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My Scotland – The Story

My Scotland – The Story

For all of my life I have believed that Scotland should be an independent country. It wasn’t a decision arrived at through political thinking, it wasn’t based on finances or even on practicality, it just seemed right to me. Why shouldn’t Scotland be an equal of every other country? It seemed so obvious to me.

I well remember the disappointment of the 1979 referendum when 51.6% of the vote wasn’t consider enough to win (if only that rule could have been applied to a more recent referendum then we might not be in such a stagnant mess now). I remember the delight of the 1997 result, even though some people thought devolution would kill off the independence movement (how wrong were they?).

I always thought the 2014 referendum came just too early. Another two years may have made the difference. Or would it? The sad fact is that there is a large swathe of voters in west central Scotland who will cast their vote not on political grounds but purely based on what football team they support. I am a Celtic fan but I was a fan long before I even knew what Catholics and Protestants were, never mind Unionists and Nationalists. There was a picture on twitter during the Independence March in Edinburgh this summer that showed Celtic and Rangers fans united in support of independence. That may have given a glimmer of hope that things may change but that was soon extinguished by reading the deluge of vitriolic replies that followed the tweet. I will always have hope but I fear we have to rid ourselves of this bigoted thinking before Scotland can really deserve to be free.

That is the thinking behind the song, My Scotland, which I have posted on Facebook today.

Hughie McNeill

November 2019 https://www.facebook.com/hughiemachrins/videos/10159069864563835/

My Scotland

The sun shines red, on heather hills, a gentle breeze blows in off the sea;

the air is filled with sweet birdsong but something ‘s not quite right to me

The city streets are filled with life as the crowds go rolling by

the traffic roars, the laughter rings but there’s a dark cloud in the sky

ch

This is my country, this is my land, this is the place that calls to me;

and I’m still waiting for the day when my Scotland will be free.

The snow capped peaks reach the sky, the Golden Eagle soars on high

O’er misty glens, and highland hills, where stark history is nigh

The fruitful seas, the golden sands the green productive farming lands

the whisky stills, engineering skills, but our future’s not in our hands

Ch

There’s a cancer that tears our heart, and it’s been running through the years

If we don’t rid our selves of this bigotry, we will always live in tears

As life goes on, I start to fear: that I may never see the day

But in my heart I will be there when Scotland walks on freedom way

Ch.

Ceol Cholasa 2019

CEOL CHOLASA 2019 – MUSIC, MALT and HILARITY

Back to reality, back to normality, back to work, but it’s not normality as I am still riding the buzz of yet another superb week at Ceol Cholasa. I can’t stop smiling, I can still hear the music and I can sure as hell still taste the Port Charlotte malt!

There are so many memories – from the excellent performance by the school pupils at Failte, to Liam and Caitlin’s epic tune sets there (and at The Machrins McNeill’s gig and everywhere else), Sarah from Flook performing some seriously complicated flute work while standing stock still on one leg, Assynt and Imar pumping out the tunes, Edwina Hayes being simply lovely, Sian and their gorgeous harmonies, The Poozies being amazing and Adam Holmes and The Embers being awesome. Yet, despite all that, the one truly spine-tingling moment came from Pedie’s rendition of Fathers and Sons. It was special.

None of this would have been half so much fun without the punters. All those people who were once strangers arriving off the boat and are now life-long friends. I lost count of the number of times my beard was pulled or stroked or commented on (yes Les Blair, I mean you!) and some of the craic in the pub was outrageously funny.

As usual, Gavin kept us going with his endless supply of pies, rolls and burgers. Chris, Sheena and Holly kept the beer flowing at the hall and Jack, Ruby, Emily and all the hotel staff were on top form to keep things bouncing along at the Festival Club.

Now it is all a memory, the beard has been severely trimmed and I am back at work but boy was it worth it!

It was epic, it was great fun and I really think we should do it all again next year. See you all there!

Hughie

A Brief Visit to Celtic Connections 2019.

Due to my decision to spend a weekend at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Glasgow at the beginning of March, my Celtic Connections trip was rather shorter than usual. Having said that, I still managed to pack plenty in.

