Blas Festival announces 2019 line-up

Blas

The programme for this year’s Blas Festival has launched today and revealed an outstanding line-up of musicians from Scotland and further afield for this year’s Gaelic music festival which will take place next month in venues throughout the Highlands.

Blas, which means ‘taste’ or ‘sample’, is organised by Fèisean nan Gàidheal in partnership with The Highland Council and will take place from 22-30 November, culminating in a variety of events across the Highlands to celebrate St Andrew’s Night. It aims to celebrate Gaelic culture and the thriving Scottish traditional music scene over eight days of concerts, cèilidhs and workshops in venues across the Highlands and Islands.

In a programme which really does offer something for every member of the family, as well as the 20 main concerts and cèilidhs, there will also be daytime cèilidhs, a series of song lectures and a special schools programme which will see some of the musicians visit locals schools for performances and workshops.

Acts at this year’s Blas, which takes place at venues from Aviemore to Barra include the Gary Innes Band, Tideline’s Robert Robertson and Ross Wilson, Iain Macfarlane and Ingrid Henderson, an outstanding piping night at Inverness Town House and neo-trad trio Project Smok. As always there will also be special performances from an overseas act. Two of Cape Breton’s finest fiddlers and step-dancers, sisters Dawn & Margie Beaton, will be entertaining audiences in Gairloch, Resolis, Ullapool and Roybridge, alongside Gaelic singing trio, Sian, and singer Kathleen MacInnes.

This year will also feature two special partnerships. Blas and Smalls Halls Festival will present shows in Kyleakin and Edinbane featuring a world-class line up of musicians including Capercaillie’s Donald Shaw, fiddler Duncan Chisholm, Granton-on-Spey multi-instrumentalist and composer Hamish Napier and BBC Young Folk Award winner, uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson. The Highland capital will host a show by electronic celtic fusion super group, Niteworks, at Ironworks, a partnership between 432 and Blas Festival.

Fast-becoming a Blas tradition, three birthdays will be celebrated in true Highland style this year with an impressive array of special musical guests. Gaelic singer, John ‘Seonaidh Beag’ Macmillan will celebrate his 80th birthday alongside Donaidh Macleod who turns 90 this year. Celebrating with the Lewis men, at An Lanntair in Stornoway, will be Gaelic singers Kathleen Macinnes and Iain Mackay, Allan Henderson, members of the Lewis Pipe Band and other special guests. Also celebrating a special 80th birthday will be Barra’s Chrissie Macdonald, or Chrissie Denny as she is commonly known, who will be joined by Mary Ann Kennedy, Allan Macdonald, Alasdair Whyte, Còisir Ghàidhlig Bharraigh and The Cèilidh King, Fergie Macdonald at Barra’s Northbay Hall.

Currently showcasing their work in Canada, Fuaran, will take to the stage to showcase the fruits of their recent work. Fuaran, a heritage initiative established by Fèisean nan Gàidheal to encourage a new generation of Gaelic speakers and singers to actively engage in the research and collection of Gaelic songs in their local area, will perform alongside tradition bearer, singer and piper, Rona Lightfoot, and Gaelic singer Margaret Stewart, who both supported the young singers with their research.

Arthur Cormack, Fèisean nan Gàidheal Chief Executive, said: “Blas Festival has become an important event in the calendar for communities across the Highlands and Islands since its inception in 2005. This year’s programme is no exception and with its outstanding cèilidhs, and concerts will celebrate and promote Highland culture to audiences coming from far and wide. We are delighted to be able to put on Blas Festival this year, once again, to showcase and celebrate our homegrown talent.”

Shona MacLennan, Ceannard, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, said: “Bòrd na Gàidhlig is delighted that Fèisean nan Gàidheal has been successful in ensuring that the much-valued Blàs festival is running again this year.  The high quality and range of events in the progamme promote a very positive message about the Gaelic language and culture.  We know that the arts are a key driver in attracting people to learn Gaelic and in strengthening its use and  Blàs, along with other festivals, add significantly to Scotland’s culture and its attractiveness as a country.”

Councillor Alister Mackinnon, Chair of the Gaelic Strategy and Implementation Group and Chair of Corporate Resources, Highland Council, said: “The Highland Council has supported the Blas Festival since its inception 14 years ago. The Blas programme is educational and entertaining especially as we celebrate the Year of Indigenous Languages, and includes events from Kyleakin to Lochinver and Gairloch to Strathy on the North Coast”.

The full programme of events can be found at www.blas-festival.com along with details of how to purchase tickets.

 

NITEWORKS – Air Faìr An Là (Comann Music, CM002)

Air Faìr An LàIf the combined words “folk” and “electronica” bring on an attack of the vapours, a lie down with the reviving sal volatile of Niteworks’ second album Air Faìr An Là (At Dawn Of Day) might just help. The four Skye lads of Niteworks clearly love their traditional music but, obviously, generations born into techno and its offspring want to reflect contemporary sounds, too. If Martyn Bennett was a pioneer in this field, Niteworks are most ably picking up the reins and forging forward on their own account.

This time around, they’ve engaged top techno producer Alex Menzies (aka Alex Smoke), who overcame his own initial reluctance about the project and has helped to create a vital, full-throttle album that’s subtler than it might at first appear (try the constantly mutating rhythmic pattern punctuating the 1968 spoken-word recording of Skye man, ‘Calum Ruadh MacNeacail’), and definitely stands on its own merits.

Opening with ‘Dookin’’, spacey sonics lope along until first a vibrant fiddle and then pipes drop in, hoisting the melody line across a thumping drumbeat. Kinnaris Quintet’s Fiona MacAskill and her two colleagues provide excellent fiddle parts throughout.

Other guests include Julie Fowlis, whose coolly sparkling vocal soars over ever-intensifying beats in ‘Òran Fir Ghriminis’, and Lewis musician Iain Morrison who brings a slow, atmospheric version of his own song, ‘Like Wolves In The Night’.

SIAN, a trio featuring Ellen MacDonald (recently with Daìmh), deliver crisp vocals on the title track, a waulking song, and also the album’s lead single, reviewed here in a recent Singles Bar. The rapid vocal repetitions are weirdly well-complemented by an ‘80s Kraftwerk-ish bubbling undercurrent. MacDonald’s warm tones also take up ‘Do Dhà Shùil’ (‘Your Two Beady Little Eyes’), a St Kilda lullaby with a soundscape that conjures blowing sand, rattling boat masts and the sea’s sighing fall-rise.

Dragged from the very earth itself is ‘Cumhachd’ (‘Power’ or ‘Energy’): a primal incantation where Allan MacDonald’s hypnotic vocals are slowly subsumed as he picks up the tune on his pipes. More pipes feature on ‘Iain McGee’s’, this time steadily bubbling up through a trance-ish rendering of the tune, before erupting wildly out. In contrast, the increasingly dark, insistent ‘Lùths (Gabh Greim)’ wibbles along, unsteady as an old cassette tape, and closing tune ‘Highlander’s Farewell’ somehow works a traditional strathspey up into what could be an action film car chase soundtrack.

Updating traditional music can be risky, but clearly Niteworks have found their contemporary groove and, right now, they are riding it expertly.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.niteworksband.com/

Live at Celtic Connections feat. Julie Fowlis: