Ceòlas to host first live music events since onset of COVID-19

Iain Stephen Morrison

South Uist will next month host what is believed to be the first live music events in the Western Isles since the onset of COVID-19.

Ceòlas hopes to welcome people to two live events during the week of its summer school, which is set to run from 5th July 2021 to 9th July 2021.

Last year the annual summer school and all associated events were cancelled because of COVID-19.

However, with the gradual relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, more people can now gather together, with precautions in place, and live music events are restarting in other parts of the country, giving hope to Ceòlas.

Plans are therefore being finalised to allow live audiences to attend a piping recital, featuring more than 10 local pipers, and a concert with local band and multiple festival headliners, Beinn Lee.

Both the live events will happen during the week of the upcoming summer school, in between a series of online concerts, including a virtual iteration of the traditional, week-closing Cèilidh Mhòr.

“We are going to have a piping recital and a concert with Beinn Lee,” explained Mary Schmoller, Development Manager for Ceòlas.

“We have permissions in place but are still working on the final details, which we will announce as soon as possible. It could be the events will happen inside or outdoors.

“We cannot wait, after the difficult times of the past year and more, to welcome back audiences to our events.”

For the first time ever the annual Ceòlas summer school will run online, with classes offered in song, clarsach, step-dancing, piping, fiddle and Gaelic.

Tutors lined up to deliver virtual classes include Màiri MacInnes, Ailean Dòmhnallach, Fin Moore, Sophie Stephenson, Melody Cameron, Alasdair White, Troy MacGillivray, Ingrid Henderson and Eilidh Cormack.

Ceòlas hopes to run a series of outdoor events along with the two live music performances on South Uist.

The Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust (SSPDT) annual schools’ championship is being held this year as an online event and for the first time ever, this freestyle competition is open to primary schools.  

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Instrumental Music Service Piping teacher Esther MacDonald recently encouraged pupils at Balivanich Primary to form a small band and to submit an entry. 

As the timescale has been very short, and with Covid restrictions on singing, and the playing of wind instruments in schools, combined with all instrumental music tuition being delivered online since Christmas, it has been an extra challenge to get a performance together. 

Fiona MacInnes, Principal Teacher at Balivanich School said: “We would firstly like to thank Mrs Esther MacDonald (Piping teacher) for instilling her vision and encouraging self-belief in our pupils. During what has been a difficult time for many, our ABC Band have been motivated and encouraged to excel themselves in their chosen discipline. 

They have willingly rehearsed together during play and lunch times and have also convened through Teams in the evenings for some extra practices. This was made possible by the fact that all members of the band are part of the same school ‘bubble’.” 

A setlist of three songs has been recorded, The Dark Island, Kalabaken, and Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban. The performance is called “An t-Eilean Dorcha”

Fiona MacInnes said: “We feel that our ABC Band’s competition entry conveys the resilience, teamwork and perseverance which our pupils have shown throughout the past few weeks, whilst celebrating our unique cultural heritage. 

Judging will commence on Saturday 27th March at 7pm and we hope that our School Community – near and far – will support our band by taking part in the People’s Choice vote on Sunday 28th March.”

Pupils in the primary school have been described as having ‘a great buzz out of it all, it has certainly brightened up the school day a touch over the last few weeks.’ 

One band member said: “It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this – I have been playing the chanter for two and a half years but I have never joined with other instruments”

After a tough year of restrictions and being in and out of school, the band say they “Feel amazing to be in the band – it’s good to play music with my classmates and I’m excited about it all”

Balivanich School and Parent Council have been very supportive, and local businesses have assisted with the purchase of e-Chanters for tuition in Western Isles schools during Covid restrictions. 

MacInnes Bros. Builders assisted with the purchase of t-shirts for the new band and its members.

Balivanich Primary School wants to give special thanks to Culla Creations for the fabulous job they made of filming the entry.

The pupils in the band have benefitted from tuition provided by the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Instrumental Music Service through the Youth Music Initiative (YMI). 

This funding is awarded annually to local authorities across Scotland with one of the main aims being to allow all school pupils access to a year’s free music tuition before the end of primary school.

Shortlisted films will be broadcast on the Pipe Bands for Schools Facebook page, with the Sgoil Baile a’ Mhanaich ABC band performance scheduled for 7pm on Saturday 27th March. 

Voting for the people’s choice section takes place on Sunday 28th March between 12 noon and 5pm, again via the Pipe Bands for Schools Facebook page, with the full results being announced at 7pm the same day.

The band performance can be viewed here –

Balivanich Primary are the only school in the Western Isles entered this year.

Best of luck to all who participated.

A concert hosted by Taigh Chearsabhagh at the beginning of February is now available to view for free on its website.

Abigail Taylor

A concert featuring leading musicians Julie Fowlis and Ellen MacDonald with appearances from The Band from Rockall was live streamed on Monday 1st February 2021.

Up and coming talents Eilidh Lamb and Robert John MacInnes, and the Taigh Chearsabhagh House Band, featuring Padruig Morrison , Anna Black and James Stewart, also performed, along with the legendary Duncan MacKinnon from Berneray.

More than 3000 people tuned in online to watch the show with some describing the experience as ‘fantastic’.

‘Music of North Uist’ was organised by Taigh Chearsabhagh’s Gaelic Officer, Kathleen MacInnes, the well-known singer, actress and television presenter, originally from South Uist.

Simon Hart, Director of business and development for Taigh Chearsabhagh, said: “We were really pleased to be able to present an event at Celtic Connections. The audience response was really good, both on the night and in the days after.

We hope to use this live performing and online presentation model to bring back later this year Taigh Ciuil, Taigh Chearsabhagh’s highly popular music sessions.”

Videos of all the performances from the Celtic Connections evening can be found at