JANUARY 2015 BLOG
As well as a fair bit of relaxing towards the beginning of the month, the second half of the January was filled with rehearsals and concerts during the Celtic Connections festival. Mairi Macinnes’s band came together to rehearse in preparation for her album launch gig at the Tron theatre.
I was also involved in “Crossing the Minch” a concert that celebrated the compositions and tunes of Pipe Major Donald Macleod. Calum Maccrimmon put the concert together and there was a vast line up of musicians involved including; John Wilson, Rona Lightfoot, John Mulhearn, Alasdair White, James Lindsay, Aaron Jones, Ewan Macpherson, the Glenfinnan Ceilidh band, Charlie MacFarlane and also some members of the National Youth Pipe band of Scotland. It was certainly a varied night of entertainment and special to be a part of.
My next Celtic Connections stint involved two gig in the same evening. First it was Mairi Macinnes’s album launch at the Tron Theatre and then it was onward to the Old Fruitmarket for Breabach’s gig.
I made it to the Old Fruitmarket just in time to re-tune the pipes and get on stage with Breabach. We were also joined by special guest Horomona Horo from New Zealand for a couple of numbers. Horo was part of the Boomerang Project and it was great to see him perform in Glasgow again with his line-up ‘Waiora’. We also performed later that night at the late night festival club in the arts school to finish off a gig filled evening.
I also performed with the Mischa Macpherson trio the following evening in St Andrews in the Square venue which is a lovely old church building.
Breabach were also involved with some filming for BBC Alba which will be aired at a later date. We played four number in front of a live audience in Cotters theatre, another old church venue in Glasgow. Also getting recorded the same night as us were; Adam Holmes and the Embers, Willie Campbell and Irish band Danú. A couple of us in Breabach jumped up on stage at the very end of the night with Danú and Dónal Lunny for a couple of puirt á beul and some fired up tunes!
2014 began on stage at the Woodford Folk festival in Australia. It was a fantastic way to take in the New Year with a Scottish Hogmanay party in the Southern Hemisphere. Breabach shared the main stage with the Peatbog Faeries and Rachel Sermanni. It was certainly a shock to the system stepping outside into the summer sunshine at Brisbane International Airport, having boarded a flight from Stornoway (via Glasgow) a few days previous on a cold and drizzly boxing day!
Woodford is an incredible outdoor festival in a remarkable location with natural sloping amphitheatre landscapes with several stages dotted around the sight. We experienced scorching hot temperatures of around 45°C a couple of days and impressive thunderclouds rolled in with lightning another day. The lightening actually knocked out the power supply one evening as we were sound checking on one of the stages and cast the whole festival sight into darkness for several minutes.
After Woodford, we spent a few days in Brisbane and then travelled to New Zealand which was pretty exciting as it was the bands first trip there. We travelled to Muriwai in the North Island, where we stayed and met up for the first time with the other musicians, singers and dancers of the ’Boomerang Project’.
The ‘boomerang project’ is an exciting new project to be a part of which explores links between Celtic, Aboriginal and Maori cultures through music, language and dance. We met up to rehearse and collaborate in anticipation of the high profile gigs scheduled later in the year. We literally stayed and rehearsed by the beach in Muriwai surf club.
I gained some inspiration for a new tune one night whilst in Muriwai and scribbled it down right away. It ended up getting arranged and rehearsed the very next day and was added into the Boomerang setlist!
On arrival back to Glasgow, Celtic Connections festival was in full swing where I played a concert with my solo project in the Mitchell theatre. My band for the night was Matheu Watson on guitar, Hamish Napier on piano, Neil Ewart on fiddle and I was on Highland Pipes, flutes and whistles.
There was a great audience in and we played a pretty high energy set. We played twice more that night, at the Piping Centre late night sessions series and finally at the Celtic Connections Festival club. The energy, intensity and drive of the tunes seemed to be getting ramped up a fair bit as each gig went on.
February began with a trip the Ireland to give some Scottish flute masterclasses at the University of Limerick alongside Sean Gray and Hamish Napier. We also performed a concert as part of a lunchtime concert series for the students on the Irish Traditional Music Performance MA course.
We had a couple of days of tunes in Ennis where we visited Ryan Murphy who’s a great flute player and Uilleann piper and currently plays with Scottish band Manran. We met some great flute players and our heads were filled with numerous great Irish tunes that we picked up. We also managed to fit in some tourist activities with a trip to the cliffs of Moher and a visit to the Father Ted house which is actually on the mainland and not on the Arran Islands as the TV series makes out!
