Gaelic music will still be celebrated throughout the Highlands and Islands this month as the Blas Festival goes ahead online, with an impressive line-up of some of Scotland’s best loved traditional musicians and singers.
Blas, which means ‘taste’ or ‘sample’ and is organised by Fèisean nan Gàidheal in partnership with The Highland Council, will take place from 20-30 November. It opens with a brand new musical arrangement and culminating in a St Andrew’s Night concert including performances of newly composed Gaelic songs inspired by Scotland’s Coasts and Waters and a festival finale from Hebridean band, Beinn Lee.
Whilst adhering to the restrictions due to Covid-19, the varied programme, which will consist of both ticketed and free events, will feature performances from various Highland venues, providing much needed work for musicians and creative practitioners, as well as offering musical entertainment to help lift people’s spirits at this time.
Opening the festival on 20th November will be a brand new, unique performance, arranged by multi-instrumentalist and producer, Mike Vass, featuring young people from Fèisean across Scotland.
As part of a partnership with SEALL Festival of Small Halls, Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye will host an evening on the 27th November with musicians including Hamish Napier, Su-a Lee, Lauren McColl with Gaelic singer and member of Sian, Eilidh Cormack taking the role of Bean an taighe for the evening.
Other performances on the Isle of Skye, in partnership with SEALL, will take place from Braes Hall (26th November) and Sligachan Hotel (28th November) with other popular traditional musicians including BBC Radio Scotland presenter, Gary Innes and singer and harpist, Rachel Newton.
Sian will be joined by Trail West, who celebrate their 10th anniversary this year, with a livestream concert from Eden Court in Inverness on the 29th November.
Other highlights of this year’s Blas include harpist Ingrid Henderson’s commission for Nature Scotland to celebrate the 2020 Year of Coasts and Waters featuring Ingrid alongside Anna Massie, Conal McDonagh and Megan Henderson with film, animations and images by Somhairle MacDonald, streaming live from Mallaig Hall; a birthday celebration for Gaelic singer Christine Primrose who will mark the occasion with friends including Gaelic singer Margaret Stewart, singer and box player Murdo ‘Wasp’ MacDonald and Highland piper and former Battlefield Band member, Duncan MacGillivray.
As well as the main concerts and cèilidhs each evening, there will be daytime song sessions, music workshops, talks on various aspects of Gaelic culture, drama performances and film. Three online cèilidhs will take place with, among others, BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner Josie Duncan and Hamish Macleod as well as Ingrid Henderson and Iain MacFarlane.
Councillor Calum Munro, Chair of the Highland Council Gaelic Committee said: “Due to Covid-19 pandemic many of our annual events have been adversely affected. The Blas Festival is no exception to this, but, Highland Council, are happy to announce that the Festival which is organised by Fèisean nan Gàidheal with support from Highland Council will take place in November albeit in a different format. This year it will be online, and this has been made possible by the creativity and innovation of the Fèisean nan Gàidheal team in maximising the use of ICT.”
He continued: “The Highland Council has supported the Blas Festival for the past 15 years. I’m delighted that we are able to continue our support of the Festival this year. We recognise that it is a challenging year for us all, including artists who are employed within the creative industries. Events such as Blas not only provide exceptionally high quality musicianship and Gaelic cultural entertainment but, also assures continued much needed employment within the arts sector.
"The Blas Festival programme includes many different events, such as celebrating a significant birthday of an internationally renowned Gaelic singer, performances by world renowned award winning pipers, new compositions by hugely talented songwriters and musicians and performances by many talented young people from across the Highlands. I wish to take this opportunity to thank Fèisean nan Gàidheal for their hard work in creating such an inspiring and innovative programme against the backdrop of the current pandemic, and finally my advice is please log on to the Blas Programme and enjoy the events”.
Arthur Cormack from Blas Festival organisers, Fèisean nan Gàidheal, commented: “In what has been a challenging year for musicians and communities, we are very much looking forward to bringing an online Blas Festival to people’s homes and to extending the festival’s reach through digital means. We are grateful to our funders, particularly The Highland Council, for continuing to support Blas and look forward to a 11-day celebration of Highland culture.”
All events taking place during Blas will strictly adhere to current government guidelines. The full programme of events can be found at www.blas.scot along with details of how to purchase tickets.
Pictured, from top, are Sian, Josie Duncan, Rachel Newton and Trail West