Published: 06/06/2014 15:42 - Updated: 06/06/2014 16:11

Blas Festival marks milestone with a return to its roots

Illos Kennedy of Feis Spe, Councillor Maxine Smith, piper Duncan MacGillivray, Arthur Cormack of Feisan nan Gaidheal and Katie MacDonald of Feis Rois help launch this year's Blas Festival programme.
Illos Kennedy of Feis Spe, Councillor Maxine Smith, piper Duncan MacGillivray, Arthur Cormack of Feisan nan Gaidheal and Katie MacDonald of Feis Rois help launch this year's Blas Festival programme.

FOR its 10th anniversary, Blas, the festival of Gaelic music and culture, is going back to its roots with a fresh emphasis on young talent.

This year’s festival will see over 100 events taking place throughout the Highlands and Argyll from Friday 5th to Saturday 13th September, but along with star names from the worlds of folk and traditional music, including Dougie Maclean, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Manran, young talent will have the chance to shine at the festival finale at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness.

This concert, Ceòl nam Fèis, will highlight the success of the fèis movement of tuition festivals in engaging young people with the traditional arts and Gaelic language.

"We decided this year to try and get back to our roots and get the fèisean movement more involved," Arthur Cormack of festival organisers Fèisean nan Gàidheal explained at the festival's official launch at Eden Court Theatre.

"We’ve always had an input from young talent through the fèisean and the likes of the Caledonian Ceilidh Trail, but this year we have decided to move them centre stage and have them as part of the grand finale concert at Eden Court."

This year will also Blas further strengthen its community links with concerts in hospitals and care homes in association with the charity Music in Hospitals.

Inspired by Canada’s Celtic Colours Festival in Cape Breton, over the past decade Blas has generated at least £4.4 million directly into the Highland economy with possibly even more indirect benefits.

"This year the festival will be worth at least £600,000 to the Highland economy, but for us the cultural benefits are far more important," Mr Cormack said.

Originally an initiative from Highland Council, which still supports the festival, Blas began as a small-scale effort at three venues.

Since then almost 90,000 tickets have been sold to Blas events, including 11 Blas commissions for orginal work from musicians including singer Julie Fowlis and fiddle player Duncan Chisholm.

This year’s special commission is by former Blazin’ Fiddles member Iain MacFarlane from Glenfinnan and is inspired by Moladh Beinn Dòbhrain, the epic poem from 18th century bard Duncan Ban MacIntyre.

The new piece has been commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage and will be premiered at SNH’s national headquarters, Great Glen House in Inverness, on the opening evening of the festival, Friday 5th September.

Duncan MacGillivray will be joined by his four sons at this year's Blas Festival. Photos: Alison White.
Duncan MacGillivray will be joined by his four sons at this year's Blas Festival. Photos: Alison White.

Among the other highlights in this year’s festival will be three shinty-based shows in the lead up to the Scottish Hydro Camanachd Cup Final in Inverness on Saturday 13th September. Home and Away — Glòir nan Caman is a tribute to shinty players all over the world with a particular reference to World War I and features accordionist and former Scotland shinty team captain Gary Innes, singer Linda MacLeod and the MacGillivrays of Calrossie — piper Duncan MacGIllivray and his four sons, themselves part of a noted shinty playing family.

Other acts taking part this year include Dàimh, BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners The Mischa MacPherson Trio, Macanta, Gaelic singers Christine Primrose, James Graham, Gillie Mackenzie, Alasdair Whyte, Linda MacLeod and Dòl Eoin Mackinnon.

As usual there will be a representative from Canada, in this case Cape Breton fiddler Howie MacDonald, but there is also a return visit from one of the biggest names in Celtic music worldwide, Irish-American band Cherish The Ladies.

The full programme of events and details of how to buy tickets are available from festival website www.blas-festival.com

Blas is the first of a number of national and international events scheduled to take place in the Highlands between the beginning of September as part of Highland Homecoming, supported by EventScotland, culminating in the Royal National Mòd in October.

Speaking at the Inverness launch, Councillor Maxine Smith, Vice Convener of The Highland Council said: “This year’s Blas festival programme, in the Year of Homecoming, is exciting, engaging, and educational as it showcases Gaelic and traditional music in venues across the Highlands and Argyll.

"The festival allows residents and visitors to access the very best of traditional music in communities across the Highlands from Portree to Portmahomack and from Torridon to Taynuilt.”

The festival’s success has been welcomed by the Scottish Government Minister for Learning, Science & Scotland's Languages, Alasdair Allan MSP.  He said: “I would like to join with so many others in congratulating the Blas Festival on reaching its 10th anniversary and growing into such a significant part of the cultural life of the Highlands.”

“Each year Blas offers a rich programme that reflects many aspects of the Highlands and our traditional culture, includes a wide range of performers, reaches a growing audience and has the Gaelic language at its heart. I would like to wish Blas 2014 every success and hope that many more people will enjoy this year’s 10th anniversary celebration as part of the Highland Homecoming.” 

Arthur Cormack announcing this year's festival highlights.
Arthur Cormack announcing this year's festival highlights.

One of the festival’s main supporters has been Creative Scotland whose Director of Communications, Kenneth Fowler, said: "Creative Scotland is delighted to support Blas in this, its tenth year. Having grown in scale and influence over those ten years to become a pivotal event on Scotland's cultural calendar, Blas is a fantastic celebration of music and the performing arts. The festival is truly inclusive, covering the full geographical spread of the Highlands and Argyll, reaching people and communities in venues from village halls to Eden Court's Empire Theatre. This year's programme is truly inspiring and I wish the festival every success."

Blas is the first of a number of national and international events scheduled to take place in the Highlands between the beginning of September as part of Highland Homecoming, supported by EventScotland, culminating in the Royal National Mòd in October.

David Boag, Head of Gaelic Usage at Bòrd na Gàidhlig said: “Over the last 10 years, Blas has successfully raised the profile of Gaelic across the Highlands, across Scotland and internationally.  In addition to the events themselves, the schools programme has given young people in the Highlands an opportunity to engage with Gaelic culture and learn about its place within the international community.”

“As part of the Homecoming Scotland 2014 programme across the Highlands and Islands and in addition to our support for Blas, Bòrd na Gàidhlig will be supporting other events including the Royal National Mòd in Inverness and the Hebrides Tattoo in Stornoway.  The National Gaelic Language Plan 2012-17 recognises the importance of the arts, particularly as a mechanism to engage the general public with Gaelic and in support of the economy.”

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