Gaelic music will be celebrated with live audiences once again across the Highlands and Islands as the Blas Festival returns to the stage next month – with an impressive line-up of traditional musicians and singers, writes Katie Mackenzie.
Most weren’t able to perform for over 18 months due to the pandemic. Musicians including Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw and Charlie McKerron, Skipinnish front man and singer, Norrie MacIver and BBC Radio 2 Folk awards winners, Mischa Macpherson, Brìghde Chaimbeul, Ross Ainslie and Tim Edey, will perform during the nine-day festival which will take place in venues from Staffin in Skye to Strathy and Applecross to Arisaig.
The Blas Festival, which celebrates Gaelic culture and the thriving Scottish traditional music scene over nine days of events in venues across the Highlands and Islands, will host 26 concerts and cèilidhs as well as a variety of workshops and Facebook Live events. Blas, which means ‘taste’ or ‘sample’, is organised by Fèisean nan Gàidheal in partnership with The Highland Council and will take place from 19-27 November.
As always, there will be a host of great piping concerts throughout the nine-day festival. On opening night of this year’s Blas, 19th November, there will be a special night in South Uist celebrating the Uist singer, piper and tradition bearer, Catriona Garbutt, who will be joined by fellow Uist musicians and singers including Sineag MacIntyre, piper Dr Angus Macdonald, Catriona’s nephew Niall Campbell and Ruairidh Gray.
Also on opening night, Lewis piper and Silver Medal winner, James Duncan Mackenzie (pictured top), will perform at An Lanntair in Stornoway, alongside his wife, Gaelic singer and harpist, Katie Mackenzie. BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners Ross Ainslie and Brìghde Chaimbeul (pictured on stage below left on smallpipes) will be performing at several venues; Ross will perform with Tim Edey in Arisaig on 20th November and in Resolis on the 24th whilst Brìghde will be at Inverness Town House on the 20th November and in Roybridge on the 22nd.
Folk band Dàimh, featuring piper Angus Mackenzie, will play in Gairloch on the 22nd November, Assynt, featuring David Shedden, will take to the stage in Croy on 25th November and young trio, HECLA, will perform alongside Gaelic singer, Norrie MacIver, on 26th and 27th November.
Other highlights of this year’s Blas include young folk band, Eabhal, along with Gaelic singer, Deirdre Graham, in Lochcarron; fiddler Iain Fraser will the premiere his new album Gneiss which was commissioned by Fèis Rois; Celtic Praise in Inverness Cathedral with John Murdo Martin and Isobel Ann Martin; and husband and wife duo, Fionnag NicConnich and Brian Ó hEadhra in Lochinver and Applecross with their family and Emma MacLeod, a Gaelic singer from Scalpay, who went viral on Twitter during lockdown with her stunning contribution to #CovidCeilidh, which was started by Highland fiddler, Duncan Chisholm, and who won the prestigious Traditional Gold Medal at last week’s National Mòd.
Arthur Cormack from organisers, Fèisean nan Gàidheal, added: ‘In what has been another challenging year for musicians and communities, we are looking forward to bringing the Blas Festival back to audiences across the Highlands. Musicians contributed greatly to the wellbeing of people during lockdown periods and we hope they will now be supported as live events take place once again.’
Shona MacLennan, Ceannard, Bòrd na Gàidhlig commented: ‘We are delighted that the Blàs Festival will be bringing Gaelic song and music to audiences throughout the Highlands this year. The online event last year provided a welcome uplift in a very challenging year and the Festival’s impact will be even greater with live audiences.’
The full programme of events can be found at www.blas.scot along with details of how to purchase tickets.