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More Nail Varnish, Great Music and Sore Feet – Oban Live Day Two

Oban Live Day Two

Day two started off with some torrential rain but it soon cleared into another lovely day. After being fortified with a lunch of *takes deep breath* “Locally sourced steak on a toasted ciabatta bun with caramelised onions and cheddar cheese, served with coleslaw and salad but no coleslaw please “  it was time to top up the nail varnish (no fancy shirts this time) and head off to the park. On the way, we met up with Ian, Uta and the gang and, after comparing hats, we headed up the hill.

The opening act of the day was Rhuvaal. They were a late addition to the bill but provided a cracking set of tunes and songs and kicked things off nicely. Lee and Lauren arrived and it was their turn to wear the loud shirts with Lee in particular looking like he was born to wear it.

Local legends Chunks were on next, celebrating their twentieth year and their set of covers had the crowd singing along with gusto. Down Down, by Status Quo was the highlight for me.

By now the colourful nail varnish was out again and Lee and Ian enthusiastically joined in while Gary kept his hands firmly out of sight.

Sometimes, when you are really looking forward to a particular act it can end up being a let-down. I am delighted to say that this wasn’t the case as I made my way down to the front for Heron Valley. They were excellent and produced a fine, if too short, set of tune and songs. The musicianship was top quality and Abigail’s voice rang out beautifully as the crowd sang along. It was a superb set and I am looking forward to seeing them again in the future.

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By this time the rhubarb and strawberry cider (yes, really) was in full flow and the banter was flying too. Sharron Shannon was next up and started off with a fine selection of toe-tapping tunes. She was joined by Michael McGoldrick who I have to say is not my favourite composer but he did perform other people’s tunes with class. Sharron then introduced Susan O’Neill to sing a few songs and she was sensational. Her voice has a magical quality and she won a lot of new fans. A few more tunes brought the set to an end. It was a highly enjoyable set but I couldn’t help thinking it could have been twenty minutes shorter and that would have allowed Rhuvaal and Heron Valley to do full sets.

By now the day had clouded over and the midges made a return but the rain stayed away and there was an air of excitement as the Peatbog Faeries took the stage. It was an epic set. They never let up with their driving rhythms and thumping bass adding to the manic pipes, whistles and fiddle playing. The dancing did not stop and it was a remarkable, unforgettable performance.

Some of the older dancers (yes, including me) were beginning to flag but we soon got a second wind when Skerryvore kicked of the last set of the weekend. They were playing some tracks from the new album along with some old favourites and the dancing and singing continued. They were joined on stage by the Oban High School pipe band for a stunning rendition of Soraidh Slan. It was a spine-tingling moment and one of the highlights of a great set. The other highlight for me was the great new song At the End of the Line which is absolutely gorgeous. All too soon it was time for the final sets and with the twin bagpipes of Path to Home ringing in our ears it was time to head home. We all said our goodbyes and promised to do it all again next year. Back at the apartment we decided to leave the roasted tomatoes, tomatoes, cheese and more tomatoes until the morning and three very sore, tired people and one mega-fit freak of nature headed for bed.

So that was it for another year. It was fun, funny, entertaining and highly enjoyable and I can’t wait to do it all again (perhaps without the nail varnish) in 2019.

 

Hughie

 

 

 

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Hawaiian Shirts and Nail Varnish – Oban Live 2018 – Day One

Oban Live 2018 – Day One

Thanks to a kind invitation from the Gourlay/O’Mahony gang (or did I just dream it), I was based in the King’s Arms apartments for this year’s Oban Live. A quick beer, a catch-up, a change into some garish shirts, painting our nails and having a much needed dram meant we were a little late in arriving on day one. We got there just in time to catch the last bit of the set by Kathleen Robertson, the winner of the unsigned competition. Her version of Blackbird is simply sublime and I will be looking out for more of her stuff in the future.

The next act up was Blazin’ Fiddles and I was surprised to see them so early in the proceedings. However, the Blazers did what they do and got the party jumping with some cracking tune sets. By this stage we had let Lee and Lauren join our gang even though they were not dressed for the part. The shirts and nails were garnering some attention and I lost count of how many photos’ we had taken. The colourful attire also led to an interview with STV and a rather strange conversation with a young lady about vajazzling.

The next item was Sons of Argyll, a tribute to some Argyllshire stalwarts who are sadly no longer with us. It was a bit emotional but the music was excellent. Among the many acts performing there were fantastic performances from Gunna Sound, Archie & Alex MacAllister and Hector & Craig MacFadyen. The other highlight for me was Robert Robertson’s singing of The Queen of Argyll accompanied by the compere for the slot, Phil Cunningham. It has always been one of my favourite songs.

By this stage, the beer was flowing (no bar problems this year) and the craic was in full swing while we waited for the next act. Hermitage Green were probably the band I knew least about on this year’s bill but they put on a good show and went down well with the crowd. It was a very good set and well appreciated.

The final two acts were Tide Lines and Skipinnish and they did what they do best and put on great shows. The highlights were probably singing along with Loch Maree Islands and Kishorn Commandos while trying to beat the midges during Tide Lines set (the spray worked, mostly), and the highly emotional rendition of Wishing Well by Skipinnsh with the Oban High School pipe band. A last dance and sing-along with Walking on the Waves and is was time to head back to the flat for more beer, more whisky, craic with L & L and some excellent and much needed roasted cheese and tomato to finish off the night.

Roll on Day Two!

