NAIRN musician Mike Vass is paying tribute to one of the Highlands’ best known authors with a new commission in collaboration with Calmac Ferries and House of Lochar Publishing.
Creative Scotland has announced an award of £22,000 allowing fiddle-player Vass to create In The Wake of Neil Gunn, a suite of music inspired by and written in celebration of Gunn’s 1937 voyage around the west coast of Scotland.
In 1937 Gunn sold his house, quit his job and went off in an old converted lifeboat for a summer to inspire his writing; voyaging around the west coast of Scotland.
He wrote about the various communities on the way in his book Off in a Boat, and went on to become one of Scotland’s most prolific and creative fiction writers.
During the development stage in May, which is funded by Enterprise Music Scotland and part-sponsored by Calmac, Vass will re-visit the communities Gunn wrote about, performing celebratory concerts there.
He will also bring some lesser known traditional songs, melodies and poetry specific to the ports, unearthed in the School of Scottish Studies Archives, to give depth to the individual nature of each performance.
In the month after the trip Vass, a Scots Trad Music Awards Composer of the Year, will compose the suite of music inspired by the fresh memories of his time at sea, the communities visited, the rhythms of Gaelic which Gunn had a particular love for, the Scottish coast, and the collaborative musical explorations with his fellow musician sailors.
He will also use his collection of archive material, photographs, video and audio material collected during the development stage, to inform the composition.
The commissioned piece will then be rehearsed and performed with his traditional musicians Innes Watson, Jennifer Port, Hamish Napier and Anna Massie, and the Cairn String Quartet.
The commission tour will take place in October 2014 and visit Nairn, Edinburgh, Mull and Skye.
The commission will also be performed aboard a Calmac ferry to tie together the theme of the journey and the sea. This concert will be broadcast live over the internet so that it is accessible anywhere in the world.
"I am delighted to have support from Creative Scotland for In The Wake of Neil Gunn," said Vass, who has played with Malinky and the Paul McKenna Band.
"The award means I will be able to develop the project to its full potential. The commission gives me the time and resources to focus on my composing in order to actualise the piece, and the opportunity to form a large ensemble to perform the work is invaluable.
"I’m very excited to begin work on the project, celebrating the vibrant traditional culture of Scotland’s west coast and Neil Gunn’s huge contribution to Scottish Literature."