After an evening spent catching up with my hosts over a fine bottle of whisky, it was time to get my musical trip started. My first port of call was the Danny Kyle Open Stage and it proved to be a good one to start with. We Three Quinns were this first act I saw and this family band produced a nice set of varied tunes and songs. They were followed by the all-female a cappella trio Tripple who were very impressive with their interesting arrangements of songs old and new. Nova Scotia based fiddler Brad Reid was next on and he played a fine set of tunes accompanied by his guitarist. I just had time to hear the opening songs from highly impressive country duo Black Feathers before I had to leave for my trip to the Mitchell Theatre for my next gig.

This event started off with one of the most surreal moments I have seen in all my eleven years attending this festival. Luis Martens took to the stage and sat at his electric harp, producing the most ethereal and ghostly sounds. Just when we were getting lost in the sounds we were all stunned when the operatic voice of Monica de Nut started singing from the back of the theatre. The show that followed was mesmerising and just ever so slightly weird.

I have long been a fan of Emily Smith but this was the first time I had managed to see her live, this time along with her husband Jamie McClennan. Their set was really good and I will definitely be checking out the album that is due out later in the year. Lovely songs and crystal clear harmonies combined to produce an enjoyable evening. A pint and a blether with some old pals in the Bon Accord finished the day off nicely.

Day Two started with another visit to the Open Stage and it started with a cracking performance from Back West, a superb ceilidh band from Galway. Their set was full of everything Celtic Connections should be about. Stomping tune sets, brilliantly played with a song thrown into the mix for good measure. They got a rapturous reception at the end of the set and another as they emerged from back stage on the way out of the hall. Needless to say, they got absolutely nothing in the awards. I will never quite understand how these things are decided. Next up were the duo with the best name of the festival, Zetor in the Kaleyard. When they started, I thought they were over-reliant on the loop station with guitar, percussion and fiddle all being played by the same person but I have to say it worked really well.

It was then time for me to leave for the walk to the Old Fruitmarket for the night’s triple bill concert. Galician singer/piper Xabier Diaz was on first with his band and they gave a rollicking performance of songs with some amazing percussion. Arcadian trio Vishten followed and, as a huge fan of their recent album, I was really looking forward to this set. I am happy to say it did not disappoint. Great tunes and songs followed and the energy was immense. Only one band could match and even surpass that energy and that was Glasgow based trio Talisk. Hayley Keenan on fiddle, Graeme Armstrong on guitar and the irrepressible Mohsen Amini on concertina produced an absolute cracker of a set filled with passion and no little skill. The audience lapped it up and it was a great way to end day two. 

Friday began with a bonus event that I had booked the day before I came down. It was a lovely concert at the RCS showcasing some past winners of the Young Trad Musician award. Anna Massie, Gillian Frame, Charlie Stewart and Hannah Rarity all showed their talents individually and together and it was a great start to the day. Along the road to the Concert Hall next for another Open Stage. Davey Horne opened things up, followed by Welsh a Capella singer Eve Telford. The best act of those I saw tonight was undoubtedly Cuan. They put on a fine set and are definitely a name to look out for. It was then time to head to the Tron to meet up and share a drink or two with some Ceol Cholasa regulars before and after the evening’s main event. The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff by The Young ‘Uns was an exceptional concert.  Telling the tales of the early life of a Stockton man who was born in poverty, went on the hunger march and fought in the Spanish Civil War, it was show filled with emotion, not just with the wonderful songs but with the added poignancy of hearing Johnny tell the story himself. It was a quite outstanding event.

Saturday began with the annual Piping Concert in the Main Hall, this year being performed by the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland. The first half saw the Development band kick things off with the main band doing the second half. It was a great show with a couple of real spine-tingling moments, including a fine version of Hector the Hero.  The Open Stage was packed out and started off with the youngsters from St Roch’s with a great set of tunes and songs. There were some songs from Grainne Hunt, an excellent set from the Sam, Luc and Malin trio and I just caught a few minutes of The Boxy Gang before it was time to head off.

