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Ceol Cholasa 2012

October 15, 2012

So, here we go again. Is it really a year since The Poozies and Lau?

Ceol Cholasa celebrated its 5th anniversary this year by starting the Festival a day earlier. MV Finlaggan was packed with festivalgoers on the Wednesday afternoon and the atmosphere on board was a great indication of what was to follow.

The first night belonged to Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham. Making their second visit to Ceol Cholasa, this talented duo produced another sparkling set. From the sweeping emotion of “Herr Rolloff’s Farewell” to the flying fingers during the set of Fergie MacDonald tunes, this set was hugely entertaining. The jokes and banter helped things along and were funny and informative. We now know that “Castle Dangerous” is a novel by Sir Walter Scott and not a sign seen on a dilapidated medieval building. When they dedicated their final tune (“The Centenary Jewel”) to my mother it rounded off the evening perfectly.

Day two began with the Thursday afternoon “Failte” concert. This informal, acoustic set is a great way to meet up with old friends, check that the Colonsay Lager is as good as ever(it was!) and get a sneak peek at some of the acts to come.

Pedie kicked thing off and introduced us to one of the stars of the weekend, Roberto Diana, who gave us a small preview of the excellent guitar playing that was to be seen throughout the festival.

Seumas and I played a couple of songs and Anna and Outi gave us a taste of the delights to come but the main man of the afternoon was Lorne MacDougall. Lorne’s set (played on the big pipes, small pipes, low whistle and whistle) was fantastic stuff. Playing his own tune called “Scalasaig” in the Scalasaig Hall was a nice touch, even though he spoiled it slightly by admitting that he had written it BEFORE he first visited the Island!

The early evening concert was a double-header with Anna MacDonald first up. Anna has been a Ceol Cholasa regular since day one and the festival just wouldn’t be the same without her. She was joined by her friend Outi Smith on piano and backing vocals and they produced as sparkling set of songs. Their voices blended beautifully and they had the audience singing along with gusto.

Next on stage was Roberto Diana from Sardinia. Roberto is an artist on the guitar and can almost make it talk. Although he apologised for his poor English, Robbie managed to convey the stories behind his tunes to an appreciative audience. His dexterity on the guitar has to be seen to be believed and tunes such as “Coffee Break” transport you to the busy railway station where it was written. An exceptional show.

After a short beer and burger break it was time for the Local Talent Showcase. This is always an impressive show and the fact that it was the main Thursday night event gave it an added boost this year.  The array of talent on show made it difficult to pick highlights as all were enjoyable. One of the stand-out moments was young Mod winner Duncan Carmichael who sang beautifully. He was then joined on stage by his sister Michaela for a duet that enraptured the audience and got the loudest cheers of the night.

It seems a bit harsh on the other acts just to pick out a few moments but Jan & Caitlin’s rendition of “The Kings Shilling” was beautiful and deserves a mention. The finale of the show saw Kate, who was in fine voice; lead the company in “Come by the Hills” followed by a group rendition of “Hard Times”. Then came the first spine-tingling moment of the festival:  Steve Earle’s “The Mountain” was an inspired choice and the vocals of Keir and Izzy were outstanding. A great finish to a wonderful show.

It was then time to head up to the Hotel for the Festival Club. A few tunes from Donald the box helped the session go with a swing. Good music, good craic and Gavin re-introducing Seumas and me to the delights of the late night dram session!

Day three started with the first Lunchtime Session of Ceol Cholasa 2012. Pedie kicked things off and Seumas and I did a couple of songs. We then had to leave to prepare for our afternoon concert but I have been told that the session was very good.

It was back to the hall then for more from yesterday evenings stars, Roberto & Anna.

Roberto produced another great set of highly technical and entertaining guitar tunes. His tune called “Empty Rooms”, written when he returned to the family home after the death of his parents, was heartbreakingly good. Listening to this supremely talented performer singing a Sardinian folk song in Colonsay Village Hall was one of the unexpected pleasures of the festival.

Anna and Outi were up next for their second performance and it was another cracker. Anna was better than ever and the addition of Outi’s piano playing and vocals added that special extra something to the show. Anna’s song “London Town”, telling of her feelings when she first moved there, was beautiful and moving. The girls ended the show with the ever popular “Naj’s Song” and left the audience wanting more.

