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.

 

WEST OF EDEN – Flat Earth Society (West of Music WOMCD12)

Flat Earth SocietyIt’s a touch ironic that one of the best bands currently energising traditional British and Celtic folk music with a contemporary lens happens to come from Sweden. Comprising Lars Broman on fiddle, Martin Holmlund on bass, drummer Ola Karlevo, Henning Sernhede on lap steel and electric guitar and fronted by Jenny and Martin Schaub, the former on accordion and the latter playing assorted guitars, piano, cittern and mandolin, they’ve been playing music since 2005 and this is their eighth album (two of them being Celtic Christmas collections), recorded predominantly in Scotland (in anything from churches to distilleries) and featuring contributions from such folk luminaries as Damien O’Kane, John McCusker and Heidi Talbot.

Unlike some of their past albums, this doesn’t have a conceptual basis, other than generally being about partings and new beginnings, opening with the moody, rumbling percussion, acoustic title track, Jarlath Henderson on low whistle and Jenny, her airily pure vocals at times evocative of Anne Briggs, taking lead on a song about a broken romance in which the narrator’s world has been left flat.

Kicking up their folk rock heels, as the title suggests ‘The Dwindling Of The Day’ concerns the passing of time, Jenny singing about holding on to memories of someone who’s no longer around, slowing down slightly for ‘Horsehoofs & Primroses’, O’Kane on tenor guitar, a traditional-flavoured number of the urge to go a roaming when Spring is in the air.

Henderson contributing harmonies, set to puttering percussion, ‘Pretty Please’ is a liltingly lovely song about being weary of domestic squabbles and “rocking our boat on the wildest of seas”, giving way to ‘Kate, Are You Ready Now?’ as, Henderson on Uillean pipes and Karlevo laying down a slow march beat, Martin makes his first lead vocal appearance on a stirring strummed ballad that puts a spin on the jilted at the alter tale, this time it being the bride who doesn’t turn up while the groom tries to convince himself she’s just running late. Jenny returns for the jazzy ‘Porcelain Days’, hints of Pentangle colouring its lyric about navigating your way through a fragile relationship walking on eggshells and hoping the other partner will stick around as the ice starts to crack.

The first of two instrumentals, ‘Isak/Doris’ combines two fiddle tunes, Duncan Chisholm on the first with its military snare beat before McCusker takes over on the sprightlier second half. Then, it’s on to ‘Old Miss Partridge’, O’Kane on banjo and Jenny duetting with Talbot on a jaunty, accordion-led romp about an eccentric old bird suspected of being a witch and being found dead, blasted by lightning near a tree on the hill, her ghost still wandering at night.

It’s back to melancholia with McCusker providing low whistle for as Jenny sings the simply strummed, strings laden lament ‘Come Winter, He’ll Be Gone’, another song about loss and partings with the changing seasons serving to metaphorically chart the course of the relationship on the album’s most poetic lyric, evocative at times of Christina Rosetti.

Putting on his best Irish accent, the fiddle-accompanied, trotting rhythm ‘Vipers & Fireflies’ is Martin’s only other lead vocal, another song about how our worst nature sometimes gets the better of us and we say things in the heat of the moment we later regret, here using weather imagery as a metaphor.

The final song has Jenny accompanied by McCusker on tin whistle for ‘Peacock Blues’, its lively Irish jig-like tune belying a lyric that returns to a theme of arguments with the narrator being in the shadow of a more dominant personality (“I am the ceiling and you are the sky…you light up the room and I’m in the gloom”), the album ending on the other instrumental, ‘Rowbotham’s Map’, arranged for accordion and fiddle, bringing things full circle with the title referring to the Flat Earth Map of the World drawn up by the artist Samuel Rowbotham around 1873. Flat or round, global recognition for West of Eden among folk circles is long overdue.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.westofeden.com

West Of Eden and friends live at Ben Nevis distillery:

VARIOUS – Spiritual Music From The Hebrides (AN LANNTAIR)

Spiritual Music From The HebridesSpiritual Music From The Hebrides was recorded at a live event that drew together singers and musicians from the worlds of the Presbyterian church, classical and traditional music.

At its heart is the centuries-old tradition of Gaelic psalm singing which is pretty much unique to the Hebrides. Five of the tracks are identified as psalms and four are led by a precentor. The style is something like the tradition of the southern American churches and the role is analogous to the cantor of the Jewish faith. It’s a very powerful sound with nineteen singers involved and it can be quite difficult to get used to, not least because it’s all in Gaelic. The first one I even vaguely recognised was Jenna Cumming’s singing of psalm 73 to Connor Quigley’s tune ‘Wetherby’ and the other was the final track, ‘Faisg Air Mo Dhia’ which also marks the only English to be heard.

The intensity of the choral is leavened by solo and duo pieces with musical accompaniment and the album opens with Duncan Chisholm leading an instrumental version of his own song, ‘An Ribhinn Donn’. This album is not destined to be a huge seller but I think it will find its market.

Dai Jeffries

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Label website: www.lanntair.com

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Folk Awards 2013 (Proper Music Properfolk14)

Folk Awards 2013Glorious…there’s no other word to describe it. Opening with every folk fans favourite band of ragamuffins Bellowhead and “Roll The Woodpile Down” this 3 CD compilation of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards positively blasts forth heralding the achievements of all concerned. We in the folk world have a lot to be grateful for and the inclusion of (amongst others) Hannah James & Sam Sweeney, Gilmore & Roberts and Kathryn Tickell show how they can ‘acoustically’ kick butt along with ‘rock’ music’s finest. It brings a beaming smile to my face to feel privileged as I do that my enjoyment of this much maligned genre really can give every other form of music a run for its money and that recording’s like this will hopefully inspire the next generation to pick up the baton and run with it. Mind you…before I sign off (heartily recommending that you purchase a copy of the album) I’d like to credit Smooth Operations Jon Lewis on whose shoulders rest the unenviable task of selecting this compilation as it must have been an agonising decision choosing only one track from each of the featured artists plus the bonus ten track CD of the Young Folk Award contenders. Finally, Proper Music and the production team led by the legendary Brian Ledgard have to be congratulated for their support each year in allowing ‘our’ music such a fantastic shop window (and not a hint of Mary Portas in sight) in which to showcase such astonishing talent.

PETE FYFE

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