 

 

 

 

 

Celtic Connections 2018 – Part Two

 

After a quiet Monday which included a lot of blethering and the drinking of a bottle of Chivas Regal, Tuesday was meant to be another quiet day, easing into the second week. A wee note on the Celtic Connections blog though, pointed me to a BBCNI show being recorded at Saint Luke’s so I decided to have a look. It was interesting and entertaining to see the work that goes into these shows. The highly inventive Snuffbox were great, the Aoife Scott Band were excellent (and Aoife was charming) but the stars of the show were the outstanding Lau. I enjoyed it so much that I got on my phone on the bus back to the Concert Hall to book a ticket for tomorrow’s show!

I got back in time to see the final three acts on the Open Stage. Sam Begbie & Joe Doyle were good, Jonny Jack were OK but the final act were outstanding. The band, Dlu, was formed after meeting at the Gaelic School and they put on a simply amazing set. With fiddle/keyboards, guitar, drums and accordion they performed with style and skill and blew me away.

Up the stairs next to the Strathclyde Suite for the main event of the evening. The opening act was Iona Fyfe and her band and theirs was a set of beautiful songs, perfectly performed. Iona has a fine voice and carried the songs off brilliantly.

The Railsplitters were the main act of the evening and they were a little disappointing for me. They performed their bluegrass set well enough but it just didn’t do enough to raise it to normal CC standards. A minor blip in a great week.

Wednesday started with a walk through the sleet showers to Saint Luke’s for another free BBCNI show. After her charming, laid-back performance last week, it was interesting to see how a bunch of TV cameras made Cara Dillon rather endearingly nervous. She performed beautifully again, along with Sam Lakeman, and it was wonderful to watch. Young Irish siblings Meabh & Tiarnan Smyth were up next and the performed a set of tunes on fiddle, guitar and concertina with great skill. Meabh has one of those smiles that lights up a room and this duo has the potential to do great things. The show was finished off with a rip-roaring set from Imar, of whom, much more later.

I was once again back in time for the last three Open Stage acts. Emma Sweeney, Grainne Hunt and Ronan the Barbarian all did very well.

Back up to the Strathclyde Suite again for more Americana, this time from Canadian songstress Kaia Kater. She put on a great show and won some new fans with her easy style.

The main act of the evening was the aforementioned Imar and what a show they put on! Described by a punter behind me as “The Bothy Band on speed”, they produced a raft of storming tune-sets, each one performed with skill and an unbelievable passion for the music. All the musicians are excellent but the manic enthusiasm of Mohsen Amini on concertina summed up the general feeling. It was a stunningly good show and received a well-deserved standing ovation.

 

Thursday began with another good Open Stage where Pure Dynamic Strings were the outstanding act. It was then time to move to my front-row, centre seat in the Concert Hall for the main event. Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards provided yet another set of fabulous Americana. Laura’s fiddle-playing was terrific and the blend of voices worked perfectly. When they abandoned the amplification and moved to the edge of the stage to perform the closing song, it was a joyous moment.

Balzin’ Fiddles 20th anniversary party began with the current line-up in fine form and the night progressed with former members joining until the stage was full of unbelievable talent. It was a fine show but the highlight was probably when each fiddler played a short piece of the set in turn. Alan Henderson, Rua MacMillan, Catriona MacDonald, Jenna Reed, Aiden O’Rourke, Kirstin Harvey, Ian MacFarlane, Duncan Chisholm and Bruce MacGregor then finished together in perfect style. It was great to see Andy Thorburn back on the keys and Andy Clements on guitar backing up Angus Lyons and Anna Massie. It was a hugely enjoyable night, filled with humour and talent.

Along the street next for my final visit to the Festival Club and it was another beauty. Irish trad/jazz band, Notify, was first up and their eclectic style worked well. US fiddler Andrew Finn MacGill was next with guitar accompaniment from Sean Gray. This was a fine set of tunes that bounced along nicely. Blazin’ Fiddles did their thing next and took the club to a new level of frenzy that was matched by the next act, the Callum Stewart Band. I have to admit I was a little concerned when Josie Duncan took the stage as I couldn’t see how she could possibly follow that. I was, again, wrong. Josie, starting off with Pablo LaFuente and then joined by a full band, put on an astonishingly great set. To see the club bouncing along to the Gaelic songs was a joy and I have to admit I did a bit of bouncing myself. It seemed like the perfect time to end a great day and head home for the night.

Friday began with another good Open Stage with Irish oldies George Murphy & Frank Cassidy being the pick of the bunch. It was also nice to see Neria again. I first saw her on this stage 8 years ago and her fiddle playing and dancing have come on tremendously since then.

Time then for my first visit to the grand old Pavilion Theatre. It is a fine old building and, after I squeezed myself into a seat built for people of smaller girth than me, I was able to admire it properly. The support act was the Gaelic four-piece vocal group Cruinn and they put on a good set of songs with excellent harmonies to get everyone in the mood. Skipinnish then did what Skipinnish do best and put on a cracker of a show. At one point, the stage went dark and when the spotlight returned it was on Runrig guitarist Malcolm Jones on electric guitar as he launched in to Chro Chin t-Saille. He was shortly joined by Andrew on the pipes and the whole band plus Cruinn then joined in to perform the vocal part in one of those spine-tingling moments. Another quickly followed with Cruinn again joining in an emotional version of Iolaire.  It was a really epic show.

