Gillebrìde MacMillan is a lecturer at Glasgow University specialising in the Gaelic language. He’s also a singer, a songwriter and a composer known for film and television music. He’s also a secret that the Scots seem to have kept from us benighted sassenachs for far too long. Sèimh (The State Of Calm) is his fourth album, his second of self-penned material. I can only speak for myself but I’m more accustomed to hear ethereal female voices singing in Gaelic but this is different. OK, Maìghread Stewart, Karen Matheson and Maìri MacMillan make important vocal contributions but there is something about a strong, melodic male voice that stands out.
Then there are the songs. The opening track ‘Tog Suas!’ is about the women of the Sandinista revolutions which is not something you’d expect on a record of Gaelic songs. But why not? Every other songwriter in the world writes about whatever they wish in whatever language. ‘Meadhan – Oidhche’ (‘Midnight On The Machair’) is an immediate show-stopper. Someone should record the English version as soon as possible. Oh yes, Gillebrìde helpfully provides translations of the songs – I don’t speak Gaelic unless it’s printed on a whisky bottle but that has never been a problem. I just love the sound.
Supporting musicians are Fraser Fifield, Mhaìri Hall, Ewan MacPerson, Deirdre Morrison, Emma Smith and Fraser Stone – all very traditional until Fraser picks up his soprano saxophone which fulfils the role that bagpipes might have taken but with more subtlety and flexibility. Add some voice samples and a field recording of Hebridean seals and you have a record that sounds quite contemporary while still being rooted in tradition.
Other subjects Gillebrìde tackles include the 2017 Manchester bombing, the ritual of washing the dead, New Year on South Uist, lockdown and, in ‘Chaill I A Faclan’ the extraordinary story (if it’s true) of a widow of the Iolaire disaster who was struck mute on every anniversary of the event.
I say this every time I review an album in Gaelic, Irish or Welsh: don’t let language be a barrier. Sèimh is a beautiful record.
Artist’s website: http://www.gillebride.com/index.htm
‘Meadhan – Oidhche’ – official video: