WILLIE CAMPBELL & BAND – Dileab: A Legacy (Comhhairle Nan Eilean Siar CNES2019CD)

DileabRecorded live, Dileab sees the Western Isles singer-songwriter join forces with seven equally local musicians Jane Hepburn MacMillan, Andy Yearley, Paul Martin, DC MacMillan, Neil Johnstone, Rhona Johnstone and Graham MacLennan), variously on strings, percussion, guitars and accordion, and members of six school choirs from the islands of Barra, Uist, Harris and Lewis for an intergenerational project designed to bring local history live for the islands’ young people.

The schools set out to explore the legacy of four of the major social influences on the Outer Hebrides over the last 100 years, emigration, wartime experiences, protest and politics, and the Iolaire disaster of New Year’s Day 1919 when the ship carrying naval reservists and demobbed sailors hit the rocks outside Stornaway harbour with the loss of some 205 lives. To complement this, Campbell was commissioned to write the five songs on the EP, first up being ‘Innise Gall’, an anthemic celebration of growing up as a child amid the wild beauty of the islands. It’s followed by the lively fiddle and drums-led ‘In Honour of the Past’ which talks of the clearances of the 18th century when the people were forcibly removed from their homes to give the land over to sheep farming.

Emigration is the backdrop for the military slow march beat swayalong ‘On A Wave To The West’, recalling those who sailed from Castlebay pier to Quebec “starving and sick depending on strangers’ charity” but strengthened by their heritage and community.

The remaining two songs concern the war and the disaster, the near seven-minute ‘My Time Wasn’t At Hand’ a funereal paced, mournful account of the sinking sung in the voice of one of the few survivors and celebrating the courage of John Finlay Macleod from 14 Port Of Ness, one of the sailors, who tied a rope to his waist and swam to shore, climbing the cliffs and saving seventy lives. The second is ‘We Sleep At Peace’, a jauntily paced, fiddle-led singalong memorial to those from Uist who gave their lives in the name of freedom. Inevitably, Dileab is going to have its strongest appeal close to home, but in terms of the songs and the themes it addresses, it deserves to find a much wider audience.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.facebook.com/dileab2019/

‘On A Wave To The West’ – live:

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