Saturday was a different sort of day as I headed to an afternoon of Lau Land at the CCA. It began with a concert entitled Dialogues which had Irish concertina player Cormack Begley, Siobhan Miller, Kris Drever and Martin Green playing and talking about tunes and songs from their respective areas.  It was excellent with Siobhan’s version of Cholesterol probably the highlight. The quartet was then joined by Karine Polwart for a discussion on folk music and its traditions. It was fascinating hearing Karine tell how she arrived where she is now with no family background in folk music at all. There was also passion on show when Kris was explaining how you can do someone else’s song justice if you inhabit the song and understand it. It was over all too soon for me but we then moved to the back room of the bar where Eammon Coyne joined Kris to lead a great session.

A quick bus trip along to Gallowgate was next on the agenda as I headed back to Saint Luke’s.

The first act on were the Nova Scotia duo Cassie & Maggie MacDonald and they were excellent. With Cassie on fiddle and Maggie on guitar, keys and vocals it was a highly enjoyable set of tunes and songs with some step-dancing to round things off.

Tide Lines were the main act and they produced a typically polished and professional set which had the place bouncing and singing along with gusto. The new single, Streets of Dreamers, got an outing and was well received but the highlight was probably Dreams We Never Lost which is a brilliant and moving song in its live setting.  This band continues to go from strength to strength and this will be a big year for them as they try to build on the success of their first album. I have to say, the early signs are good.

The last day of my trip on Sunday started with the winners showcase at the Danny Kyle Open Stage and it was highly enjoyable. All the acts were worthy winners but DLU again produced a stunning set and were by far the best Open Stage band I have seen for years.

Up to the New Auditorium next for the final concert and, just when you thought you had seen it all, something new comes along. There is nothing like having three beautifully dressed Gallician ladies shouting at you while banging tambourines to get things going! Tanxugeiras were excellent. “Thank you Glasgow” seemed to be the extent of their English but they were joined by an accordion player and piper, Manuel Amigo, to do the talking. The whole thing was just great fun.

Duncan Chisholm was the main act, performing his Sandwood CD with a stellar line-up.  With Hamish Napier, Meghan Henderson, Greg Lawson, Jarlath Henderson and Adam Brown among others, this was a high quality band and their performance did justice to Duncan’s music. It was a hugely impressive show and the perfect end to twelve days of (mostly) fine music.

So, that was that. Just time for a quick trip to La Bonne Auberge for a dram with some Ceol Cholasa regulars before the final walk home.  It was a truly sublime holiday and the music and company will live long in the memory.

Ah well, only four months until Oban Live!

 

Hughie

 

 

Celtic Connections 2018 – Part One

After last year’s health problems, January this year saw every sneeze, cough and sniffle sending me into a panic but I made it to the 25th without any problems. Reminiscing with old friends delayed my arrival at the Open Stage but the two acts I saw were both excellent. Nicolette MacLeod produced multi-layered vocals with a loop box and sang beautifully with her guitar. The Canny Band put on a fine set of tunes with keyboard and accordion.

It was then time to pop upstairs for my first main event of the year and it was a beauty. Binneas nam Ban (the Mellifluousness of Women) was an all-female night of Gaelic song. The house band of Jenn Butterworth, Shona Donaldson, Eilidh MacFadyen and  Ingrid Henderson produced a fine backing for the singers and played a couple of cracking sets too. The singing was stunning. The harmonies of Sian were beautiful, Margaret Stewart’s renditions of the more classical Gaelic songs were breath-taking and Kathleen MacInnes was as delightful as ever. It was a great way to start my trip.

 

Day two began with a truncated Open Stage, partly due to artists calling off and partly due to having to be at the 02 ABC by 7:30.

The Daddy Naggins were first on and they were excellent. Bluegrass at its best from this well-established local band. They were followed by the singer/guitarist Joel Gardiner and his set sparkled along nicely. Rebekah Kirk was the final act I saw and she has undoubtedly got talent but some of the songs were a bit samey for me.

The opening act at the 02 was one of last year’s Open Stage winners, Dope Sick Fly and they were very good. Their funk/rap style is not one of my particular favourites but they certainly put on a good show and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then it was time for Big Country to take the stage. It has been 29 years since I last saw them live and I was expecting it to feel like a tribute act but how wrong I was. This was a stomping, crackling Big Country set of the very highest order. The musicianship was superb and the songs sounded as fresh as they had all those years ago. It was a night of nostalgia carried off with style and panache. There is no highlight as the whole show, from the opening strains of Harvest Home to the closing fanfare of In a Big Country was simply magnificent.

It was then time to don the crampons and attempt the hill climb up to the Art School for the Festival Club. Things kicked off with a young trio whose names I didn’t catch. They performed a good set on fiddle, cello and guitar. The night continued with excellent country singing from Corby Lund and Hayes Carll and a great set of tune from Aizle. Talisk then took to the stage and proceeded to blow the place apart with a storming and energetic set of high quality. That seemed like a good time to call it a day and head for home.

 

Day Three kicked off with another excellent Open Stage. The Deadly Winters were first on and were every bit as good as when I saw them four years ago. When Gordon Kennedy appeared on stage with a laptop I was not filled with hope but he produced a stunning set. Beautiful vocals combined with a keyboard and some soundscapes from the laptop and it was hugely effective. The final act I saw were the young Aberdeenshire band The Rowies. They sang and played great old songs with style and skill.

