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.

 

GARY INNES – Era (own label GH101)

EraOh boy, do I like this CD? Yes, I do! Era is only the second ‘solo’ album released by Gary Innes who is part of the award-winning group, Mànran and it has such a variety of material that it grasps you from start to finish.

All of the tunes and songs are written by Gary, highlighting a superb talent. Strangely enough, I was not taken so much by the first track, ‘Yarra Wine Valley’. I liked it but it is my least favourite of the ten tracks on the CD. If you feel the same way then do not let it put you off listening to the rest if the tracks.

Track two, ‘The Road To Lochaber’ is beautiful. Great melody, great tempo and has a power build up throughout the track.

‘The Caman Man’ is a fabulous song written cleverly, affectionally but also humorously as a tribute to shinty the sport that Gary loves and represented Scotland in as captain, several times. I am not a Robert Robertson fan although the clarity of his vocal is a bonus, but possibly the humour is missed a bit. The players described as “wood swinging brothers” is brilliant! A great track and song that will surely be picked up by many singers.

Track four highlights Gary’s fabulous instrumental skills but track five is as good as it gets. ‘May Life Always Be Peachy’, a tune that Gary composed for his brother and his new wife to dance to as their wedding dance. “Peachy”, apparently is his brother’s name for his wife based on a specific part of her anatomy. I can imagine this tune being played as an anthem by massed pipe bands. It is beautiful.

The rest of the CD continues with such a variety of material that I could go on and write pages, but shan’t. However, track seven, ‘Zara’, is for his little niece and is sung by Siobhan Miller. It is a masterpiece of beauty and feeling, a credit to any songwriter.

The list of backing musicians is impressive and what I especially like about this CD is that Gary has not fallen into the trap that many musicians do when entering a recording studio with a group of musicians. No loud, heavy drumming, no offensive bagpiping, no bumping up the tempo. Gary has controlled the entire product and produced a CD of beautiful melodic music that will appeal beyond the limited audience of ‘Folk’!

I also like the fact that the songs are in English, written by somebody heavily involved in Gaeldom , so we can all understand what is being said.

The CD Era represents the passing of an era for Gary as he realises his life will now be dedicated to music. He no longer plays shinty or is part of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Let’s hope this CD is part of a very successful era.

Fraser Bruce

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Artist’s Website: www.garyinnes.com

‘The Caman Man’ (Warning: features Shinty):

Mànran’s Gary Innes announces new solo album and single

Gary Innes

Highland born accordionist and one of the founding members of Scottish award-winning celtic  supergroup,  Mànran, Gary Innes, is about to release his much-anticipated second solo album entitled Era.

Gary released his first solo album How’s The Craic back in 2005 and has since released multiple collaborative albums with Ewan Robertson (of Breabach fame), all-accordion band Box Club and also has three albums with his current band Mànran. However, after 12 years of working on other projects, he is now back with a full album of self-composed tunes and even some self-penned songs, performed by some of the very best musicians and singers in the Scottish music scene.  Having been a professional musician for over 15 years, Innes is no stranger to the world of traditional music and as the newly appointed BBC Radio Scotland presenter for the iconic music show, Take The Floor, Innes is becoming further integrated into the Scottish music scene.

When asked about the album title, Innes said, “I have called the album Era as I feel it’s the end of a substantial chapter, or indeed era in my life. Due to my  increasing musical commitments, I retired from my beloved sport of shinty in 2014 and for the same reason finished up with the Scottish Fire and Rescue service after 15 and a half years, in 2015. Last year saw the beginning of the new era with the birth of my first little niece Zara and now my second niece is on the way. I am also getting married this year so it feels like life is very much starting to move me in a different, very significant, direction and I wanted to not only recognise this but also to celebrate it”.

Era has Hamish Napier on Keys, Duncan Lyall on bass, Jarlath Henderson on Uilleann Pipes, Steve Byrnes on kit and fellow Mànran bandmate, Ewen Henderson on fiddle. Innes co-produced the album with guitar and piping sensation, Ali Hutton who also performed on the album.

The album weaves in and out of melodies and titles that clearly resonate with Innes and his highland home village of Spean Bridge. Era includes three self-penned songs which all carry very different stories, sung by Robert Robertson, Alec Dalglish and Siobhan Miller.

The first single ‘The Caman Man’ will be available to download from January 27th, 2017 and it is a song all about Scotland’s most indigenous sport, Shinty and Innes’ journey from the start to the end of his sporting career which involved him captaining the national team on many occasions and his local club, Fort William to Camanachd Cup success.

Artist’s website: http://www.garyinnes.com/

Gary Innes interview – warning: Gaelic is involved:

Skipinnish – new single

Skippinish

If the last two single releases from Skipinnish are anything to go by, the music world is in for a treat when the band launches their latest single, ‘The Island’, today.

If its success matches that of its’ two predecessors, Skipinnish will be looking at an incredible hat-trick of appearances in the official UK download charts within a year.

Skipinnish field a 6 piece line-up based on powerful vocals and foot-stomping bagpipe tunes. Their new-found chart topping success would have been hard to believe over 15 years ago when the band was formed by accordionist Angus MacPhail from Tiree and piper Andrew Stevenson from Lochaber over some tunes in the then Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

‘The Island’ is a summer festival hit waiting to happen. Written by MacPhail and lead vocalist Robert Robertson from Lochaber, it is both powerfully nostalgic and irresistibly feel-good. “Will you dance and return to the island of the young” is a profoundly emotional take on the Gaelic idea of going to Tìr nan Òg (the land of the young), while it also reflects the vibrant atmosphere of the western highlands and islands during summer festival season.

In some ways the song is fresh and uniquely modern; yet in others it is deeply traditional and metaphorical. This paradox between old and new is reflected in the track’s sound, which blends the band’s West Highland roots (it is led by a lively riff played on accordion, whistle, and fiddle) with a subtle presence of electronica – driven by bass and synth. The electrifying energy which has made Skipinnish so popular at festivals is bursting from this studio recording.

Skipinnish’s increased popularity in the past year has been due in no small measure to their pioneering approach to social media. This will be their third single to be released with an accompanying music video online – a unique situation for a band on the traditional, Scottish scene.

The video, directed by Dol Eoin Mackinnon from the island of Scalpay, Harris, intersperses stunning shots from the coastline of Argyll with footage of a bouncing Skipinnish gig. While the song will make listeners want to get up and dance, the video’s storyline of love and loss resolved by impassioned, eternal reunion in the island of the young will pull upon the strings of even the hardest heart.

Music video releases have always worked well for Skipinnish. Last year’s ‘Walking On The Waves’ became something of a summer anthem. It hit number 1 in the iTunes World music charts, overtook the likes of One Direction and Ellie Goulding in the official UK download charts, and also made a huge splash on social media –receiving well over 100,000 views to date on YouTube, and being tweeted about by celebrities such as Hollywood actor Alan Cumming, and television presenter Lorraine Kelly. Shortly after ‘Walking On The Waves’, the band released ‘December’ which climbed even higher up the UK charts and remained on top spot in the World charts for over a week.

As MacPhail and Robertson continue to build upon a formidable songwriting partnership, this driving summer single looks set to take Skipinnish to the next level.

Artists’ website: www.skipinnish.com