The Old Fruitmarket was my destination once more, this time for Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook and what a show it was. Karine, backed by an excellent band, sang some of the best Scottish pop and rock songs from the past 50 years and had the old place jumping. There were so many great moments like Louis Abbot’s stunning version of Party Fears Two and Inge Thompson’s singing of Mary’s Prayer. My own highlights were the beautiful version of Big Country’s Chance, a fine rendition of the pop classic I Could Be Happy by Altered Images and, best of all, an absolutely rocking version of The Tourists So Good To Be Back Home. That would have been a great end to the day but, as this was Super Saturday, I still had one more event to attend. It was time for a long walk back into the centre and along Sauchiehall Street to the lovely basement venue in the Blue Arrow Club. After a lot of walking and dancing it was nice to get a comfy seat and get ready for the midnight show. It was performed by former Old Crow Medicine Show singer Chance McCoy and it was another fine show. He quickly caught the mood of the crowd and the show rocked along with some great songs and good banter with the audience.

The final day began with another beautiful concert. Megan Henderson’s New Voices show, inspired by Fort William painter Christine Clark’s impressionistic paintings, was a show of great musicality and some fine pieces.

The queue for the Open Stage final was massive but the craic with Martin and Cathy helped pass the time. As usual, there weren’t many acts in the final that I would have chosen but Sam, Luc and Malin were the exception with another fine set.

My final event was Transatlantic Sessions in the Main Hall and it was a great way to end with a varied selection of singers backed by an exceptional band of musicians. Paul McKenna, Molly Tuttle, Cara Dillon, Tim O’Brien, John Doyle and Gretchen Peters all sang with Tim’s emotional song Guardian Angel being the highlight. If it is emotion in music you are looking for, no-one can deliver quite like Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain. Their version of Phil’s tune, So Long Liam, originally written for his Pipe Dream tv show, was amazing. With John McCusker on fiddle and Michael McGoldrick on small pipes adding to the mix, it was a beautiful and moving moment.

So, that was it. Only 5 days but with 14 events attended and 38 acts seen I think I packed plenty in. Roll on Celtic Connection 2020.

Hughie McNeill

Random thoughts on 2018

2018 is coming to an end and, as I am not spending the festivities a I had planned, I have decided to write down a few random thoughts on the year gone by.

The music was magnificent. From Celtic Connections to Oban Live to Ceol Cholasa and the phenomenal First Aid Kit it has been a memorable year. Ciaran O’Kane’s album was my favourite of the year but it topped a list of absolutely great albums. Not forgetting the emergence of Peat and Diesel as a new and very entertaining band.

Other memorable moments include another spectacular Carluke party, meeting up with Lindsey after all these years, getting back into photography and getting started on Album reviewing.

Other random events spring to mind: Discovering that Whisky can be used as nail varnish remover which saved me from going into work with red and yellow nails.

Agreeing to help a young German volunteer to understand anything she might have difficulty with during a game of Card Against Humanity and the first two things I had to explain were Gary Glitter and Jim’ll Fix It.

Possibly most memorable of all (and definitely the most random) was a certain festival organiser doing a wonderful impression of Theresa May running through a wheat field.

It has been a generally enjoyable year and here’s to another cracker in 2019!

Albums of the Year 2018

 Albums of 2018

What a great year for music it has been. No matter how much I struggled there was no way I was cutting my list down to ten. I was going to list some of those who nearly made it but there are just too many great albums to mention.

Here are my Top 15 albums of 2018.

Number 15 – Botany Bay by Kelly Oliver:

English singer/song-writer, Kelly Oliver has come up with a fine album of old folk songs. The title track and the beautiful Died of Love are two of the highlights.

Number 14 – White on Blue by The Cody Sisters Band:

I got this album from Folk Radio UK to review and it turned out to be a cracker with some great Americana music and brilliant guitar and banjo picking backing up the vocals. It was even more astonishing to discover the girls were only 13 and 15 years old!

Number 13: – Inyal by Inyal:

This is an excellent album with some fine experimental moments mixed with traditional touches and Gaelic songs.

Number 12; – The Pipe Slang by Jamie MacDonald & Christian Gamauf:

A great album of tunes played just as they are meant to be. Tears has already been bookmarked as the music for Colonsay Memories 3 (if it ever happens).

Number 11: – Avalanch by Imar:

This is very impressive album from Imar. A varied selection of tunes, all expertly played. Be Thou is just gorgeous.

