MacPhail: cultural flame burns like a forest blaze

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Never before in the history of the Highlands has the music of a people exploded forward with such a power.

The glowing embers of our music that survived over 350 years of cultural suppression have ‘taken light’and the flame is spreading like a forest blaze of hope for the future. Kindled by the foresight of visionaries, the magic of a few and the hard work of many, combining in a perfect storm of progress, the fire of Highland Music is again alight in a gloried age of renaissance.

It is very important to note and to remember that all those who worked over many years to maintain and rekindle a dying culture were battling against the odds. We are now seeing the benefits of that work but for long years there was little sign of hope or progress.

Yet they battled on in the face of statistics, logic and many critics all forecasting certain doom. As I wrote in a previous article: ‘The Fèis movement, music tuition in schools, local and national Mòds, Runrig, Capercaillie, Gaelic-medium education, the tireless work of many individuals and a host of other contributing and interweaving factors, groups and people all on the bedrock of one of the richest indigenous musical cultures in the world have combined to bring this golden era of Highland music.’

All those involved in any of the above deserve gratitude from all who are reaping and enjoying the rich yields of their relentless dedication. The situation is by no means perfect and I see two main obstacles to be conquered.

First, for the music to really hold cultural significance, the Gaelic language must come with it. Gaelic music without the Gaelic language, in the long term, is a shell that will crumble and fade or at best survive, but be divorced from its own identity.

Secondly, for our culture and language to prosper, it has to be strong in the geographic areas from which it came and the indigenous populations of these areas must endure.

I dream about how the Highlands and Islands could be in 50 years if the language, populations and economies of these areas could blossom and the music return to prosper at home. In future articles I will expand on what I see in that dream, but for this week I will conclude by returning to the tangible peaks of current music scene.

As I wrote last week while referring to the meteoric rise of Peat and Diesel, with every new band coming forth, the whole movement benefits and Glasgow’s concert programme this winter is proof of that. Between October and January, Glasgow will host no fewer than six major concerts of different West Coast bands.

Skerryvore with Trail West, Tidelines, The Vatersay Boys and Peat and Diesel are all appearing at the Barrowland and ourselves, Skipinnish, are doing both the Royal Concert Hall and the Barrowland. The Barrowland holds just under 2,000 and the concert hall just under 3,000.

Every one of these gigs, in venues that usually host the household names of the mainstream music world, will be sold-out. On top of this, there are many other smaller gigs going on, as well as a whole week of events for the National Mòd in October and of course the Park Bar continuing its long tradition of hosting good bands and Gaelic singers.

Even just three years ago, this level of presence of Highland Music anywhere would have been just a far -off dream. However, some dreams do come true and we are very lucky to be part of this resurgence of our own musical heritage.

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