February also involved a couple of days recording on Norrie Maciver’s solo album ‘The Road Dance’, at Castle sound recording studios and a few days filming for some piping scenes in the new ‘Outlander’ TV series. The series tells the tale of a Nurse from the second World War getting transported back in time to 1743. It is based on the Novels by Diana Gabaldon. My role was to play in the grand hall at the Mackenzie clan seat in front of the Clan Chief. The set was very impressive and quite a surreal experience to be involved with the filming.
Julie Fowlis released her new album in February. Here’s a promo clip including one of the songs I recorded on.
Breabach made a return visit to the Southern Hemisphere in March to take in the Festival season. We played at some great festivals:
We also visited New Zealand again, New Plymouth this time to perform at Womad NZ festival where the very first full performance of the Boomerang Project took place. The welcoming reception to the artists was phenomenal. All the elders in the community gathered to greet and welcome all the WOMAD performing artists into the meeting hut where everybody gave a short speech and performance. There was also a group of Maori school children who performed a Haka which was very impressive. Meanwhile there was a feast getting prepared for us all in the next door hut. It was a traditional Maori Hangi style cooking where the food is cooked on heated rocks in a pitt in the ground. The food was delicious.
We also briefly visited Dunedin in the South of New Zealand and learned more about its Scottish settlers and history. We then headed back to Australia and Breabach gave a couple of workshops and performances in Melbourne and Brisbane before the second performance of the Boomerang Project which was part of the Homeground festival which took place at the Sydney Opera house.
James Lindsay and I also managed to fit in a coupe of dives to completed our open water Scuba diving courses with dives out of Brisbane on a couple of reefs near Stradbroke island. The visibility was great and plenty of brightly coloured fish and sea creatures were to be seen.
April involved a bit of down-time which was very welcomed and good to be in Scotland for a few weeks. I managed to work on a few tunes and also did a fair bit of hill walking taking in a few hills including Suilven which you start from a small track near Lochinver. Suilven would often be visible on a clear day from my family home in Lewis and it always intrigued me with its distinctive shape.
There was a great view all around from the summit, however Lewis was not visible through a thick sea haar which gathered further out into the Minch.
We were back out on the road in May with Breabach for a UK tour which culminated with a new festival in Kilmuir in the North End of Skye called ‘Ceol on the Croft’. It was a great event and several top Scottish bands played over the couple of days.
Mid tour, James Lindsay, Ewan Robertson and I even managed to fit in the King of the Mountains Sportive, a 100k bike ride which is organised by Deeside Thistle Cycling Club. It was a very scenic and hilly route but a very enjoyable ride. A puncture at the start line didn’t put me off and I soon managed to catch up with James and Ewan.
The day of our Ullapool gig, Breabach also managed to fit in a full band ascent (including sound engineer Iain Thompson) of Stac Pollaidh. It was a clear, warm day and some fantastic views from the top including stunning views over to Suilven.
I also featured on the Cover of the May issue of Piping Today Magazine with a feature article and photos by Stuart Curnow from Melbourne.
In June, I spent a bit of time in Norway, playing some gigs with Mischa Macpherson and Innes White alongside some other fantastic musicians and singers from both Scotland and Scandinavia as part of the Geiteberg folk festival . It was interesting to hear the Hardanger fiddle and to witness it being tuned – it takes even longer to tune than the pipes!
The rest of June also involved some studio work recording for a couple of different projects as well as a few more walks including Beinn Chabhair which is a Munro North of Loch Lommond.
July began with a trip to the small Channel Island of Sark to play at the Sark Folk Festival. Its a pretty unique Island and festival. To get there you catch a small boat over from Guernsey. There are no cars on the Island, just a couple of tractors and you either walk or cycle everywhere.
The cuisine in Sark is particularly good and we ate very well. I must have had at least three or four lobsters in as many days!
We had a couple more festivals with Breabach in Italy and England before travelling to Lewis for the Hebridean Celtic Festival. Since joining Breabach it was my first appearance with them at my home festival. We played to a packed out Breasclete hall on the West side of the Island, where I had launched my solo album the year before. The Boomerang Project also made it’s debut Scottish performance the following evening on the main stage in the festival arena in the grounds of Stornoway Castle.
It was great to see the the Aboriginal and Maori contingent explore the Island and stay in traditional style at the Gearrannan Blackhouse village. Everyone also took a visit to the ancient site of the Callanish stones where we had a brief tune with pipes, Pukaea (Maori war trumpet) and Yidaki (Didgeridoo)! Some of the other visitors to the stones that day must have wondered what on earth was going on!