Number 10: – No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your F*ckin’ Hedge Cut by Half Man Half Biscuit:

This is a storming return to form for a band from my formative years. The power-punk chords are still there as are the puns and the songs are excellent. Swerving the Checkatrade is the Biscuits at their best while What Made Colombia Famous is just superb.Some albums make you think, some make you emotional. This one makes me grin like a maniac.

Number 9: – The Railway by Hamish Napier:

There are some great tunes and songs here as Hamish Napier charts the rise and fall of the railway system. Jocky the Mole is a cracking wee song and Diesel is a stomping tune.

Number 8: – The Morning Tempest by Josie Duncan & Pablo Lafuente:

This is a very good album, filled with great songs and it is one that I listen to regularly. There is a good mix of covers, some new songs and some fine puirt as well.

Number 7: – Broken Heart of Everything by David Francey:

Another great album from the Canada based Scot, David Francey. The songs are full of emotion and the trials of life. The highlights for me are Come Sunday, Blue Sorrow and Then Some and of course The Flower of Colonsay.

I have been listening to the next six albums constantly over the last few days and I cannot separate them. This is the order they are in as I write this. Tomorrow the order will change. They are pure class and I love them all.

Number 5=:- Ruins by First Aid Kit:

This is a diamond of an album from the Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg. The songs, many written during Klara’s break-up,are emotional and heartfelt and song writing does not get much better than this. Nothing Has To Be True is a beauty and a definite highlight from an exceptional collection of songs. This album was always likely to be high on the list but their fantastic live show made certain of it.

Number 5=:- Keeping Time by The Ennis Sisters:

This is a fantastic album of songs from the Newfoundland trio. Maureen’s voice is simply gorgeous and the harmonies with Karen and Theresa are as good as it gets. There is a fine mix of songs, mostly co-written by Maureen and a lot of them deal with family life including the loss of their father after dementia robbed him of his memories. It also includes the hugely uplifting Go Rosie, Go and the anthemic Daughters of Newfoundland which is up there with the best new songs of the year.

Number 4:- Laws of Motion by Karine Polwart, IngeThomson and Steven Polwart

This is a gorgeous album of songs that try to make sense of this crazy world. I Burn but I Am Not Consumed, tells how a man with Lewis roots became the most powerful maniac in the world and imagines how the rocks of Lewis might react if they could talk. It is a mostly spoken track but is a gem that sums up this powerful album. Cassiopeia (which includes the chilling and frankly ridiculous Government advice on how to survive a nuclear attack) is a very striking track and Crow on the Cradle is another cracking song, amongst many on this beautifully produced album.

Number 3:- Heard a Long Gone Song by Lisa O’Neill:

From the stunning opening a cappela version of Galway Shawl through to the closing cover of Shane MacGowan’s Lullaby of London, this album is just full of surprises. Lisa O’Neill has a unique style which may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I find it mesmerising. There is heartbreak in the tormented A Year Shy of Three and the unbearably sad Blackbird, there is the surreal like the tale of Violet Gibson’s attempt to assassinate Mussolini and then there is the breath-taking beauty of the moment when Radie Peat’s harmony kicks in on Factory Girl. No matter how often I listen to it, that moment stops me in my tracks every time. It is a sumptuous album of true Irish folk music.

Number 2:- The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff  by The Young ‘Uns:

This is not just an album but a history lesson set to music.The package contains a wealth of material giving details of the life and times of Johnny Longstaff. From the Hunger Marches to Cable Street, from the Spanish Civil War to World War II, Johnny had a remarkable life. His voice links the songs and adds a certain sense of poignancy to the album that is rather special. In typical Young ‘Uns style, you are taken from deep sadness in Ta-ra to Tooting (as Johnny says goodbye to his mates before travelling to Spain) to laughter in the next track, Noddy, where he has his first encounter with a naked lady. Perhaps the most striking moment is the final part of the closing track as the fine vocal harmonies of Sean, Michael and David are replaced by the stark and emotional sound of Johnny Longstaff singing about those left behind in Spain.

