Aiseag (The Ferryboat)
The Empire Theatre
PART ceilidh, part concert, this coming together of talent from both sides of the Atlantic certainly deserved to bring in a bigger audience than the modest turn out that felt slightly dwarfed by the size of the Empire Theatre.
The artists on stage — musicians, singers and a poet — were there to perform the Scottish-Canadian Commonwealth Biennial commission masterminded by Scotland’s own Mary Ann Kennedy and Canada’s Scott Macmillan, but that still left time for the participants, in best ceilidh tradition, to perform their own party pieces.
The most stirring of these were the instrumental sets that combined the talents of Canadians Angus MacKenzie on pipes and Colin Grant on fiddle.
Is there some rule that all Canadian fiddlers have to be step dancers as well? Because certainly Grant showed a nifty bit of footwork as well as bow-work in the midst of their energetic set.
Macmillan’s contribution was the more moving, with Inverness Gaelic Choir giving suitable emotional weight to an excerpt from his Celtic Mass.
The select string ensemble also weighed in with an atmospheric instrumental just waiting for a film to soundtrack while Kennedy gave a reminder that she is not just an able presenter of music with shows such as World on 3 and Radio Scotland’s much missed Global Gathering, but a notable performer on clarsach and Gaelic vocals as well.
Bookending these individual displays of talent were two performances of Aiseag.
Rooted in the Celtic influences of its two composers it also made use of Macmillan’s orchestral background and Kennedy’s work with the award-winning Inverness Gaelic Choir in a piece that used more orthodox Gaelic choral singing just as a starting point.
It was a challenging remit for the Inverness singers, but one they rose to meet.
Also making key contributions were poet Aonghas MacNeacal, who joined Skye youngster Christina MacDonald in narrating his own words in Gaelic and English, and Kennedy’s husband Nick Turner, creating soundscapes to add a little extra aural colour to the music.
However, the music did a good job of that itself with its separate elements of vocals, strings and trad musicians, as well as switches in mood from reflective to joyful, creating a musical journey in keeping with the title.
It might not have been as immediately grabbing on an emotional level as Grant’s fiery fiddle set, for example, and required the listeners, as well as the performers, to do a little work to get the best from it.
Probably a second hearing helped to appreciate it a little more, especially with listeners prepared for that sudden ending, but the elements came together in an impressive piece of work that, again true to the theme, provided a link between Scotland and Canada, language and musical and tradition and innovation.
It would be nice to think of the piece having a future life, perhaps at the Blas Festival, to give more listeners the chance to take this musical journey.
The live Glasgow performance of Aiseag, will be broadcast Hear and Now on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 9th August at 2200 BST. BBC Radio 3 is broadcast in the UK on digital radio and on 90-93FM, and online at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3 - the programme will also be available for seven days after broadcast on the BBC iPlayer.
A MacTV documentary produced by Skye director/cameraman and musician Magnus Graham, following the entire ‘Aiseag’ voyage from first meeting to maiden voyage and safe return to harbour, will be broadcast on BBC ALBA on Monday 22nd September. BBC ALBA can be found on Sky 143, Virgin Media 161 and Freesat 110 (UK), Freeview/You View 8 and BT Vision 8 (Scotland only), and Smallworld 170 (Ayrshire and North West England). It can also be viewed live throughout the UK on the BBC iPlayer. www.bbc.co.uk/alba
A download album of all 20 of the PRSF New Music Biennial compositions is available on the NMC label in MP3 and FLAC formats. The entire collection can be purchased for £10 and the various commissions are downloadable as they become available online. Aiseag will be available to buy from August 25th, but you can pre-order now. Go to http://www.nmcrec.co.uk/new-music-biennial/mary-ann-kennedy and click on the New Music Biennial icon to find out more.