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Wayfaring Stranger – new music and history TV show with Phil Cunningham


Music and history combine in a new BBC Scotland series presented by Scottish musician, composer and broadcaster, Phil Cunningham.

Across three programmes, Phil explores age-old musical connections between Scotland, Ulster and America and celebrates not only an extraordinary history, but a vibrant, living tradition.

The migration of music unfolded over many generations and journeys. Phil follows in the footsteps of the Ulster-Scots pioneers who brought their music to America’s furthest frontiers. Wayfaring Stranger with Phil Cunningham uncovers the story of how the songs, hymns and tunes they carried with them became a cornerstone of American music - country, gospel, bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll. 

On the trail of music history

Phil’s journey takes him from Scotland, via the hearths and homes of Ulster, across the Atlantic and down the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia to the Appalachian Mountains and beyond.

The story begins in Scotland, as Phil examines the distinctive sacred and secular traditions which would cross over the narrow sea to Ireland. He follows the mass migration of Scots to Ulster which began in the 17th century, and explores how their musical traditions enriched Ireland’s musical story, before travelling on to a new world.

Programme two follows the ‘wayfarers’ in their next great migration, across the Atlantic, and picks up the trail on the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia to the Carolinas and Appalachia. Phil discovers how the musical legacy of those first Ulster-Scots settlers was cherished and handed down, but also how it mixed and mingled with native and African American traditions, absorbing new influences and new instruments to create something utterly unique.

The final programme follows the story from the mountains to the mainstream, as another wave of migration from Appalachia helped bring the lasting musical traditions of the Ulster-Scots to a wider world.

Music performers

As he traces the music, and those restless travellers who carried it with them, Phil joins an international cast of performers, helping viewers experience for themselves the power of hymns, tunes and songs that have endured for centuries. 

Among the artists appearing in the series are:

  • country legends Rosanne Cash and Ricky Skaggs
  • rising star Rhiannon Giddens
  • bluegrass virtuosos Tim O’Brien and Jerry Douglas
  • along with Paul Brady, Mairéad Ní Mhaoinigh and celebrated Appalachian singer, Sheila Kay Adams

Wayfaring Stranger with Phil Cunningham is a Below the Radar production for BBC Scotland in conjunction with the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund/Northern Ireland Screen.

The show begins on 26 September on BBC Two Scotland, 7-8.00pm and will be available on BBCiPlayer thereafter.

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