Time for my first visit to the New Auditorium next and, after the slight disappointment of finding that no drink could be taken in, it was a cracking venue with comfy seats and wonderful acoustics. The Fretless were first on and this Canadian/US quartet produced a nice set of tunes on fiddle, viola and cello.

Cara Dillon was the main act of the evening and she performed a sumptuous concert. Laid back, charming and backed by a supremely talented band, she gave an immaculate performance. All of the songs hit their mark but the duet with John Smith was an extra special moment. When she moved to sit by Sam at the piano to sing the final number, barely six feet from where I was sitting, it was a lovely end to the set. An encore of the Parting Glass rounded off the evening perfectly.

Sunday at the Open Stage began with Falkirk Traditional Music Project and the children put on a great set. Callum Jones, a singer/songwriter, was next and he also produced a highly enjoyable set of songs. The Arkansas Ramblers (combined age 660!) came next and their set of bluegrass covers was very good. I only caught the start of the set by Elgin based Dougal’s Jumper but they sounded excellent too.

Back up to the New Auditorium and the opening act was Rory Butler. He is undoubtedly a talented guitarist and songwriter but his songs are just not my thing.

The main act tonight was the first ticket I bought. I had seen I’m With Her three years ago when they first performed as a trio at the Mitchell and I was really looking forward to this one. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Sara Watkins, Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz combine their talents to produce something even greater. The harmonies are beautiful, the songs are excellent and the whole thing is utterly joyful.  It was a concert of highlights but Sara’s vocals on Overland and the unplugged version of Be My Husband were outstanding.

I was in two minds at this point whether to call it a night or brave the weather and head for the Festival Club. The Club won out and it turned out to be an excellent decision. First up was the newly-crowned Young Traditional Musician of the Year, Hannah Rarity and she showed why she won with a cracking set of Scots songs. Bruce Molsky’s Mountain Ramblers were next and it was another cracking set. The banjo picking of Allison de Groot was a joy to watch and Stash Wyslouch’s guitar and vocal backed Bruce perfectly. Their version of Billy Bragg’s Between the Wars was one of the highlights of the week for me. Ceol Cholasa favourite, Karine Polwart took the stage next, singing with Alkinoos Ioannidis and it was a beautiful set that had the crowd yelling for more. David Foley & Jack Smedley were next and they were backed by John Lowrie on drums and Jenn Butterworth on guitar. It was a fast-moving set of self-penned tunes and was great to watch. Jenn stayed on stage and was joined by Hamish Napier, Adam Sutherland, Ross Couper and a whistle player whose name I didn’t catch. They performed as Nae Sense and produced a thumping set that was almost Talisk-like in its rip-roaring, manic quality. As they played an encore at around 2:20am, I decide it was time to call it a night.

So that ends part one of my trip. I have no gigs tonight so I will recuperate and get ready for part two. If it is anywhere near as good as part one, it will have been a successful trip!

 

Hughie

Albums of the Year 2017

 

I thought picking my ten favourite albums of 2017 would be an easy task but that’s not how it turned out. In the end there was just too much good stuff and some had to be cut from the final list. Those that came close but didn’t make it include Midnight Milk by Adam Holmes (perhaps just too much reggae?) and Hey Sammy by Bella Hardy, which I think is an excellent album but it will take more than a couple of plays to be sure.

Anyway, on to those that did make it and here are they are. I have tried to say a few words about each but some need more than that.

Number 10 is All We Have is Now by Elephant Sessions. Their place in the top 10 was probably cemented by their outstanding performance at Ceol Cholasa. This album has a fine mixture of tunes from the laid back Lament For Lost Dignity to the manic strains of I Used To Be a Nice Boy.  The closing track, Doofer, is the Elephants at their best and is one I had on constant play during the summer.

Number 9 is Strata by Siobhan Miller. This was one of the first albums I got this year and it is a wee gem. Siobhan’s voice is outstanding and the song choices are varied and well performed. The outstanding tracks for me are In the Month of January with its superb vocal and The Unquiet Grave which is just beautiful.

Number 8 is The Seventh Wave by Skipinnish. This is another one from early in the year but it still gets played and enjoyed regularly.  Great tune sets mixed with fine songs make this a typical Skipinnish album and that’s no bad thing. There is not a bad track on it but Cro Chinn t-Saile is outstanding.

Number 7 is A Day a Month by Mairearad Green & Mike Vass. A collection of old and largely forgotten tunes are brought to life again by some superb musicianship. The Earl of Hyndford’s Reel is a staggering piece and I liked the slow air Dhomhuil so much, I used it for my Colonsay Memories 2 video.

Number 6 is Bere by Saltfishforty. This is a cracking album of tunes and songs from the Orkney duo and is well worth a listen. The track called Waltzes is beautifully played and the song Woe is great. The album also takes a trip into the jazzy blues with Tired. It is a fine album.

Number 5 is Vere Her by Sigrid Moldestad. This is undoubtedly the surprise of this list. A few months ago I had never heard of this lady. I had my Spotify Release Radar playing while I was doing other things and was suddenly captivated by this voice. A few minutes later I had downloaded the album and played it, then played it again and again. I have no idea what she is singing about but the quality of the songs and the purity of the voice shine through this remarkable album. It is packed with utterly gorgeous songs and is a truly great listen.

Number 4 is Dreams We Never Lost by Tide Lines. As debut albums go, this is a cracker. The songs range from traditional Gaelic to pop-tinged sing-a-longs. Add in the two cracking pipe sets and it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable album. This is probably another one that is cemented onto the list by some excellent live performances, especially at Oban Live where, despite an early slot, they blew the place apart. If you get a chance to see them live, grab it!