Number 1:- Round & Round by Ciaran O’Kane:

I was not even aware of Ciaran O’Kane until a few weeks ago but this album has quickly become one of my all-time favourites. It is a mixture of traditional and self-penned songs and it is sometimes hard to spot the difference. Tradition is well served with excellent versions of Banks of the Lee,Willie Taylor and the duet with his Mum on Lord Franklin. Songs like the almost poppy Skim and Round and Round are obviously referencing modern life but SnowDone (a song you would swear was based on an old Pibroch) and the wonderful The Fulldiew Stone sound like they have been around for years. It is fine song writing, the vocal is Irish traditional singing at its best and the musical backing is perfect. It is a very special album.

So there we are. These six albums could have been in any order as they are all amazing pieces of work and well worth a listen if you haven’t already had the pleasure. I have thoroughly enjoyed the music of 2018 and I am looking forward to what 2019 has to offer. 

Hughie McNeill

Ceol Cholasa 2.0 – The Magic Continues

Ceol Cholasa 2018 kicked off with the Thursday afternoon Failte Concert. Seumas and I started things off with a couple of songs and the large crowd were then entertained by an array of local talent. There may be only a handful of pupils in the Primary School but they produced a great wee set of songs and tunes. There were then songs from Pedie, Jan and Niall and some cracking tunes from Caitlin and Liam (with a little help from Neil). It was a very pleasant afternoon and a nice way to begin the festivities.

With the early arrivals now warmed up and wrist-banded and the next lot of revellers coming off the ferry, it was time for the first evening concert. Despite being rather cramped on the stage due to Tide Lines’ massive drum kit, I thoroughly enjoyed performing with the rest of The Machrins McNeills. There is a nice review of the show at https://portmorlobster.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/machrins-mc-neills-at-ceol-cholasa/ Thanks to Pedie for that and for this photo.

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The Machrins McNeills

It was then my great pleasure to introduce Tide Lines to the stage. I am a big fan of the boys and was delighted that they went down so well with the Ceol Cholasa crowd. They just do what they do really well and it was a well-judged and expertly performed set. Robert’s voice is so powerful and he is backed perfectly by Ross on keyboards, Alastair on guitars and pipes and Fergus on drums.

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Tide Lines

The influences of Runrig and maybe a touch of Big Country (complete with E-bow) are there but they have developed their own style. Robert’s singing of Mo Mhathair, sensitively backed by Ross, was outstanding and the emotion-laden performance of Dreams We Never Lost was beautiful.

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The hugely impressive Mo Mhathair

The concert rocked along and the pipe sets brought the dancers to the floor and had the audience clapping and whooping along. When a band like Tide Lines plays in a small hall, sometimes they can seem overly loud but thanks to new Keir and old Pete on the sound desk, it was spot on. It was a great way to get the things under way and the standing ovation was well deserved.

The first night of the Festival Club was next and it was a very good one. There were tunes in the bar, songs in the old dining room and great craic everywhere. Niall was in fine form as always as we worked through a fine selection of songs.  Ian joined us and kept us supplied (with songs) to extend the session. The banter in the log room was also in full swing with Robert taking some of the gloss off his earlier performance by insisting that Ryan Jack was essential to the Scotland midfield. Ach well, drink had been taken so I suppose we can forgive him. All in all it was a great first day.

Friday started with a very busy open mic at the Hotel. Seumas and I started things off with a couple of songs and then the queue began to form. We then had a great selection of songs from performers old and new including some Gaelic songs from a couple of Mull-based Canadian children. We even managed a song about Dog Poo Bags. Ceol Cholasa has everything. It was then time for probably the only major change that was made by the new team. Hamish Napier and Innes Watson performed a great set of tunes and songs in the old dining room at the Hotel. The atmosphere was great and the sound feed into the main bar was excellent. Those in the log room suffered from poor sound quality and that is probably something to tweak for next time. The craic and the music flowed and it was a really lovely set with Hamish’s tune Diesel probably the highlight for me.

Another break followed for the arrival of the next ferry load of festival-goers and the weekend bands. Fara were the first act on and they produced a lively set of mostly self-penned tunes and some beautiful songs. Three Fishers was my favourite moment and the camaraderie between the girls helped make it a very enjoyable concert.