The Machrins McNeills were next up and we had a ball. Liam was in top form on the Djembi and Caitlin showed her versatility with guitar, vocals, mandolin and whistle. Despite his back-stage health scare (or was it just a ploy to be examined by Dr MacDonald?) Seumas was in fine voice and I even remembered most of the word to my song.  Hopefully the audience enjoyed it as much as we did!

After quick trip to The Pantry for takeaway fish and chips and to the boat to welcome the late arrivals (and digest the news that Karine Polwart had missed the ferry), it was time to return to the hall.

The first of the weekends visiting performers was Orkney singer/songwriter Ivan Drever.  Armed with just a guitar, Ivan held the audience in the palm of his hand. The show built from a mellow laid back start to end with some great audience singing which seemed to surprise and move Ivan. The great songs and wonderfully played tunes kept coming. My particular favourite was “The Rose of St Magnus”, written after the Queen visited Orkney “to open a window”. A beautiful tune beautifully played.  The audience singing reached a peak with “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and continued with Ivan’s “Wont You Come Home” despite the complicated nature of the chorus!

All in all a lovely, relaxed and entertaining set and a great start to the evening.

It was then time for father to make way for son when the Kris Drever Trio took to the stage. Kris is now a Ceol Cholasa regular as this is the third different combination he has appeared with. With Eamonn Coyne on banjo and guitar and Megan Henderson on fiddle and vocals they produced a superb set.  The tune sets crackled with energy and drive and were effortlessly played. The songs by Kris with Megan backing were beautiful and Eamonn’s craic was wonderful, even if Kris & Megan seemed very worried every time he reached for the mic!

As the weather and Cal Mac had conspired to deny us the delights of Karine Polwart, it was time to head up to the pub for the club session, and what a session it was.

The place was packed and there was music taking place in various rooms and corners. The best, and certainly the longest lasting of these sessions was in the main bar. Laoise on harp, Alana on whistle, Pedie on whatever was around, Kris, Bella, Eamonn, Megan on fiddle, Seamus O’Kane on bodhran with Kathleen and Sineag on vocals it was an amazing session. Others joined and all added something to the mix. I reluctantly left at one point to go to the toilet, heard two other sessions on the way and even heard Izzy’s voice singing outside the window. An absolutely magic night all together!

Saturday began with the annual “Teuchters do…” session. This year’s subject was One Hit Wonders.

Seumas and I kicked things off with our Brian & Michael impression (Matchstalk Men…) and continued with the somehow appropriate “Oldest Swinger in Town”

By this time there was a queue of people waiting to perform. Pedie hit the jackpot with a double One Hit Wonder. “Have I the Right” being a hit for The Honeycombs in the 60’s and the Dead End Kids in the 70’s. Too many performers to name them all but Jan’s “Rose Garden”, Morna’s “Mad World” and Izzy’s remarkable two person guitar version of “Kiss Me” deserve special mention. Thanks also go to Stephen, Mike and the many others who joined in the fun!

The first concert of the day in the hall was Pedie and Jen. They were joined this year by Roberto Diana on guitar and Susan Appelbe on cello. The extra instruments added depth to the sound with Roberto’s slide guitar and Susan’s mournful cello enhancing Pedie’s wonderful songs. There were a couple of new songs that I hadn’t heard before, both of which tugged the heartstrings and stirred memories. Other highlights included “The Spencer” and the song Seumas rightly called the best song ever written on Colonsay, the wonderful “Fathers and Sons”. Jen’s vocals on “The Last Trip” were outstanding and that song has never sounded better. Morna joined the family on stage for the excellent finale of what was a hugely enjoyable concert.

Ivan Drever returned to the stage next and carried on from where he had left off the previous day. The guitar playing on tunes like “Rowan Tree” was a joy to listen to. Highlight for me was the old Wolfstone number “Song For Yesterday” which was beautifully sung and conjured up memories of a night in McTavish’s Kitchens during the Oban Mod in 1992 when the band were at their peak. Ivan certainly left Colonsay with a new army of fans.

After a quick run home for sustenance it was time to return to the hall for the first appearance of the weekend by Ceol Cholasa regular Kathleen MacInnes. Accompanied by the irrepressible Laoise Kelly on the clarsach, Sineag MacIntyre on vocals and Seamus O’Kane on bodhran, Kathleen was in top form. Her singing was superb and her personality shone through and gave the whole thing an intimate feel. As someone put it, it was” like she was in your front room”! Lots of great songs and a tune set from Laoise but the highlight for me was the spine-tingling “Tha Sneachd Air Druim Uachdair”. It was electrifying.

