Gone walkabout: Strontian singer/songwriter shares her experiences abroad

Kathleen Robertson from Strontian has been a successful musician travelling around Australia the last four years. Before departing the UK, she performed at one of Argylls biggest events, Oban Live. She’s hoping to reach the goal of becoming a professional musician.

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Since winning Oban Live Unsigned in 2018, Highland musician Kathleen Robertson, 23, has been making her way in Australia, working jobs, writing songs, and performing gigs, far from her upbringing in Lochaber. We catch up with her, as she faces a big decision ahead.

Melbourne is about as far away as you can be from where Kathleen grew up, first on Eigg, then in Lochaline and Strontian. After Ardnarmurchan High School, she went onto the University of the Highlands and Islands in Fort William, graduating with an HNC in music performance, compositions skills, and music theory.

But entering an unsigned talent contest at the Oban Live music festival, performing beside Skerryvore, Hermitage Green and Blazin’ Fiddles, proved to be a life changing choice.

‘I was surprised when I won!’ she told The Oban Times. ‘I formed three set performances, including a Gaelic song Buain a choirce, by Martyn Bennett, Blackbird by Lizzie Higgins, an Aberdeenshire ballad singer cover, and one of my own compositions named Sinner.

‘My performance would not have been a success without my band members at the time, Jay Carnie, Dave Sutherland, Iain Gordon Macfarlane, and Alex Campbell.

‘Oban Live Unsigned was a great opportunity for me. I left Scotland shortly after winning. I decided to further my creativity and flee my usual occupation as a waitress in Strontian, to go to Australia and strive for some inspiration.

‘I left Scotland when I was 19 years old with a backpack, $4,000 (£2,300) and no knowledge of airports as I’d never left the country before, or been on any form of aircraft. Yet, I survived!

‘The villages I grew up in, and the small island I was raised on, certainly played a massive role in my creativity and song writing. It was only when I came to Australia, I realised my childhood was quite different. I didn’t realise I come from such small communities.

‘I have been all over the East Coast of Australia, the Whitsunday Islands, Brisbane, Cairns, Fraser Island, you name it! I bounced around from travelling, busking, songwriting, farming and fundraising. Financially things were difficult. It was quite daunting yet somehow, I managed to figure it out.

‘In April, 2019, I fancied a change and applied to become an au pair in Melbourne. I have been with the family for around three years, and I could not have asked for a better placement. They are like a second family and have been very encouraging!

‘Since I took on the role as an au pair, I have been able to focus on my songwriting, music studies, and music performances. My music influence has definitely changed. The family also took me to the USA for six weeks. My genre now is more indie rock, songwriter acoustic. I don’t play many Scottish songs. Though, I do still have my roots!

Currently Kathleen is performing in Melbourne around bars and venues.

‘People like to know about where I come from. They all seem in disbelief I come from such small communities. There seems to be flourishing opportunities, maybe the same lies in Scotland, yet I was too young to find out at the time.

‘I now have a music distributor called DITTO, which sells my music on platforms such as iTunes, Amazon music and Spotify. I don’t make much money from selling my songs, though it’s a satisfying feeling and rewarding to have my music on these stores.

‘The pandemic in Australia certainly enabled me to write, and I was extremely lucky to have had the luxury of being in a safe environment, stable job, and a place to live. I know a lot of backpackers had a different fate.

‘My plans are very up in the air. It is looking like I’ll be heading home come June 13. I have been gone for four years, so it will be strange at first, but I am excited to eventually come home and see if I can gain similar opportunities. I also now have an American accent, which I’m not too sure how my folks and friends will react!

‘I have recently just received a last-minute offer to work in partnership as a keyboardist with a rock band called DOLLSQUAD, who are working on a new album for a US label, and preparation for a tour around Europe around September 2022.

‘I’m on the edge of whether to try get an entertainment visa to take the opportunity, yet time is very tight, money is also a problem. I’m in a bit of a pickle on what to do.

‘Though, looking up, I’m excited to see what happens, whether that be homebound to study or further travel. Let’s just say, my life and experiences have been challenging yet exciting, and I can’t wait to tell my friends and family all about it.’