Huntly folk star flies flag for autism after being banned from music at school

Aaron Clark wasn’t allowed to do music at school but has gone on to perform at one of the world’s biggest folk music festivals.

February 18 2024, 6:00 am

Remarkable young folk musician Aaron Clark has opened up about having autism and how it inspired his success. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

When Aaron Clark was a child he was labelled ‘too challenging’ by school teachers and wasn’t allowed to do the one thing that brought him the most joy in life: music.

Fast forward to today and Aaron, who has autism, is dancing to the beat of his own drum as a professional melodeon player, whose jaunty tunes left toes tapping and heads bobbing at world-renowned music festival Celtic Connections recently.

“Playing the melodeon makes me feel happy, I enjoy playing it, “says Aaron, 29 from Huntly.

“I also find it really relaxing.”

Music has been an outlet for Aaron Clark. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Never happier than when he has his beloved melodeon – an accordion-type instrument – in his hands, it’s hard to believe the barriers Aaron had to break through in order to pursue his passion.

“Aaron wasn’t allowed to do music in school as he was apparently too challenging,” says Andrea, his proud mum.

“He actually didn’t get educated for about eight years of his life because of this.

“But his grandfather Ted was an award-winning melodeon player and when he died in 2019, Aaron was given his melodeon and he hasn’t put it down since.

“Aaron had never played an instrument before but he just took to the melodeon, and after just three months he entered his first competition – and won.

“Since then he has just flown.”

Aaron Clark is keen to show people that autism can’t hold you back. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

The life-changing power of music

With support from the late Dingwall music promoter Graeme Ross, better known as Rossie, Aaron soon secured gigs at venues including The Highlander pub in Inverness.

“Rossie Ross took Aaron under his wing and got him his first gig at The Highlander,” explains Andrea.

“We knew he would have to be thrown in the deep end to see if he could cope but he did amazingly well and has soared since then.

“Sadly Rossie died last year but he was so proud of Aaron for his achievements.”

Aaron, who also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia and Tourette’s syndrome, has fond memories of that first gig.

“I was quite nervous but I got on quiet well,” says Aaron.

“I had been playing at folk clubs but The Highlander was my first official paid gig, so it was a different kettle of fish.

“But the pub was full of tourists and they were a brilliant support.”

Aaron loves to perform with his proud dad Andy. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Standing ovation at world-renowned festival

Since then Aaron has been in demand as a musician and even performed at the world-renowned Celtic Connections event in Glasgow in January.

“Aaron has been breaking barriers as a disabled musician who bravely embraces the challenges of autism day to day, and the Celtic Connections was a massive highlight of his career,” says Andrea.

Sharing the Celtic Connections stage with his dad Andy, who plays the guitar, was a milestone moment for Aaron.

“It was brilliant,” says Aaron, who often performs with his siblings Chantel, 32, and Kyle, 24.

“I had a standing ovation for the first time.

“It has definitely given me more confidence.”

Aaron, right, performing at Celtic Connections with his dad Andy. Image: Andrea Clark

Aaron has plenty of exciting gigs coming up this year. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Ambassador for autism

After performing at the festival, Aaron was flooded with messages of support for the way he is using music to positively fly the flag for autism.

“It’s very important to me to show others that autism doesn’t hold you back,” says Aaron.

“My message to anyone who has autism is that if you want to do something then go ahead and do it.”

To see the positive impact that her son is having on other people with autism has really moved Andrea.

“Aaron wants everyone to know that you should not let your disability hold you back,” says Andrea.

“He says it’s his ability not his disability.

“We were overwhelmed with messages from people saying how well Aaron is doing in promoting autism in a positive light.

“So as a thank you we’ve been sending out free CDs of Aaron’s music to people.”

Aaron also gives back to his local community by performing in care homes.

“We pay it forward because the community has been so helpful for Aaron so we want to give back.”

Twist on traditional music

Aaron, who writes his own songs and also performs his tunes from memory, has already released an album called Out of the Box, with support from the Perth-based folk star Tim Edey.

“90% of the sets I perform are my own compositions,” says Aaron.

“I like to change things around a bit and do different tunes and variations on traditional music, which is great fun.”

So successful as a musician, Aaron has given up his job at Kellockbank Garden Centre to concentrate fully on his music career.

“Kellockbank have been brilliant support to Aaron over the years so we’d like to say a huge thanks to them for their support,” says Andrea.

“He’s also had great support from The Tin Hut folk club and the Huntly Folk Club.”

Aaron is happiest when he has his melodeon in his hands. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

And what’s next for the folk music star?

“I’m doing a Scottish folk tour, playing in places including Cruden Bay, Stonehaven, Inverness, Fyvie, Dunfermline and the Isle of Skye,” says Aaron.

“ During the summer, I’ll also be at Broadstairs Folk Festival, Wincanton Festival, HAAL Festival in Portsoy as well as the Edinburgh Tradfest.

“But my dream would be to play at the Belladrum Festival near Inverness.”

Aaron, who is also busy recording his second album, is so thankful to everyone who has supported him with his music career.

“I want to say a heartfelt thank you for being part of our musical journey,” says Aaron.

“Your support means the world to us.”