Glasgow Letter – week 38

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Alasdair Gillies celebrates 80th birthday in style

I have never covered the Blas festival in the Glasgow Letter before for the obvious reason that it is, by definition, a Highland festival and, therefore, none of its events are based in Glasgow.

Alasdair Gillies’s 80th Birthday Concert, however, caught my eye as something which, although taking place in Portree, had unique relevance to Glasgow.

A resident of Milngavie, a regular attendee of ceilidhs and concerts down here, and having been born in Glasgow, Alasdair is a very well known man in the city and, of course, was a house-hold name throughout the country during an illustrious singing career.

When I asked Alasdair how he had enjoyed the night in the Aros Centre, he referred to it as one of the most enjoyable evenings of his life.

‘From the first moment the audience was like one big family and quite obviously ready to enjoy their evening,’ he told me. ‘They had come from all corners of the island , but some had travelled a distance.

‘I was delighted to see a contingent from Plockton and especially delighted to have Neil Sinclair and his wife Sheila and friends from Connel making the trip to support me.’

I was particularly interested to hear the thought process behind Alasdair’s  choice of guests for the evening – as I know he has a significant list of musical friends and collaborators from his long career.

He said: ‘First I chose my supporting musicians, John Carmichael and Alastair Macdonald, each having worked with me over many years on TV and stage, home and abroad.

Donnie Black I have admired over the years and it was great to have him join me, not only for his own spot but to have him roll up his sleeves  – figuratively speaking! –  and join the boys in backing me.

Christine Primrose guested with me on STV in the 70s and to know her as a friend and admire her as a singer made her an obvious choice.

Griogair Labhruidh, I had worked with on TV ALBA a few years ago and, again, I admire his commitment to researching traditional Gaelic songs and his connection with Trotternish made him a natural choice.

I was extremely fortunate to have Allan Campbell agree to join me to act as Fear an Tighe and add his natural warmth, as only he can, to the whole event.’

Alasdair added: ‘I’ve been fortunate to have had many highlights over the years; not necessarily in the “glamour” venues , but often in the most simple of environments when the audience enjoyment factor has been palpable.’

While reflecting on his career as a whole, Alasdair also keeps a keen eye on the current Gaelic music scene – referring to its present state as ‘enormously exciting’. His parting words were: ‘the future for the songs and music of the Gael is in good heart and in good hands’.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to singers like Alasdair and his generation. I wish him a very happy 80th birthday!



A stellar line-up helped Alasdair Gillies celebrate his 80th birthday in the Aros Centre, Portree, on September 8. (Left to right: Allan Campbell, Donald Black, Christine Primrose, Alasdair Gillies, Alastair MacDonald, John Carmichael, and Griogair Labhruidh.