A song will be sung
The weather in Daliburgh didn’t quite live up to the name of ‘bright hill’ on Friday 13th May, when the team behind Cnoc Soilleir gathered to celebrate another important milestone in the project’s history: the formal handing over of the keys of its state the art community building
The rain did hold off however, as Board members past and present, along with contractors Neil MacInnes and David MacInnes, were piped into the building by Ceòlas Tutor Allan Henderson.
Sue Macfarlane, Principal of UHI Outer Hebrides, and Chair of the Cnoc Soilleir Board, was delighted to formally take ownership of the keys on behalf of the community: “Today is the culmination of our shared ambition and the collective efforts of everyone involved – not just UHI Outer Hebrides and Ceòlas, but the contractors, the funders and the local people who have supported us over the years. We have all put our hearts and souls into this project and I’m just delighted this breathtaking building is now the community’s to enjoy.” The formal handover will be followed by a community open day on June 13th, when everyone will be welcome to share in the celebrations with the Cnoc Soilleir team.
Ceòlas Chair and Cnoc Soilleir Board Director Mairi MacInnes, who was unfortunately unable to attend the event, encouraged people to come along to see the building for themselves when it opens to the public on June 13th: “A warm welcome awaits everyone who drops in on the open day and perhaps a song will be sung and a reel or two will be danced!”
Mairi continued: “Getting Cnoc Soilleir Phase 1 built during lockdown has been a tremendous achievement and this has been possible because we contracted a local construction company. Great credit is due to our staff , the design team and MacInnes Bros for rising to the unprecedented challenges of Covid.
“Ceòlas is excited about holding the July Summer School in CS – the first since 2019.”
Work at the Cnoc Soilleir site started in February 2020, and continued through lockdown despite the many difficulties that the pandemic presented. This current phase of the build has delivered world-class facilities to meet the needs of both the college’s educational programmes, and Ceòlas’ community-led activities. A bespoke recording studio, a library, an exhibition space, and a flexible communal space for gatherings of up to 60 people, will transform the experience of Ceòlas summer school tutors and students this July and the college students who study here in the years to come.
The work was delivered by local contractor MacInnes Brothers (MIB), represented on the day by Project Manager David MacInnes, and Contracts Manager Neil MacInnes. Neil told Am Pàipear: “We are delighted to be handing over the keys to this fantastic building. All of us who have worked on the project are immensely proud of what we have delivered, both in terms of the high standard of the build itself, and in terms of the jobs we have created and maintained as a result. Over the course of the build, we have employed 14 local tradesmen, with one joiner moving his family home to Uist as a result of this opportunity.”
“The project was a complex one, and it’s success evidences that local firms are not only well able to deliver the highest possible technical requirements but can also bring the local knowledge required to manage the challenges that working on a remote island can present.” Funds are already part-secured for the next phase of the project, which will extend the building to the west to include a performance hall, with acoustics suitable for performance and seating for audiences of up to 200 people, a small dance studio with sprung floor, and additional teaching spaces.
Beinn Lee spent the last two years crafting their second album which was released before Christmas
Beinn Lee members Pàdruig Morrison, Micheal Steele, Mairi Thérèse Gilfedder, James Stewart, Anna Black and Seoras Lewis were keen to follow up on their first album, Osgarra, soon after it was released in 2018. New tunes and songs were penned and the six-piece were back in the recording studio towards the end of 2019.
However, then came what no-one expected…lockdown and months of isolation as the world tried to deal with COVID-19.
“It was all going well, with just a few finishing touches that were needed, but unfortunately, COVID-19 struck,” recalled Pàdruig.
“Like many musicians, we were stuck without playing, feeling a bit low, but eventually we were able to get back to do another spell of recording and then we finally got the album out in December.
Deò is a mix of self-penned tunes and some favourites that regularly make the setlist for Beinn Lee. Recorded at Black Bay Studio in Great Bernera, with the help of Ross B Wilson, the album is available now as a CD or on streaming services and iTunes.
Beinn Lee members had hoped to promote the album at a series of gigs soon after the album was released in December. However, once more, their plans were scuppered as restrictions tightened to control the spread of COVID-19.
“It has been a really positive reaction so far, but it has been strange as we haven’t had any gigs to play, which has been a bit gutting. But from the online response and with family and friends being in touch to say that the album is being enjoyed, we are happy so far. Social media has been great, to see the reaction on Instagram and Facebook. I don’t think we will know ourselves until we play it live, and hopefully it will be really well received,” explained Mairi Thérèse.