Number 3 is Roam by Heron Valley. Heron Valley have been gigging around the area for a few years but this year they seem to have made the leap from a pub band to full blown festival favourites. Abigail Pryde has one of those voices that is immediately recognisable and fits perfectly with the beautifully crafted songs. Home, Adore and Hold On (for Meghan) are excellent songs and Another Day is beautiful.  If the songs were all this album had to offer, it would still be high on the list but it is the remarkable tune sets that make it an unmissable one. They are expertly played but the real triumph is the choice of tunes. The set called Where I’m Heading, which kicks off with the excellent Wee Michael’s March and then proceeds through a range of increasingly manic tunes, is an absolute belter. The Road is another mind-blowing set. All in all, this is an epic album.

Number 2 is Strangers by The Young ‘Uns. I was only vaguely aware of this band through their Radio 2 Folk awards but I hadn’t paid them much attention. After I heard Pedie had given them a rave review for their Shrewsbury set, I decide to have a closer listen and thank goodness I did. This album is a masterpiece from the opening track, A Place Called England to the closing Hartlepool Pedlar; the songs are superb and performed with joy and immense talent. Most songs are a Capella, with the perfect blend of the three voices but on songs like the emotional Be the Man and the ultimately uplifting Dark Water the addition of instruments works a treat. Sean Cooney’s song writing is masterful. I must have listened to this album a hundred times but I still get chills when I hear the opening strains of Cable Street. It is a truly wonderful album and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Number 1 is Between the Earth and Sky by Lankum. Now we come to the difficult bit. I have to find the words to describe this amazing album. The opening track What Will We Do If We Have No Money is stark, simple and absolutely beautiful. The vocal by Radie Peat is accompanied by a simple drone backing with the boys adding harmonies to the refrain. It is a stunning piece of music. Sergeant William Bailey is next with the Lynch boys taking lead vocals this time. This is genuine Irish folk music as it should sound and I could list each track as a highlight because they are all excellent. I know this album will not be everyone’s cup of tea but I absolutely love it. Radie Peat’s vocal on Willow Garden and The Granite Gaze seems to reach in and grab your soul. All the voices blend perfectly on Peatbog Soldiers and the boys are to the fore on the epic Turkish Reveille. This album has something magical about it and is a thing of beauty to be treasured for ever.

 

Well, that’s it for 2017. 2018 has a lot to live up to but with new albums from I’m With Her and First Aid Kit due in January I say bring it on!

 

Hughie

December 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceol Cholasa – Year Ten

Well, where did those ten years go? Yes, Ceol Cholasa celebrated its tenth year and what a cracker it was. It all kicked off with a few fringe events to mark the occasion. The first of these was a guided walk around Garvard Point with Pedie and Dave and it was well attended (although not by me). Then Tuesday afternoon saw a beautiful concert in the new Heritage Centre in the old Baptist Church. The lovely set produced by Sophie Ramsay on guitar and vocals, and Sarah Smout on cello and vocals was a perfect fit for this fine old building. Their rendition of Auld Lang Syne brought a tear to many an eye and their encore, an a cappella version of The Parting Glass, was a delight.

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Tuesday evening saw us return to the Church (some of us an hour early, thanks Liam) for Dave & Pedie’s talk and slideshow entitled “The Last 100”. Some great old photos were shown on the screen as Dave talked us through them and Pedie talked and sang. So many of my relatives from years gone by appeared on the screen it was an emotional night.

The final fringe event on Wednesday afternoon was entitled “A Taste of Colonsay” with a lunch of local foodstuffs enhanced by some tunes and some poetry reading. The food was delicious. There were, among other delights, lamb, venison, lobster, oysters and best of all mouth-wateringly good haggis rolls. I have to say I ate more than my fair share of them. The event was brought to a close by the poetry readings. Richard, Colin and Shonagh read lovely pieces inspired by the land around them but, not for the first time, Pedie stole the show. His poem about life in Machrins was a spine-tingler and tears jerker at the same time and eloquently captured Machrins in days gone by. It was a fabulous event, topped off with my first taste of Wild Island Botanics Gin courtesy of Colonsay Brewery. It was lovely.

The festival proper kicked off on Wednesday evening with the ever popular Local Talent Concert. This was notable for being the first time Liam had sung a solo at a Ceol Cholasa event. By the end of the week, he was an old hand at it. The highlight though, has to be Izzy’s long and ultimately successful search for the next note in the middle of her solo tune. It was an endearing moment in a great wee concert.

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Anthony-John Clarke, a singer-songwriter from Ireland was the main act on Wednesday evening and he put on a great show. Not only did he sing some heart-felt and amusing songs, he was also the funniest man ever to appear at Ceol Cholasa.  His stories had the tears of laughter streaming down the cheeks and songs like The Broken Years brought forward entirely different emotions. It was an absolute joy of a concert and a great start to Ceol Cholasa 10.

The first night of the Festival Club was next on the agenda and it was a nice gentle session to whet the appetite for the magic and mayhem to come.

Day Two started with ever popular Failte Concert, a chance to meet up with old friends and enjoy the craic along with some great music. The music was provided by Pedie, Caitlin & Liam and Sarah & Sophie with a reprise of some of Tuesday’s set for a new and appreciative audience. The second part of the event was a talk by Di Alexander, with readings from his book, “A Potter’s Tale”, and some stories of Colonsay in the 70’s. It was another emotional and highly entertaining session and Di’s signing hand got a good work-out at the end.

