Gaelic culture to be celebrated at Blas Festival

Iain MacFarlane and Ingrid Henderson.

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Some of Scotland’s top traditional musicians will take to the stage in venues from Stornoway to Ballachulish this September as the Blas Festival, organised by Fèisean nan Gàidheal, returns with its annual celebration of Gaelic music and culture.

The festival, from September 2 to September 10, showcases Gaelic culture and the thriving Scottish traditional music scene over nine days of events. There will be 40 concerts and cèilidhs, an extensive education and communities programme, online workshops and livestreamed concerts.

Kim Carnie, Gary Innes and Ewen Henderson, Hecla, Staran, Norrie MacIver, Megan Henderson, Mary Ann Kennedy, Paul McKenna, Julie Fowlis and Sian are among the musicians taking part this year.

This year, Blas, which means ‘taste’ or ‘sample’, will visit communities across the Highlands including venues in Achmore, Achiltibuie, Raasay, Farr, Dornoch, Boat of Garten, Glenelg, Oban and many more.

It will open with a new musical commission, The Summer Walkers, by Tain musician Chloë Bryce, which highlights the central role Gaelic-speaking travelling people played in the preservation and transmission of Highland traditions whilst celebrating the 80th birthday of Essie Stewart.

Born and brought up in Sutherland, in a Gaelic-speaking community, Essie Stewart loved to listen to the stories of her grandfather Ailidh Dall – Alec Stewart – a much-recorded Gaelic storyteller.

Essie is a celebrated storyteller, one of Scotland’s last bearers of ancient, epic tales, and will be the special guest at the premiere of Chloë’s commission with contributions from Margaret Bennett, Duncan MacGillivray and siblings Duncan and Rona MacLeod. On other evenings, the concerts will begin with a set from Gary Innes and Ewen Henderson.

On the final night of the festival, there will be another 80th birthday celebration, this time for Gaelic singer and tradition bearer Mary Smith. Mary will celebrate her big birthday in style in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, with an impressive line-up of singers and musicians including Julie Fowlis, Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Jo MacDonald, Emma Macleod, Julie Matthews, Pàdruig Morrison, Catriona MacDonald and Allan MacDonald.

Old and new music will be showcased in several concerts featuring music from new collections of old music as well as a collection of new Gaelic songs. Tunes and songs from the earliest manuscript collection of Highland music will be performed twice during the festival. Renowned piper Dr Angus Macdonald has been working on a publication featuring material collected by Elizabeth (Eliza) Jane Ross, a niece of James MacLeod, one-time laird of Raasay and will be joined by Sian and Ronan Martin.

Ronan Martin, Angus MacKenzie, Ross Martin and James Graham will perform music and song from the recently-published Coigach and Assynt Collection, the first collection of tunes, songs and stories from that area, on the opening night – September 2 – in Lochinver. Also celebrating that area of the Highlands will be a new commission performed by Mary Ann Kennedy, Finlay Wells, Nick Turner and an extended ensemble, in Talamh Beò (Living Land). The stories behind Gaelic songs which feature food and drink will be explored in performances featuring Rachel Walker and Gillebrìde MacMillan.

There will be showcase of new Gaelic songs by Skye-based songwriter and musician Calum Munro. Tomhas is a collection of Gaelic songs exploring love, loss and mental health and will be performed by Norrie MacIver, Skipinnish, and Kim Carnie, Mànran, Staran, with an excellent band under the musical direction of Brian McAlpine. Joining them will be acclaimed Highland duo Iain MacFarlane and Ingrid Henderson.

In collaboration with Fèis Rois, Blas will feature talented young musicians from Fèis Cèilidh Trails from across Scotland who will team up with AVANC, Wales’ National Youth Folk Ensemble. Featuring the best young exponents of the tradition from both countries, youngsters from Fèis Rois, Fèis Lochabair, Fèis Phàislig, Fèis Fhoirt and Fèis Latharna will perform alongside AVANC at WASPS in Inverness on the final night of the festival.

Other highlights of this year’s Blas include multi-instrumentalist Megan Henderson in Resolis and Staffin; Norrie MacIver and FRAS in Thurso and Farr; Bruce MacGregor and Friends in Ballachulish and Lochcarron; trio HECLA; Lewis piper James Duncan Mackenzie; singer songwriter Paul Mckenna at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness; and Sing Me A Story, a Scotland’s Year of Stories commission and celebration of the storytelling tradition in the Highlands and Islands and the music that goes with it, featuring Allan Henderson, Margaret Stewart, Ewen Henderson, Sìleas Sinclair and Ewan Robertson.

The full programme of events can be found at www.blas.scot along with details of how to buy tickets.