This year’s commission at Blas Festival, Gaol no Gonadh?, will see three artists featured in a series of concerts take a light-hearted look at Gaelic songs of love and loss.
Gaol no Gonadh? which means love or loss, will feature Gaelic singers and musicians, Rachel Walker and Ewen Henderson sing some of the most beautiful Gaelic love songs, accompanied by interesting stories and introductions by Jo MacDonald. The songs and accompanying stories will explore courtship, heartbreak, marriage, the marital state and the consequences of remaining single; ensuring an evening of beautiful songs, tears and laughter.
These unique concerts will take place on the following dates: 27 November, Glenelg Village Hall, 7.30pm; 28 November, Maclean Room at Eden Court, Inverness, 7.30pm; 29 November, Achmore Village Hall, 7.30pm; 30 November, Ben Nevis Distillery, Fort William, 7.30pm, with support from Lochaber Gaelic Choir.
Jo MacDonald is a native Gaelic speaker from Lewis. During her career spent largely with the BBC, she worked mainly in factual and education programming. Before leaving the BBC at the end of 2008 she was Managing Editor of BBC Gàidhlig. Jo, who still broadcasts occasionally, but works mainly as a freelance researcher, writer and translator, is a Board Member of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and MG ALBA.
Rachel Walker is a well-known Gaelic singer, songwriter and tutor, based in Lochaber. Rachel has performed extensively throughout Scotland and further afield and has recorded three solo albums, whilst also adding her voice to many other recordings, including many of the Skipinnish albums, and most recently providing backing vocals on Arthur Cormack’s new CD, Buanas. Rachel is the conductor for Lochaber District Gaelic Choir and she also won the An Comunn Gàidhealach Gold Medal for solo Gaelic singing in 2017. Adding to her busy schedule, Rachel works as a lecturer of music at West Highland College UHI, where she is the course leader of the music department.
Ewen Henderson hails from Lochaber and has been steeped in the traditional music and Gaelic culture of the area from an early age. Ewen started learning the fiddle at five years of age and has since then mastered an impressive array of instruments, having had the privilege of learning from many of the true masters of West Highland traditional music whilst also being influenced by his strong family musical heritage. Ewen is a founding member of the multi award-winning group, Mànran.
Blas, which means ‘taste’ or ‘sample’, is organised by Fèisean nan Gàidheal in partnership with The Highland Council and will take place from 22-30 November, culminating in a variety of events across the Highlands to celebrate St Andrew’s Day. It aims to celebrate Gaelic culture and the thriving Scottish traditional music scene over 8 days of concerts, cèilidhs and workshops in venues across the Highlands and Islands.
In a programme which really does offer something for every member of the family, as well as the 20 main concerts and cèilidh, there will also be daytime cèilidhs, a series of song lectures and a special schools programme which will see some of the musicians visit local schools for performances and workshops.
Other acts at this year’s Blas, which takes place in a variety of venues across the Highlands and Islands, from Aviemore to Barra, include the Gary Innes Band, Cape Breton sisters, Dawn and Margie Beaton, Tideline’s Robert Robertson and Ross Wilson, Sian, Iain Macfarlane and Ingrid Henderson and neo-trad trio Project Smok.
This year will also feature two special partnerships. Blas and Small Halls Festival will present shows in Kyleakin and Edinbane featuring a world-class line up of musicians including Capercaillie’s Donald Shaw, fiddler Duncan Chisholm, Granton-on-Spey multi-instrumentalist and composer Hamish Napier and BBC Young Folk Award winner, uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson. The Highland capital will also host a show by electronic celtic fusion super group, Niteworks, at Ironworks, a partnership between 432 and Blas Festival.
Arthur Cormack, Fèisean nan Gàidheal chief executive, said: ‘Blas Festival has become an important event in the calendar for communities across the Highlands and Islands since its inception in 2005. We are delighted to be able to put on Blas Festival this year, once again, to showcase and celebrate our homegrown talent.’
Creative Scotland’s Siobhan Anderson added: ‘Fèisean nan Gàidheal has produced another excellent Blas Festival programme this year taking place at venues large and small, across the Gàidhealtachd.
‘In this, the UNESCO Year of Indigenous Languages, it is particularly encouraging to see so many top artists from Scotland’s vibrant Gaelic music scene performing alongside international artists and younger emerging talents.
‘From cèilidhs to massed performances, Blas celebrates and promotes Highland culture to audiences coming from far and wide.’
The full programme of events can be found at www.blas-festival.com along with details of how to purchase tickets.