The next evening again, I played as part of Norrie Maciver’s band for his album launch on the Island Stage of the festival arena. His band consisted of some fantastic musicians and it was a very enjoyable gig.
The following week was a pretty full on week for Breabach and Boomerang as the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games were in full swing. We had several performances throughout the week as part of Festival 2014 at venues all around Glasgow including: Pacific Quay, Queens Park, The Old Fruit market and Glasgow Green.
I travelled to Brittany in August to perform with my solo project at Festival Interceltique de Lorient. The line up for this gig was Hamish Napier on piano, Neil Ewart on fiddle and Anna Massie on guitar. We played on the Quai de la Bretagne stage to a fantastic crowd.
I also performed with Julie Fowlis and her band in Lorient at the large Espace Marine venue. It was a stowed out gig and great fun to be a part of. I even managed to fit in a couple of tunes later that night in the Austrian tent with Ross Ainsley and Jarlath Henderson band. The tent was jumping with energy.
From Brittany I traveled straight up to Norway to meet the rest of Breabach to perform at the Telemark festival.
I also took part in a short tour with Mischa Macpherson starting with a performance at Piping Live, followed by gigs at Whitby folk week, The Green Note Camden finishing of with a couple of performances at Towersey Festival.
September was an exciting month with a trip to Brazil with my solo project to play at the MIMO festival in Olinda. It was my first visit to South America and very much an incredible experience. We played a concert in a beautiful old church and the pipes seemed to go down well with the Brazilian crowds! My band on this occasion was Alastair Patterson on piano, Ali Turner on guitar and Neil Ewart on fiddle.
I met and had a jam with Brazilian Saxaphone Maestro Spok which was great fun. We learned about Fravo dance and music. Spok had learned one of my tunes from youtube and we played it also adding in some Brazilian turns into the tune! It ended up getting aired on one of Brazilian televisions main news channels as well as a bit of a Canadian Barn Dance which we taught some of the Brazilian folk.
We also ended up in quite a few of the Brazilian Newspapers publicising our visit and concert.
Our hotel was situated to the South of Olinda in the Boa Viagem beach district of Recife. After swimming one morning we learned that the waters are shark infested and extremely dangerous with numerous shark attacks on humans.
From Recife we flew to Inverness via Amsterdam and made it just in the nick of time to perform our first Blas festival concert of the week in Drumnadrochit. Quite a surreal experience going from Brazil to Drumnadrochit! Neil Ewart and I performed as a duo in several locations around the highlands during the Blas week finishing up in Portmahomack on the East coast. Over the week we played alongside some great acts including: Cherish the Ladies, Daimh, Salt House and some great Fèis Rois groups.
The rest of September and some of October was another busy spell for Breabach touring out in Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Also on the tour was the Maeve Mackinnon trio featuring Ross Martin on guitar and Brian McAlpine on piano. The tour was put on by Dietmar Haslinger and was a fantastic experience and the hospitality was first class.
I also spent a day in the studio in October recording a track for Mairi Macinnes’s forthcoming album Gràs which is to be released at Celtic Connections in 2015. Here with Producer Hamish Napier and recording engineer Mark Freegaurd.
A couple of Munro’s later, including Schiehallion, we were into November and on the plane back to the Southern Hemisphere again, for the third trip of the year! We had a string of some nice gigs and workshops and it was great to experience a bit of heat in November!
On this occasion we also returned to the Sydney Opera house to play as part of the Homeground festival again. The weather turned rather fast from hot sunshine one minute to downpours and even some hail stones the next. The gig was moved indoors into one of the studio theatres inside the Opera House.
We also had a couple of press and publicity days to advertise the tour. Here we are doing a live performance for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from their Melbourne studios.
We spent a fantastic week in New Zealand and I even managed to fit in meeting a couple of Mackenzie relatives who stay in Timaru on the South Island. Our NZ tour finished on St Andrews night in Dunedin. From there we traveled to to Ulsan, South Korea via several airports: Auckland, Brisbane, Hongkong and Seoul. We even managed to get a few hours in Hong Kong itself in between flights which was very refreshing to break up the journey.
We had a great gig in Ulsan as part of the Celtic Christmas Festival and even bumped into the Manran lads who were playing the night after us in Ulsan.
The rest of December was a pretty laid back month to wind down from a busy year. Breabach’s final gig of the year was at the Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party. We played on the folk stage with Ross Ainsley and Jarlath Henderson band and Eddi Reader also on the bill.