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Fara in full flow

When we were at the early stages of planning this year’s event, Pedie mentioned The Young ‘Uns as a possibility. I hadn’t heard much about them so I got a few of their CD’s and immediately became a fan. I was privileged to be one of only a handful of people in the hall as they started their soundcheck and it was a moment of absolute joy. The concert that followed was immense.

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The Young ‘Uns

The songs were poignant and beautiful, the harmonies were exceptional and the banter in between was simply hilarious. All the songs were brilliant but I thought These Hands was a highlight. Sounding much more emotional than the album version, it brought a tear to the eye. It was, in short a superb concert.

The final act of the evening was the return of Cara who had first graced our stage five years ago. They have undergone a few line-up changes since then but Gudrun and Jurgen are still at the heart of it and new members have fitted in seamlessly.

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Cara

This was a set of great tunes and some lovely songs with the old Colonsay favourite Torn Screen Door being a highlight for me. The bodhran solo from Aimee Farrell Courtney was also spectacular and it was a fine return for the band.

The Friday night Festival Club was another busy one with the music and craic flowing. The whisky was also flowing and by the time the song session started we were all a bit inebriated but we ploughed on manfully. By the time we had finished, half the company were asleep. It was a great wee night but possibly not the ideal preparation for the weekend to come.

Saturday started bright and early (well, early anyway) as we headed back to the hotel for the workshops. The Young ’Uns’ harmony singing workshop was very well attended and was almost as funny as their show the night before. That was followed by part one of what turned out to be a one-part composition workshop by Hamish Napier. It was highly interesting and enjoyable session.

It was then time for Teuchtars Do Punk and the session kicked off with regular performer Stephen doing his version of Golden Brown by The Stranglers. I chipped in with some Sham 69 and some visiting musicians gave us some XTC and Nick Lowe. I then opened the floor up to those who didn’t have a punk song and Allison gave us a song and we had some more Gaelic from the Mull children. After a mass audience participation in I Don’t Like Mondays it was time to end the session and head back to the hall.

First up at the hall on Saturday was Donald Pedie MacNeill with his audio-visual extravaganza (OK, it was a concert with some slideshows). Pedie’s songs are emotional enough already but the added nostalgia of pictures of times gone by and people no longer with us raises this to a new level. Pedie was joined on stage during the show by Jen on vocals and Liam on bodhran and banjo as the show clipped along nicely.

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Jen, Pedie and Liam

The new (to me) songs were beautiful but it was the old favourites, The Hall in 59, The Journey and perhaps most of all Winter Sun that brought tears to the eyes as memories flooded back. The concert was brought to an end with a rendition of Hooray Henry that brought to mind a story about an American going fishing….but perhaps we will save that gem for another day.

Fara were next on stage with their second set of the weekend and there were one or two murmurs that it was almost the same as the first set. As I had been busy with wristbands I had missed part of their first concert and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this set. My Heart’s in the Highlands was beautifully sung and the musicianship was first class throughout. The ladies seem to spark off each other and there is a genuine warmth that makes them a joy to watch.

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The four fiddles of Fara

As always during Ceol Cholasa we were well looked after and kept supplied by Gavin and the Pantry team, Ivan and the Hotel crew and the Nisbet family in the Colonsay Brewery bar at the hall. All their hard work is much appreciated and it is part of what makes the event so special.

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The pie queue was long but worth the wait

The hall looked very different for the next event with a white gauze sheet stretched across the front of the stage. Whyte performed their Gaelic electronica mix behind it while images were projected onto the screen in front of them. It was a fascinating and at times surreal show. Some of the imagery was beautiful while some seemed somewhat superfluous. For me, the music followed a similar pathway. Some of it seemed a tad overblown but when they got it right, as in the lovely Leis a Bhata and the stunning An Lair Dhonn, it was a thing of majesty. It was an intriguing and strangely compelling show.

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The ghostly figures of Whyte can be seen through the screen

Once the stage had been returned to its more normal state it was time for Hecla to perform. They are trio of supremely talented young musicians with Ailis Sutherland on smallpipes and flute, Ilona Kennedy on fiddle and Colonsay’s own Caitlin McNeill on guitar. The tunes were all beautifully performed and the quality was extremely high. If I had one minor criticism it would be that a couple of songs added to the mix would have been nice. That said, it was a highly enjoyable set of tunes and was well appreciated by the audience.

