Angus MacPhail: the power of song

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The double-edged sword of being born into an ethnic group whose future existence hangs in the balance gives emotional pendulum swings peculiar to that position.
Along with the dark moments of anger, frustration, guilt, sadness, bitterness and helplessness are equally affecting flashes of pride, connection, hope, harmony and a powerful sense of privilege in belonging to something rich and unique.
Last Sunday night’s concert in the Strathclyde Suite of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall provided the foundation for a pronounced swing of the pendulum to the positive end of that vast scale.
Tiree Song Book was the title of this Celtic Connections concert, which was supported by the Tiree Association and directed by Mary Ann Kennedy. First performed in May last year at the Tiree Homecoming, it featured songs and tunes linked to Tiree and performed by singers and musicians from the island as well as more widely-known artists from across the country.
The responsive joy and goodwill emanating from the crowd brought the room alive and the comments afterwards were those of an audience awed by the depth of musical tradition.
The concert was a well-crafted showcase of the island’s rich Bardic culture brought together seamlessly with contemporary tunes and songs. There were many figures of the past whose presence could be felt and the strength of the pride we know they would feel was as much part of the atmosphere as the cheering and clapping of the audience.
Mary Ann Kennedy’s father, Alasdair, had his hand on her shoulder by the piano. As John Campbell led the pipers, his father, Lachie Beag, was tuning his drones. As communications master and author Alastair Campbell sounded his pipes, his brother, Donald, was giving him a mouthful for a late strike in.
Murdina MacLean’s clear, beautiful voice lit the hearts of her parents, Rose and Murdoch MacDonald. As Donald Iain Brown introduced the performers his parents, Annie and Lachie, were beaming at having three of their sons on the stage.
As Gordon Rowan set the pipe chanters, his uncle, Kenny MacDonald, was telling him to watch the high Gs. As Anne and Finlay Johnstone played Am Falbh Thu Leam, their father and grandfather respectively, Alasdair Sinclair, was singing along with a wide grin and a glint in his eye.
As Daniel from Skerryvore took to the stage his father, Danny Gillespie, gave his shoulder a strong and warm squeeze.
And, during the highlight of the night for myself and for many, when Bernard Smith, backed on accordion by his son, Ian, sang Lag Nan Cruachan, I could feel my father, Eachann Mòr, standing beside me filled with pride listening to Bernie singing that song which he had sung for him so many times before.
As he always did, Bernie nailed it, and all the performers and the entire audience – in imagination, in spirit and in person – filled the hall with as collectively positive an energy as I have ever felt in one room.
There is power in song.