Blas 2015 flying high over milestones
Milestones and memories will be the hallmark of the 11th Blas festival launched in Inverness today and which will take place at venues across the Highlands and Argyll between 4 and 12 September.
Now entering its second decade as one of Scotland’s leading music festivals, Blas 2015 has assembled a stellar line-up of some of the best musicians and singers to celebrate Highland culture.
Established 11 years ago as a result of The Highland Council’s desire to create a festival that would match the vitality of Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours, the Council has continued its support of Blas. It is now an international event that showcases Highland culture and its continuing success has been welcomed by the Scottish Government and Highland Council.
Speaking at today’s launch at Eden Court Inverness, Blas Festival Director, Donna Macrae, said: “This year’s programme is packed with a notable series of events marking special anniversaries and milestones enhanced by a ‘blas’ of Scottish produce in this year celebrating food and drink. Fèisean nan Gàidheal, which delivers Blas, will see some of its own members in that category. Fèis Spè celebrates its 25th anniversary as do the Kiltearn Fiddlers, established under the auspices of Fèis Rois. World-renowned band Shoogenlifty will mark their own 25th anniversary at The Ironworks in Inverness on September 5th with Hò-ro and Niteworks.”
They all have a bit to go before they match the 70th birthday celebrations being thrown to mark renowned singer Anne Lorne Gillies’ major milestone. Friends and associates who have shared stages and experiences with Anne over the years will come together to celebrate a distinguished career both here and on the other side of the Atlantic.
Few bands have had a bigger influence on Gaelic song than Runrig. The songs, written by founder member brothers Calum and Rory MacDonald, will feature in a specially commissioned event “Òran: A celebration of the songs of Runrig” which will be the Grand Finale of Blas 2015. This takes place at the Eden Court Empire Theatre in Inverness on Saturday, September 12th.
Al the artistes appearing in “Òran” have either performed Runrig’s material or collaborated with the band since it was formed in the 1970s and will include Julie Fowlis with Eamonn Doorley & Tony Byrne, Cathy Anne MacPhee and Mànran who are, in many ways, following in the footsteps of the Gaelic-rock trailblazers. They will be accompanied on the evening by an ensemble of musicians from the Fèis movement, which is inextricably linked with the Blas festival.
Calum MacDonald, Runrig founder and drummer said: “The Blas Festival is without doubt one of the most iconic events in the traditional music success story of recent times. Exciting, varied, vibrant, international, yet completely rooted in the Highland, Gaelic psyche. It is therefore a huge honour for the band to have our music performed at the finale of the 2015 Festival, and particularly gratifying for us to see some of our songs slip back into that tradition - a tradition to which we owe so much.”
Few of the anniversaries being marked this year will, however, be as poignant as the “Shinty’s Heroes: The Pipes Come Home” concert being held in the Phipps Hall, Beauly on the opening night, Friday September 4. In the centenary year of the infamous Battle of Festubert, when hundreds of Highland soldiers lost their lives, a set of pipes belonging to a notable shinty player from Beauly, Donald Paterson, killed by a sniper in the battle, will return to Beauly to be played by Duncan MacGillivray of Calrossie as part of a unique commemoration.
Amongst the other top acts gracing this year’s festival programme will be Dick Gaughan, Macanta, J.P. Cormier from Canada, The Scottish Traditional Song Collective, Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, The Alan Kelly Gang with special guests Eddi Reader and John Douglas. Gaelic singers will, as usual, be to the fore. As well as Anne Lorne Gillies, Cathy Ann MacPhee and Julie Fowlis, Kathleen MacInnes, Mairi MacInnes, Margaret Stewart with Ingrid Henderson & Alan Nicolson and Eilidh Mackenzie with Anna Massie & Mairearad Green will all make an appearance.
Session A9 will make their only Highland appearances this year at Blas 2015 - in Wick and in Sleat on the Isle of Skye. There will also be a series of cèilidh dances at various locations with top dance bands including the Fergie MacDonald band in Strathy, and the Robert Nairn Band in Broadford, both on Friday September 11th.
The Blas Festival has enjoyed significant support from Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) for some years, with the Inverness Airport restaurant having been the venue for concerts and a Blas Ball. Musicians have frequently played short sessions within the airport concourse throughout the festival.
This year another special event is scheduled to take place in the unique setting of Inverness Airport. The fourth 2015 Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame Dinner will be hosted by Hands Up for Trad, in partnership with Blas, on September 11th. This celebration at Inverness Airport will acknowledge the 2015 inductees to the Hall and feature music from Rona Lightfoot and UHI students.
Chair of The Highland Council’s Gaelic Implementation Group, Councillor Hamish Fraser said: “We are very proud of the Blas Festival which was originally initiated by the Council 11 years ago. Since 2005 it has developed to become bigger and better but has still managed to maintain, at its heart, the original charm and uniqueness which sees internationally acclaimed artists share the stage with home grown young musical talent.
“Audiences are drawn here to the Highlands from around the world as well as from our local communities. The 2015 Programme is exciting, engaging, and educational.
"It showcases Gaelic and traditional music in a wide variety of venues and locations across the Highlands and Argyll including Portree to Portmahomack, Strathpeffer to Strathy and Carrbridge to Campbeltown. I urge everyone in the Highlands to visit at least one event and find out for themselves how special and enjoyable this festival of Gaelic music and culture is.”
The launch of Blas 2015 has been welcomed by Dr Alasdair Allan, Scottish Government Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland's Languages. He said: "For over a decade now, the Blas Festival has set the standard for showcasing the music and culture of the Highlands. With so many talented musicians and singers performing from around Scotland and internationally, in venues across the Highlands and Argyll and with the Gaelic language at its heart, it's no wonder that Blas continues to thrive."
Tickets for all Blas events can be bought online, or by phone, with details on the festival’s website blas-festival.com where further information is available on the full programme of events.