The first concert of Thursday evening was The Machrins McNeills and as I was part of it I can’t say much except it was joy to play on the stage with Seumas, Caitlin and Liam in such great form. I will use a quote from Niall Brown on Facebook and say no more. Niall said “The Machrins McNeills were superb – the best I have ever heard them”.

The main act of the evening was Mike Vass & Mairearad Green. Both have appeared at the festival before but this was their first time as a duo. They have both composed some wonderful tunes over the years but, for this project, they have delved into the annals of Highland music and come up with some of the old and largely forgotten tunes. They were, as you would expect, played beautifully with the Gaelic Air being particularly outstanding. The highlight though, was probably The Earl of Hyndford’s Reel, a super-fast, extra-complicated tune which at least one of them managed to get through unscathed. It was a fine performance from Mr Vass and the “Sound of Wester Ross” herself and I am looking forward to listening to the album many times.

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It was then time to head up the road for an unusually early start to the Festival Club and it was a beauty! Some of the guys from Inyal were in full swing when we got there and they were soon joined by Caitlin, Liam, Jen and others as the session grew. It was a pleasure to listen to while catching up with friends and enjoying a small refreshment. After a while, Niall suggested that we move through to the back room and have a go at a few songs. We were joined by a select group of a dozen or so and it developed into one of those great sessions that only seem to happen by accident. Niall was in top form and fielded requests like a pro. Songs from Jim Reeves, Glen Campbell, Don Williams and many more were produced and I chimed in with the inevitable Sonny along with Lucy Jordan and The Great Divide. Seumas joined us for some Corries and Gaberlunzie and we had a ball. Later, as the session that was rather unfairly called “The Young Ones and Jen” wound down, Liam and Keir joined us for some more great songs. It was a cracking night altogether.

The first of the lunchtime open mic sessions was next and although it wasn’t the best attended, it was still highly enjoyable. Seumas & I did a few and a lot of the regulars did their bit too and it was great to see.

The first hall concert of the day was Donald & Jen MacNeill Uncovered. They were introduced by Liam who certainly proved that he is almost a match for Pedie at the acerbic introductions! Pedie & Jen produced a great selection of cover versions with my highlights being Close Your Eyes and the emotional Comedians and Angels. They also did a couple of Pedie’s own songs and Blue Sky, Blue Sea, with its reference to sharing a drink and a song with old friends, was particularly apt after last night’s session.

A complete contrast next with the young experimental trad music act Inyal and they were sensational. The synth and drum backing could be felt through the spine and the juxtaposition with the trad elements of fiddle, smallpipes and whistle was brilliantly done. Their music has so many layers that I immediately wanted to see the show again. The addition of Josie Duncan’s vocals gave the whole thing another level and the Gaelic Air was beautiful. It was a truly remarkable debut.

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The gaps between these concerts were, as ever, filled with an array of local food and drink. The Brewery and the Hotel kept the drink flowing. Gavin and the somewhat cruelly named “Burger Bitch” kept the burgers coming. Margaret’s pies were as delicious as ever and the food in the hotel was lovely. All these things going on behind the scenes help to make this festival great.

The first concert of Friday evening was by Keir ‘n’ the Community. Local shopkeeper and sound engineer (and soon to be Festival Tsar) Keir Johnston was joined by Pedie, Caitlin and Liam and they produced a storming set of Americana that brought the house down. Among the many highlights, there was one of the best moments of the entire festival, when Keir sang Warren Zevon’s Mutineer backed by Caitlin on the keyboard. It was absolutely beautiful.

Next on stage was the Queen of Ceol Cholasa herself, the one and only Kathleen MacInnes. Kathleen appeared in year one and this was her fifth appearance. It was every bit as good as the first four. Relaxed, beautiful singing, expertly backed by Mike Vass and Mhairi Hall, this was a gentle reminder of the depth of talent at this festival. It was about as far removed from Inyal as you can get but it was equally enjoyable.

The final act at the hall on this Friday evening was another returnee from year one. Iain MacFarlane was in Kathleen’s band that year. This time he had joined forces with Ewan Robertson of Breabach and Ceol Cholasa newcomer Dermot Byrne on button box for an absolutely crackling set of tunes and songs. The stories were equally entertaining and when Ewan & Iain sang about Ingie Mhor and Meggie Bhan the tears of laughter were back again. It was another extremely enjoyable set.

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The Festival Club was busy and the craic was flowing along with beer. The session in the main bar was going well but we were a bit disappointed that some of the visiting artists hadn’t arrived to join in. Seumas, Niall and I moved into the Log Room for a few songs and this time we were joined by Alan Davis for some great guitar work and Elaine for some classic jazz. It was another great session and I looked up at one point and discovered the other room was suddenly filled with Elephants and MacFarlane-ites. The session that then started was one of the great ones. Iain was in top form conducting the company and leading the chair dancing as Ceol Cholasa reached a new level of magic.

With great difficulty, I made it back to the Hotel for Saturday’s Pedie-led lunchtime session and it was probably the busiest open mic we have ever had. John gave us the much-requested North West Passage, Stephen became an honorary Machrins McNeill, Mike Vass sang Avril Lavigne and Jen, Pedie and Morna brought chills to the spine with a stunning rendition of Only You. It was a great session.