Another highlight that brought a cheer and a sigh of relief from the audience was when Kathleen informed us that the “will they, wont they” saga was over and the next act were “on the slip!”

After a day of rumour and counter-rumour, the news that Manran and Deoch N Dorus had finally arrived after a hectic trip in a RIB from Crinan through worsening weather was great to hear.

When I am planning this review each year I tend not to trust my memory and instead take copious notes as things are going on. Unfortunately, all I have written for this gig was “Manran – Woo Hoo!”

To be fair it’s very difficult to take notes when you are dancing about like a mad thing and “woo hoo” just about sums it up. I don’t think I have ever seen such an energetic and electric performance on stage anywhere. From the moment they took to the stage Manran had the place shaking. Stonking tune sets, great songs and good craic, all delivered with a boundless energy that almost lifted the hall off its foundations. The newly formed “mosh pit” was a great idea but in the end the seated audience spent most of the set on their feet anyway. If that’s how Manran perform after a journey that rated “8 out of 10 on the scariest things in my life”, I can’t wait to see them when they are on top form. Amazing show. Woo hoo indeed!

Another much needed beer break followed and, after some running repairs had been done to an accordion that obviously didn’t enjoy its trip on the RIB either, it was time for the Ceilidh. Deoch n Dorus were the band this year and a fine job they made. The dance floor was packed and the tunes kept coming at a frenetic pace. Barn Dances, Schottisches and Reels were danced with gusto and all too soon it was time for the Last Waltz.

By the time the Ceilidh was over and some of the revellers had dispersed, it was too late for the pub. A ring of chairs was laid out in a secret location and the “Circle of Music” began. This was an excellent session with fiddles, guitars, pipes of various sizes, a bodhran, some great singers and some funky dancing! It was a joy to be part of it. The session went on until the wee small hours and never flagged. My highlight? Well, singing “Your Cheating Heart” at 4:45am along with Kris, Bella, Megan and the rest of the company – it just doesn’t get much better than that!

The final day of Ceol Cholasa 2012 started with a concert by Caitlin McNeill and her band. From the opening strains of “Time Wears Awa” to the closing number, Karine Polwart’s “The Sun’s Coming Over the Hill”, Caitlin’s exceptional voice delighted the audience. Ably backed by Alana MacInnes on pipes & whistle, Robbie Greig on fiddle and the excellent Lee Mackintosh on guitar, she put on a super show which was warmly received. Watching her remarkable development since the first Ceol Cholasa, I wonder just how good she will be in another five years? The sky’s the limit, I think!

Next up it was time for Kathleen MacInnes to make her second appearance of the weekend. Although the stresses of the weekend meant that her voice wasn’t quite up to the high standard of the previous evening, Kathleen’s warmth and humour carried the show. Backed once again by the lovely vocals of Sineag and the occasionally wayward clarsach playing of Laoise, this was another fine set. The stars of Thursday evening’s concert, Duncan & Michaela were invited on stage and reprised their duet to more rapturous applause. Old Colonsay favourites like “Reul Alainn a’Chuain” and “Gur Milis Morag” were well received. A lovely, relaxed and fun show.

Another break followed, this time filled by one of Gavin and Morag’s excellent pepper steak burgers and then it was time for the closing act of the year. The Kris Drever Trio produced another cracker. The tune sets sparkled with the banjo playing of Eamonn Coyne and Megan Henderson’s fiddle. Boo Hewerdine’s “Harvest Gypsies” is a great song on CD but seems to become a different beast in the live set. Great vocals and cracking instrumentals made this song one of the highlights of the whole weekend for me. The show had the added bonus of a guest appearance from Bella Hardy to add even more to the mix with her stunning vocals.

For the finale, the trio were joined on stage by Ivan, Lorne, Kathleen, Seamus, Sineag, Laoise, Andy and Bella to give us a great set of tunes and songs to finish off the show. After prolonged applause, the Trio returned for one more song to bring down the final curtain on Ceol Cholasa 2012.

Five years ago, such a week of music on Colonsay would have been unheard off. It is a huge tribute to Keith and Pedie that it is now considered the norm. Long may it continue!

The men who made it all happen!

See you next year.


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  1. Jen permalink

    I love your reviews Hughie, they make me feel like I’m back at the festival!

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