruments.
I would highly recommend looking at a fiddle and how they roll or the pipes and how they cran and try to replicate that on the concertina. I suppose I’d already started adapting to other styles of playing before diving into to Scottish scene!
Who are the teachers and the musicians, particularly concertina players, that had the greatest influence on your particular musical tastes and style?
Quite literally every single one of them. I don’t think it’s fair to pin point one or two people. For a while growing up I would listen to only concertina players and would just type concertina into YouTube and off I went.
As I grew up I started listening to trad bands - all of them - and slowly my friend groups would grow and now I find I learn most of what I do off my friends, bandmates and people I’m in sessions with. I find it’s the people you interact with that influence you the most!
What are in your opinion the strengths and the weaknesses of your instrument?
All instruments have strengths and weaknesses and an easy win for the concertina is that it is always in tune which is brilliant for musicians that are learning. It’s very dynamic and the range is incredible.
It’s slightly hard to try and adapt to the push and pull especially when it comes to chord voicing. Generally though it’s as strong or weak as any other instrument and overcoming those weaknesses turns us into the players we are!
Is there a particular tune or set you love to play when you feel a bit down?
I love sad minimalist piano music. Previously a large fan of Ludovico Einaudi. Anything that is calming but also arouses emotion is my jam, which is very ironic to the music I mainly play!
Particular favourites are: Remove The Complexities by Peter Sandberg, Princess Elvira by Ana Olgica and I Giorni - Ludovico Einaudi, but honestly there are hundreds of tracks!
Talisk are heading back to the USA after a short tour there last year; is there anything you are particularly looking forward to based on your previous experience there?
The crowds. America are so up for it. The crowds come out to a gig and are really up for partying!
They become invested and want to have a good time which makes the job all the more fun for us. It’s a really good time and I love it!
The first half of your 2020 will be very busy as you will be touring with both Imar and Talisk; is there anything you will miss while on tour for such a long period?
I’m pretty used to being busy and there is rarely time off if I’m honest so I’ve almost made my peace with it by now. But I’m only human, I miss my family, girlfriend, home, gym, being able to cook my own meals and not needing to eat out constantly! Luckily though I tour with all my friends so it’s actually great fun.
What would you say to all our readers that, following your example, are looking to take up the concertina?
What you waiting for? Come on in, the waters warm!
Cover photo by Paul Jennings. Photos of Talisk (top) and Imar (middle) by Samuel HurtSee all of Bright Young Folk's text interviews.