Dìleab: Air a Chuan (Legacy: On the Ocean) is part of a larger project that emphasizes culture, connection, and community in the Outer Hebrides. But one of the Sgoil Lionacleit performances during the recent Dìleab concert at Celtic Connections in January had more than a community connection – it had a direct family link, too. 

Sixth year pupil Marion MacCorquodale performed the local Uist song Turas san Lochmor, which was written in 1950 by Peter Morrison, the grandfather of local Grimsay musician Padruig Morrison. And at Dìleab, Padruig was also on stage, accompanying Marion’s performance with the piano.

Padruig was one of a number of local musicians involved in Dìleab, including Willie Campbell and Ceitlin Lilidh, as well as TV presenter Linda MacLeod, who was acting as MC for the night. They all took to the stage alongside pupils from across the islands in the New Auditorium of the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall on 17 January, in front of an audience of hundreds, as part of the 2020 Year of Coasts and Waters

“We had almost 70 young people with us from Lewis right through to Barra and they really rose to the occasion,” says Rhona Johnson, Project Coordinator for Dìleab. The audience, including Deputy First Minister John Swinney, “were treated to a varied and balanced programme of music including instrumental and choral contributions, both new and old.”

Padruig, who was a finalist for this year’s BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year award and is a member of the Beinn Lee Ceilidh Band, explains that he first became involved with Dileab at Sgoil Lionacleit in July last year. “I was approached…about getting involved with working on a new arrangement of Cearcall a’ Chuain with pupils from Sgoil Lionacleit. I jumped at it – it was a great idea! It was a delight for me to get back into my old school and to work with the talented young musicians who are there at the moment, some of whom I knew already, but others I didn’t. They were a fantastic, able group, and they all learnt the music really well.”

For Cearcall a’ Chuain, Marion MacCorquodale was singing alongside Ruairdh Gray, with fellow pupils Anna Maclain on clarsach; Alana Beaton on whistle; Joanna Macdonald on fiddle; Floraidh Gray on bass guitar; Calum Macmillan on banjo; Ryan Macintyre on bazouki; Lee Macdougall on accordion; and Molly Perkins and Abby MacPhee on percussion.

“It’s a tricky task to arrange a song that’s so well known, and one such as Cearcall a’ Chuain, where it’s not just the verses that are known, but so many folk (including all the Gaelic choirs) know and perform the introductions and interludes too,” says Padruig. “I wanted to try and give it a new lift, and when working with the pupils, I didn’t want it to be slow and drawn out – I wanted it to have more motion than is usually in the song.”

“Once I knew which instruments the group would consist of, I wrote out an arrangement for each individual. I added a new instrumental melody, and a modified introduction. The group picked it up very well over a few rehearsals over the term, before performing it at the school Christmas concert as a rehearsal before the big concert in January.”

“When it came to the concert at Celtic Connections, despite frantic rehearsing schedules, the group performed exceptionally well. The rehearsal on the day was fantastic – but the concert was even better! Everyone locked in together and performed it the best they had ever performed it – and we were all delighted with it!

“It was a really lovely project concept, working with my former school on a new arrangement of a song from Uist, which the pupils performed, and I just accompanied at the side on the piano. It perfectly achieves what Dìleab is all about.”

The Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band also took to the stage on the night, although they are no strangers to high-profile performances, having performed in New York City at Tartan Week and competed in multiple competitions. The band, which is made up of pipers from both Lionacleit and Castlebay schools, played a medley of tunes inspired by the sea, with fellow students doing Highland dances alongside them. 

Uist pupils Ruaridh Gray and Lee MacDougall also performed with pupils from Barra, Harris, and Lewis when they sang An Caiora, and all of the Sgoil Lionacleit soloists performed in the Islands Sea Medley, which saw traditional sea-related songs arranged for solo voices, choirs, and strings.

The Glasgow concert was the most recent incarnation of Dìleab, the Comhairle’s multi-generational bilingual project, which covers a programme of work undertaken by the young people of the islands and local musicians, all designed to draw on language, history, and culture as a bridge between generations.

It was a night of celebrating the islands’ rich connection with the waters which surround them, and the talents of the islands’ young people. As Rhona says, “the whole trip was a fantastic opportunity for the pupils involved to take part in such a world class festival and they all had a great time.”

Dìleab: Air a’ Chuan was watched live online by 3000 people and has now been viewed by more than 5000 people in 22 countries, ranging from Australia to Brazil.

While there is more to come from Dìleab in 2020 and beyond, for those who missed the event or the live stream online, the edited playlist of the performance is now available to listen to or watch on the “Dìleab Eilean Siar” YouTube channel.