It seems that Ceol Cholasa is not complete without an appearance by Jenn Butterworth and she was first on at the hall today, accompanying the unbelievably talented fiddler Ryan Young.  Ryan’s performance was majestic and he could almost make the fiddle talk. Jenn’s sensitive accompaniment allowed Ryan to take us through an amazing array of tunes. It was the second sensational debut of the festival.

The second concert of the day saw Keith make a rare appearance onstage alongside Pedie to introduce the first band ever to play at Ceol Cholasa. Rallion marked the occasion by starting off with a reprise of the first song ever sung at the festival all those years ago. They went on to produce a set of songs and tunes that had the feet tapping and the mind going back to the distant days of Ceol Cholasa 1.

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A quick break followed with time for a burger and a very restorative ten minute nap and then it was time to go again. Lorne MacDougall and Friends were the next act on. Lorne has been visiting Colonsay for many years and his piping skills are not in doubt and he showed them off in style. He was, in my opinion, let down a bit by his band. David Foley was excellent on bodhran and Darren and Kathleen’s singing was as good as ever but the rest were, to me, a bit off their game. Having said that, Lorne was very good and they still managed to produce THE moment of the festival for me. The Gaelic song sung by Darren and Kathleen was a majestic piece of work and had me weeping. It was a truly moving and special moment.

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It was then time to welcome back another of the survivors from the first Ceol Cholasa, the Karine Polwart Trio. They gave us a set of beautifully crafted songs that were expertly played and delivered with genuine warmth. Steven’s understated and sometimes overlooked guitar work and vocals and Inge’s ability to produce the most beautiful backing sounds are the perfect backdrop for Karine’s vocals. Picking a highlight is an impossible task but the surprise was undoubtedly a beautiful version of Video Killed the Radio Star. The Buggles at Ceol Cholasa? That has to be a first!

Next up was the act I had been most looking forward to seeing and I am pleased to say, they didn’t disappoint! The Elephant Sessions were just amazing. Alasdair’s mandolin and Ewan’s fiddle are the base for the fantastic tunes but it is the guitar of Mark, the bass and synth of Seth and the drums of Greg that lift these boys to a whole new level. The standard of musicianship is incredible and the hall was absolutely jumping in a way not seen since Manran. You could say it is easy to get a standing ovation when everyone is already out of their seats but there is no doubt that the Elephant Sessions deserved it. What a show!

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You would have thought a lie down was needed after that but Greg was co-opted to join Murray on the accordion and Caitlin on the guitar to keep the dancers going as the Ceilidh got under way. A great selection of tunes was produced and the dancers did them proud as the night in the hall drew to a close.

The Festival Club seemed very busy to me but when the Ceilidh ended, the place was suddenly bursting at the seams. Another MacFarlane led session developed with the Butterworth jukebox also in full swing.  Just when it seemed a song session was not going to happen, Seumas was called over to sing and suddenly it was on. Singing Steal Away with Pedie and Jenn on guitars was probably the best thing I have ever done at the festival. Singing Sine Bhan with Niall and Seumas maybe wasn’t but it was damn good fun. Then, in the midst of the chaos, a moment of sheer beauty.  Iain on fiddle, accompanied by Pedie on guitar, played the slow air The Flower of the Quern. It was an amazing moment of absolute musical brilliance and one that I will never forget.

The final afternoon began with another lovely concert by Kathleen, Mike and Mhairi. The songs were all familiar and beautifully performed as always with the highlight being the ever-popular Reul Allain a’Chuain.

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The Karine Polwart Trio were up next for their second performance of the weekend and it was a belter. This was a totally different set from Saturday which included a lot of the old classics, including my personal favourite, Follow the Heron. The trio were immaculate as always and the 80’s got another run out with John Farnham’s You’re the Voice and a sumptuous version of Billy Bragg’s A New England. It was a gem of a set and probably cemented Karine’s spot as the top act of the festival. Her unaccompanied rendition of Freedom Come All Ye as an encore was the perfect end to a perfect set.

Then came the handover of power with Keir being appointed as the new Ceol Cholasa organiser. He made a nice speech and was joined by Jen to present a scrapbook, which had been signed by most of the festival goers with their memories of past years, to the outgoing organisers, Pedie and Keith. Although Jen’s speech meant that the boat was almost in, there was still time for The Elephant Sessions to give a last glorious set of magical tunes. After all these years, I still get the feeling of disbelief. Here I am, on Colonsay on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September and I am watching the Elephant Sessions in our village hall. Unbelievable!

It was then time for the grand finale and Pedie was joined by Liam & Caitlin for a rendition of Where Have all the Flowers Gone while Keith stood, looking rather happy, between Karine and Kathleen.

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Pedie then persuaded Iain back to the stage for a reprise of the Flower of the Quern and it was another great performance.

Karine then led the assembled artists in a hurriedly-penned song to the tune of Sunshine on Leith. It was a beautiful moment as we all sang “Sailing away from Scalasaig Bay, we will be with you: Here’s to the Chiefs, to Pedie & Keith….” It was another in a long line of magical moments. All that was left then was one last, MacFarlane-led tune set and that was the end of Ceol Cholasa 10.

It has been said many times over the week but it cannot be said enough. Pedie & Keith are due tremendous praise for what they have achieved. There are many helpers but without Keith’s original idea and Pedie’s drive to make it work, none of this would have happened.

