Published: 20/09/2012 08:23 - Updated: 20/09/2012 09:03

Best of Blas finale reviewed

Written byby Margaret Chrystall

The Highland Wedding.
The Highland Wedding.


THE BLAS GRAND FINALE on Saturday offered both the bonuses and minuses you get with the spontaneity of a ceilidh.

Yes, there were lovely surprises – such as the addition of Gaelic writer, poet and actor Angus Peter Campbell.

But it was frustrating not having a programme of some kind to know what order everything was going to happen in.

Of course, the only way to deal with that was just to sit back in Eden Court’s comfy seats, let it all happen – and enjoy a night packed with delights. Quite a long night ...

Maybe FEIS ROIS was the perfect place to start.

A stageful of talented and versatile youngsters (most swapped instruments at least once) rolled out a short selection of sets including everything from tunes like Mike Vass’s Cavers of Kirkcudbright to reels and mouth music.

After their performance, fear an tighe for the evening, Arthur Cormack – chief executive of Fèisean nan Gàidheal which delivers Blas – revealed just how much the youngsters had been playing recently.

Feis Rois had played at over 100 ceilidhs.

And the Trad Trails project – combining a ceilidh trail organised by Fèis Rois and a Scotland-wide session programme organised by the Traditional Music and Song Association (TMSA) – had tested with 41 days on the road across Scotland without a break.

"No mean feat," commented Arthur.

He wasn’t even going to try and describe in advance what ANGUS PETER CAMPBELL might bring us.

"I can’t say it’s a performance, but it could be a performance from one of the great Gaelic writers," he told the audience, before revealing writers work is showcased in Blas with the support of the Gaelic Books Council.

The poet himself did nothing to raise our expectations with his opening line.

"Just as you were thinking ‘I’m in for a good night’, there, he appears," he grinned.

But with impressions, jokes and poems, his appearances in both halves were a welcome extra.

The moving poem The Car, (An Car) was based on a true story and reminded how progress can sometimes bring tragedy.

Moving (Imrich), he told us, was about emigration and fitting for himself. A recent house move had left him reconfiguring his bearings in the new home.

Before Aibisidh (ABC) – read in both Gaelic and English – he said that with Gaelic’s mere 18 letters to English’s 26, it "reminds me why we are a culture of very few words".

Margaret Stewart
Margaret Stewart


The frustrating part of seeing a short excerpt from Margaret Stewart’s Blas commission the HIGHLAND WEDDING (A Bhanias Ghaidhealach) was that you were itching to enjoy it all, though the four full performances had already been and gone.

"Did anyone see it?" asked Arthur Cormack in his introduction, but there were apparently very few in that audience who had, from the muted response.

Actually, this is very good news for the rest of us who might find some enterprising organisation thinking hard about acting on Margaret Stewart’s words as the taster version ended.

Margaret had explained there was only time for an excerpt, but that possibly whole show could be picked up by a local festival.

It was like a mini-show within the show with funny slides involving Margaret and her chosen musicians – Ingrid and brother Allan Henderson, Glenfinnan’s Iain MacFarlane and Angus Nicolson.

And Margaret’s researches and musical soundtrack for the whole Highland wedding tradition were fascinating and entertaining.

It began with the Lulling Of The Young Heir and on to the tune Margaret composed to portray the "cockiness and nervousness" of the young man’s first courting, quickly moved to the Flirtation tune, then the response to the first love song, a look at the tradition of the marriage stone as a place for weddings where there was no church and finishing with the second wedding that happened at the groom’s home.

Along the way there was fun. Allan Henderson mortified Margaret with his joking suggestion that her researches with piper Angus into the lullaby she had found in the Alexander Carmichael Collection – transformed into the hypnotically-beautiful love song response – had actually been "a dirty weekend".

"I don’t believe I’m hearing this!" laughed Margaret, before singing the song which turned out to be the highlight of the whole work for me.

Though the tune she found had been named a lullaby in the collection, Margaret revealed that she felt the form of it meant it had origins in the pibroch.

Certainly the sad, haunting song she sang had the best of both.

Blazin Fiddles
Blazin Fiddles


BLAZIN' FIDDLES got the music started in the second half after it seemed the application of a small refreshment over the interval had put everyone in a party mood.

The fiery power of the group kicked in with a set of opening reels, Bruce McGregor so absorbed in the music that he didn’t seem to be bothered by soundman Allan "Dinner" Mackinnon making some kind of technical adjustment around his trouser pocket!

But during the whole night – even with the challenges of all the line-up changes – the sound couldn’t be faulted.

The Blazers curse is that it’s just impossible to stop your feet tapping. And the gentle pulsing of the whole row of seats suggested everyone was having the same trouble.

The banter between the tunes is always up to scratch too.

After the long-titled march Pipe Major Willie Grey’s Farewell To The Glasgow Police Pipe Band was introduced, Allan Henderson offered the one about the Skye copper in Glasgow who dragged a dead horse from Sauchiehall Street into Bath Street "because he couldn’t spell Sauchiehall".

Hornpipes, the hurdy-gurdy melody of a Norwegian tune and the borrowed Devil’s Leather Breeches from Donegal tour companions Fidil all added to the sense of cosmopolitan Highlanders, sure of their own place in the world.

Like all the night's acts, they are an amazing advert for the homebred talent we sometimes take for granted on our own turf.


On that note, THE BATTLEFIELD BAND offered us our third Henderson from the talented Fort William musical family of the night.

Singing, playing the pipes and fiddl, shinty aficionado Ewen also added a sporting flavour to the night, dedicating Mo Ghleannan Taobh Loch Lìobhainn (My Glen By Loch Leven) to Kyles Athletic who had won the Camanachd Cup earlier in the day.

With Alasdair White’s dry wit and the multi-instrumental accomplishments of the four-piece, a sparkling set took us all the way from the very close Raigmore set through Sean Mone’s song Lovers & Friends sung by the band’s own Irishman Sean O’Donnell and on to the march that ended the all-too brief official set.

A swift encore brought back some of the Blazers too for a blistering finale to a talent-packed best of Blas experience.

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