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Ceol Cholasa 2.0 – The Magic Continues

September 20, 2018

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 Thanks to Pedie for that and for this photo.


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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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.









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  1. Jac Gallacher permalink

    Great review. You must take notes as it’s a long tiring weekend and easy to forget bits. So I always enjoy your review as a reminder.

    Well done to Keir and the team I am sure Pedie and keith are pleased to see their creation blossom and go on.

    See you next year x

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