I was trying to think what it is that makes Ceol Cholasa so special. The music is outstanding but that can be found at other festivals. The answer, I believe, is the people. People like John, Allison and Stephen joining in the open mic session, the Scousers and the Weegies with their infectious enthusiasm and laughter, Cathy & Martin with their incredible raffle ticket selling skills and the many other regular visitors. Then there are the locals. The staffs at the Pantry and Hotel who work tirelessly to keep us all fed and watered. Seumas and Niall delving into the memories to sing long-forgotten songs. Caitlin and Lickable Liam ready to break into a tune set at the drop of a hat. Jen, with her manic enthusiasm belying her advancing years. Along with the countless others that help to make this a great festival, it all adds up to a truly magical experience.

I will leave the last words to the one-man Ceilidh that is Iain MacFarlane. He said “it’s a special wee festival on a special wee Island.”

So say all of us and here’s to the next ten years.

 

Hughie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oban Live 2017 – Thunder Over the Bay

A weekend of music, fun and manic dancing

Oban Live is over for another year and it was another magic weekend of great music, great weather and great company. The usual suspects were there,(although some were missing). Lee, a veteran from Skerryvore Decade was back, joined by Lauren whose exuberant dancing fitted perfectly with the group. We were also joined by the ladies who became known as “the three Germans”. Names are a bit difficult here as Mr B decided to introduce us all with false names (I was Nigel Johnson for the weekend). There was the unlucky one, who spent day one in the first-aid tent and A&E, the bubbly one (who may have been called Stephanie) and the always dancing (and frankly, quite gorgeous) one who was probably called Ellie. They certainly added to the madness and the dancing was superbly manic. Indeed, during the Skipinnish set, anyone who came within a few feet of our group was grabbed by the arm and swung round. Most seem to enjoy it; some even came back for more!

On to the music then and it was, as usual a fine mix of styles. As we are getting older (noooo!) we paced ourselves and missed some of the opening acts each day. We arrived just as Ceol An Aire & the Argyll Ceilidh Trail were starting off. These youngsters put on a great show and got the feet tapping and the hands clapping during their excellent set.

More West Coast talent next with Trail West and it was another cracking set of tunes and songs that had us singing along and the first signs of the dancing starting to break out.

Admiral Fallow were on next. They are one of my favourite live bands and their lyrics are sometimes seriously beautiful. They split opinion in our group but I loved every minute of their set with “Guest of the Government” being my highlight.

By this stage, it became clear that the bar queue problems from year one had returned. This was disappointing as things had worked so well last year. I spent a large part of Manran’s set in the queue. This is the third time I have seen the band with their new line up and they were on good form. Split opinions again with those who were seeing the new line-up for the first time being a little less enthusiastic while those who had not seen the previous incarnation were much more impressed.

The day’s headliners were next up. I was not really sure what to expect from Toploader as, like a lot of people, I could only remember one song of theirs. As it turned out, it was a very good set and held the audience well until the inevitable closing rendition of “Dancing in the Moonlight”.

As the sun began to set behind the hills, it was time for Skipinnish to do their stuff and boy, did they do it well?!!. To my chagrin, there are still some members of my family who cannot see the magic of this band but they were on awesome form again. They had thousands of people dancing, singing along and, during a short tribute to Barra schoolgirl Eilidh MacLeod, wiping away a silent tear. It was a gem of a set and brought a highly enjoyable day to a stunning climax.

As I waited for the bus to head in for day two, the sky was alive with lightning and thunder was roaring around the bay. Luckily, by four o’clock, the sun was splitting the sky again. Someone up there obviously likes Oban Live.
We arrived in perfect time for the start of the set by Tide Lines. The band were launching their new album, Dreams We Never Lost, and they got the day off to a cracking start. The tune sets were great and the songs were excellent and beautifully written. I have no doubt that Tide Lines will be much higher up the bill by the next time they visit Oban Live.
The organisers had responded to yesterday’s complaints and added lots of extra bar staff and the system worked much better. No more lengthy waits for drinks and the only problem was when we somehow ended up with cider instead of lager!

The next act on were Roddy Hart & the Lonesome Fire and again, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What we got was an excellent set of songs that I thoroughly enjoyed and will definitely look out for this band again.

Up next were last year’s surprise package, We Banjo Three and they once again went straight to the top of most people’s favourite act of the weekend lists. The produced a stunning set of tunes and songs with mass audience participation and had the crowd in the palm of their hand. It was an absolute joy to watch.

The day two headliners were on next and Hue & Cry produced a set which was just what I expected. Expertly performed, jazz tinged soul which did absolutely nothing for me and had me tapping my feet impatiently waiting for their set to end. They are a decent band but, in my opinion, not the right band for this festival.

Time for the final act of the year and there was never any doubt that Skerryvore would raise the spirits and get the crowd buzzing again. The highlight of their set was probably when they were joined by Oban High School Pipe Band for a great set of tunes. The concert built to a glorious climax and the manic dancing was back better than ever before the end. It was a great way to end a really enjoyable weekend.
So, that was it. It was then time to say goodbye to friends old and new and wend our way through the remarkably well-behaved crowds to get some cheesy wiggles (not toasted) and head for bed.
It was a superb weekend, helped by wonderful weather, great music and excellent company. My Celtic Connections disaster is forgotten and it’s time to start counting the days until Ceol Cholasa.
Thanks to all who made it such a fun weekend and hope to see everyone there again next year!

Cheers

Hughie