The final concert of the night was by the Jarlath Henderson Band and they produced a fine set of tunes and songs. Jarlath’s voice is perfectly suited to the Irish folk songs he sings and his prowess on the Uilleann Pipes is world renowned. The tunes were excellent and with Duncan Lyle on bass and synth, Hamish Napier on keys and Innes Watson on guitar the band gelled perfectly. The closing song, Courting is a Pleasure, with its superb synth intro was a cracking end to a fine set.

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Jarlath Henderson Band

 

Ceilidh time was next with the Caitlin McNeill band on stage. Caitlin on (borrowed) guitar, Murray on the box, Christian on pipes and Calum on drums produced a magic set of tunes to keep the dancefloor full and the dancer breathless throughout the two hours. After we had got over the shock of the ever-young Jen deciding to have an early night it was time to head back up the hill for the festival club. A song session with Gudrun, Pedie and the Young ‘Uns was in full swing when we got there and South Australia had the packed bar singing along. There then came the best moment of this and probably of any festival. Standing three feet away from Sean, David and Michael as they sang The Auld Triangle was breath-taking, spine-tingling and utterly, utterly magical. By this time the bar was bursting at the seams so the session split with music in the bar and Pedie and Niall, helped by Alan, Jan and myself, leading a great song session in the old dining room. As always the songs kept coming. Old country favourites, sixties pop, folk and Gaelic all mixed together and it was another great night to be part of. Alasdair Whyte even managed to find the elusive extra verse to Sine Bhan. Needless to say, my plan for a reasonably early night went out the window.

I had a much needed lie-in on Sunday as Seumas went up to the hotel for the well-attended Gaelic workshop with Alasdair Whyte at the hotel. Unfortunately the second workshop didn’t pan out as planned but, in typical Ceol Cholasa fashion a guitar was produced and the punters were entertained.

It was then time to head back to the hall for the final afternoon of concerts and it was the return of Cara that was first on the list. They produced an even better set than the other night and it was a fine way to kick off the final day. The tunes were cracking and the songs hit the mark with Moran Taing and Haul Away being the highlights.

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Gudrun in fine voice with Cara

The penultimate concert this year was the return of The Young ‘Uns and it was unbelievably good. Tears of laughter mixed with tears of emotion as they took us from one hilarious bit of banter to a heartfelt song in the blink of an eye. The interaction with those in the bar was priceless and was heightened when Sean ran up the stairs to help them with their part of the song sung in rounds.

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The absolute stars of the weekend – The Young ‘Uns

The Windows Song had the tears of laughter flowing again and The Streets of Lahore had a very different emotion running through the hall. It was quite simply the best set I have ever witnessed and will live in the memory for a long time to come.

It was then left to the Jarlath Henderson Band to bring things to a close and they did so with another sparkling set. The tunes crackled along at a pace and the songs were beautifully performed. The boys judged the set perfectly and it was wonderful final concert. That just left time for the Grand Finale which started with Hamish and the Young ‘Uns leading a bothy ballad before the musicians took centre stage with a Jarlath led glorious final stramash of tunes leading to one final standing ovation.

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The dancers in full swing at the Grand Finale

And so that was that. The end of the first Ceol Cholasa 2.0 but this was really just carrying on the great work started by Pedie and Keith. These two men did a great thing in starting this event off and developing it along the way but I think Ceol Cholasa is in good hands with Keir at the helm. Anyone who is willing to raise the flagging morale of the team by doing an impression of Theresa May running through a wheat field is obviously a born leader.

It was once again great to see so many familiar faces in the crowd and heartening to see lots of new faces who will hopefully become regulars. As Keir said during his transcendental speech, it is their festival as much as it is ours and long may it continue. Amid all the comments saying how great it had been and how much it had been enjoyed there was one that brought a chill to the spine. How are you going to match this next year? Rest assured we will do our best!

Well dear reader, that is the end of this year’s review and, as it is my ninth I feel it is probably time to relinquish my reviewer’s pen, at least temporarily, and give someone else a go. Your kind comments over the years I have been doing this have been greatly appreciated and I look forward to seeing you all next year. Thanks a million.

 

Hughie

 

 

 

 

 

 

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