Several planned shows for the Celtic Connections festival were also cancelled due to coronavirus measures, but now the rules are being relaxed, band members are feeling more optimistic and pencilling in some gigs for later in 2022.
“We have to try to make the most of releasing a physical album, because we literally make nothing from the streaming services, so we really want to sell them and something that has been really great, is the folk on the islands, of all ages, supporting us and going into local shops here and buying the CD. Normally we would anticipate having a whole run of gigs in line with the release so we are looking hopefully to have something coming up within a couple of months, both a launch event in Glasgow and a big event at home,” continued Pàdruig.
While the delay in finishing the album was a disappointment at first, it has turned out that having a break created more opportunities for Beinn Lee.
“We had a bit more time to develop our sounds,” said Mairi Thérèse.
“I think the first album that a band releases is often an accumulation of stuff that they have been playing since they started and in some ways that makes it a bit easier. But when the second one comes it’s time to get the thinking cap on to decide how you want to develop,” added Pàdruig.
“We have a bigger sound in our sets now for festivals and gigs and, during COVID-19, when we were just playing ourselves, it was stripped back, so we felt we had to include that as well. I’m glad we had the opportunity to record more to add these changes to the album.”
Beinn Lee remain true to their roots, having included samples from past generations on Deò.
Mairi Thérèse explained: “I was researching for my masters degree and came across a recording on Tobar an Dualchais, which included my grandfather, Donald ‘Sunndachan’ MacPhee, who was a well-known whisky and coal merchant but he also played the fiddle, and on the recording he is singing. I had discussed it before with the band and we had put it to the side, but after we had finished the first recording of the opening track we knew it just wasn’t working and then Pàdruig remembered about this recording. I am not sure where the tune came from, but we think it’s an old traditional one that worked really well and so we took a sample of his voice and it’s on the track. I think it’s so important to us to give a nod to these characters as we are influenced by them all.”
“We are all Uist musicians and we think a lot about how that manifests itself in our style and our tunes, even in our newer tunes we have written ourselves, they have connections to places or people in and then other traditional choices tie in, that are popular here. We definitely feel it is important to reflect upon and have a nod to our roots in Uist.”
MSP visits site of new educational and cultural centre on South Uist
Alasdair Allan MSP called on the site of Cnoc Soilleir this week (19th July 2021) and observed the rapid progress being made on the construction of the new education and culture centre on South Uist.
Catherine Yeatman, Project Manager for Cnoc Soilleir, guided Dr Allan around the building along with Sue MacFarlane, Principal of Lews Castle College, and Shaun MacIsaac from contractor MacInnes Bros Ltd.
Cnoc Soilleir will be a state-of-the-art institution for education, music, dance, culture and Gaelic and is being developed through a partnership between Lews Castle College and Ceòlas. Lews Castle College will deliver courses from the centre during the week in term time, while outwith core college hours Cnoc Soilleir will become the base for events and activities with Ceòlas.
Earlier this year the Scottish Government committed £3 million towards the second phase of the Cnoc Soilleir centre development, with the first now under construction at Daliburgh.
Local contractors, MacInnes Bros Ltd, started work on construction of the first phase of the new centre early in 2020. Phase one will see the construction of teaching and office spaces, while the second stage will comprise a bespoke auditorium and dance facilities. It is estimated the second phase will cost around £5 million to develop, with £3 million now secured from the Scottish Government.
Cnoc Soilleir has received funding from numerous individual donors, Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
Beinn Lee elated to be back on stage at Ceòlas.
Beinn Lee delighted the socially-distanced audience in Southend Hall on Wednesday night (7th July 2021) in what is believed to be one of the first live music events in the islands, with an audience, since the onset of COVID-19.
Ceòlas was forced to cancel its annual summer school and associated events last summer, but has delivered a week of virtual tuition and concerts, plus two live events, a piping recital and the show with Beinn Lee.
Close to 100 students have signed up for online classes this year in song, fiddle, piping, dance and Gaelic.
South Uist singer and special guest, Mairi MacMillan, performed first with the musicians from Beinn Lee to launch her debut album, ‘Gu Deas’.
Beinn Lee is a six-piece band featuring Micheal Steele, Pàdruig Morrison, Mairi Therese Gilfedder, James Stewart, Anna Black, and Seoras Lewis.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was limited capacity and physical distancing was observed by the audience.
Speaking with Am Paipear after the show, accordionist Pàdruig said: “It was great, it was really nice actually. Especially when we were playing with Mairi at the start, it was so good to just enjoy it with the audience. Nothing beats being back and playing in front of a local crowd.”
“Playing live just gives a different perspective to the music,” continued Pàdruig.
“We get so much more response from an audience, for example when playing ceilidhs or weddings and having people up dancing and singing along is so much better than playing online or virtually.”
Dancing was not allowed at the event which was “really missed” by the musicians.
Pàdruig said: “I know there were dancers in the audience and they would have been up on their feet from start to finish and it’s a shame to miss that but hopefully it’s not too much longer until we are back to our best.”
As restrictions are easing more events are expected to be going ahead although some gigs are still being cancelled for the band.
Micheal Steele, who plays the pipes and flute, explained: “Unfortunately some gigs are still being cancelled for us. We’ve just had a festival cancelled in Dunnet which was meant to be in September.
“It’s hard as there are still those barriers being put in front of us and disappointments are still coming up in the road but we are glad to be playing weddings and small gigs like this to be back in front of people again.”
Rescheduled weddings are providing the upcoming gigs that the band have booked in, and those are coming in thick and fast.
Some of the band members appreciated having time off during lockdown to spend at home and on the croft, although, Pàdruig said: “Playing live again really shows you how much you miss it, especially playing at home.”
“We just want to say a massive thank you to Ceòlas for pulling this off, for asking us and for organising this event given the circumstances, so a big well done to them for making the opportunity happen.”
Ceòlas hosted the first live music event since the onset of COVID-19
Monday night (5th July 2021) saw some 50 people attend what is believed to be the first live music event with an audience to be held in the Western Isles since the onset of COVID-19.
Ceòlas hosted a piping recital in Southend Hall featuring musicians all aged under 30.
Last year the annual summer school and all associated events were cancelled because of COVID-19.
“It is fantastic to hear live music again as it really makes the blood pump through your veins,” said Mary Schmoller, Development Manager for Ceòlas.
“It was really interesting to see how subdued the audience was. It has been such a long time since people have been out and they are not normally as quiet, but I think it is because everything is low key and people were really paying attention and listening to the music.”
Performers included Ryan MacIntyre, Chloe Steele, Calum MacMillan, Joseph Nicholson and Seonaidh MacIntyre from South Uist. Mairead and Eòsaph Galbraith travelled to the event from Barra and Seonaidh Forrest and Gilleasbuig MacVicar from Skye. Finlay MacVicar from Grimsay also performed along with Kevin Beaton from Benbecula.
“I am glad that we had pipers come from Barra and Skye as well as it is so important for us to maintain that relationship across the islands. Everyone that played was brilliant, some regular performers and some new faces, but it was great to have them all here,” continued Mary.
Members of the audience were seated in ‘bubbles’ at safe distances within the hall, in line with restrictions on events to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“We have missed these events terribly,” added Mary.
“Normally we have the place covered in bunting and there is so much excitement but this year we have done our best and long may it last.
“Local pipers know that this is their training ground and that if they can get the audience to respond then they are doing well. Some of the players tonight we first watched when they were ten years old, so they have really grown as performers over the years. We knew then that they were good and tonight has demonstrated their talent.”
For the first time ever the annual Ceòlas summer school is being held online, with almost 100 students enrolled for classes offered in song, clarsach, step-dancing, piping, fiddle and Gaelic.
Tutors delivering virtual classes include Màiri MacInnes, Ailean Dòmhnallach, Fin Moore, Sophie Stephenson, Melody Cameron, Alasdair White, Troy MacGillivray, Ingrid Henderson and Eilidh Cormack.
“It has been received so well, much better than we expected. Classes have been booked in advance and we have not had to cancel any due to lack of interest,” added Mary.
“We have seen one or two broadband issues pop up but that cannot be helped. Everything else has gone like clockwork.”
Ceòlas is to host a second live music event, a concert with local band Beinn Lee, on 7th July 2021.
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 – https://www.facebook.com/Piping4Pupils
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.
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 https://www.taigh-chearsabhagh.org/events/celtic-connections-music-of-north-uist/.