2013 began at the Ashton Lane Hogmanay Party in Glasgow. I was playing with Ceilidh/Techno band ‘Sketch’. They combine high energy tunes with programming and samples and certainly got the Hogmanay crowd fired up. We also went on to play at the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool on the 1st of January and the tunes carried on until around the 3rd!
Celtic Connections was next on the agenda with some performances and also loads of great concerts to look forward to.
I played with Kathleen Macinnes and Allan Henderson for a live BBC radio Scotland broadcast from the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
A night later, Breabach had put together a show and celebration of Robert Burns on 25th January in the main auditorium of the Concert Hall. The gig involved several collaborators: Breabach, Blazin Fiddles, Dougie Maclean, Kathleen Macinnes, Sarah Jarosz and Liz Lochhead. It was a fantastic night of Music, song, poetry and dance.
A week later Breabach were off to Oslo, Norway for a concert at Rjiksscenen arts centre shortly followed by a trip to Toronto to showcase at the North American Folk Alliance. It was a great few days exploring Toronto and getting to hear some amazing music in the tiny wee hotel bedroom showcase gigs.
On returning to Glasgow we had a day filming a couple of Breabach sets for BBC Alba.
March involved some rehearsal in anticipation of my solo album recording. I met up individually with the guest musicians who were to play on the albums and shared my tunes and ideas with them and it evolved from there. It was important for them to hear the music in advance of the recording sessions so they could get a real feel for the style of tunes I had been writing and the type of album I was hoping to record. It was great to hear some of the arrangements starting to take shape and the evolution of the initial idea to the full arrangement of sets. I worked closely on the backing and chord patterns with Matheu Watson who helped me co-produce the album.
Breabach also travelled to Paris to perform at a festival of traditional music called ‘Festival Irlandays’ alongside some great musicians and bands including Irish line up ‘At First Light’ and Breton Uilleann piper Ronan Le Bars. We had a couple of days to explore the city and see some of the sights and scare away many of the other tourists!
Shortly after returning from Paris, we were off to New York to perform as part of the Scotland Week celebrations. We had performances in Central Park as well as Webster Hall. We also managed to catch up with some of the Battlefield band who were also on tour at the time. From New York we flew back to Toronto to perform as part of a Visit Scotland conference. I also managed to scare off some of the NY tourists!
The rest of April was dedicated to organising, producing and recording my solo album. We recorded at Chem19 studios and Jamie Savage engineered it. It was a pretty full on week but very enjoyable and came away with some music that I was very happy with.
I also met up with Somhairle Macdonald who took the photos and designed the album artwork for me. I had the initial idea of the old style photograph and classic Pipe Major look. I wanted to take a light hearted approach to the CD cover and make something eye catching but with a bit of humour as well. We went through some old photographs of pipers and got some inspiration from them. Somhairle went with my initial idea and came back to me with his take on it and I was amazed at what he had come up with.
May saw my solo album mixed and mastered by Paul McGeechan at his studio in Bothwell.
Breabach were also back in the rehearsal studio to work on new music for the next album as well as a gig at the Knockengorroch world ceilidh which was great fun. The festival site is miles down a small peat road track, deep into a forrest somewhere in Dumfries and Galloway.
Breabach kicked off another tour in June beginning with the West End Festival in Glasgow’s Oran Mor and then onward to the Highlands and Islands. In fact we played in each band members own home town or village and we used the tour to work on new sets as well as gathering some new material from each of our home communities in preparation for our next album. One of the highlights of the tour for me was playing at the Isle of Eigg Festival. There was a great party atmosphere from the moment we set foot on the MV Lochnevis in Mallaig, with many of the festival goers on the same ferry. The hall on Eigg was literally packed to the rafters and the crowd was electric!
I launched my debut solo album this month at the Hebridean Celtic Festival. We played our first concert of the festival in Breasclete hall on the West side of the island and it was great to finally have copies of the album to take to the gigs. My band for the Hebcelt was the four core musicians who had recorded on the album; Alasdair White on fiddle, Matheu Watson on Guitar, Hamish Napier on Piano and flutes and myself. We also played a live set on Radio Nan Gaidheal and also had another launch gig in Stornoway at the Crown Hotel. It was a great pleasure to play with these lads and they brought loads of energy to the live performances.
Before the end of the Hebcelt long weekend was finished, I left Lewis on the first ferry on Friday morning and headed South to play a gig with Mànran at Music on the Marr festival in Cumbria. Immediately after getting off stage we drove straight to Oban just in time to catch the ferry to Tiree where both Breabach and Mànran were playing later that same day! It was a hot and sunny weekend and a great atmosphere at the festival in Tiree. We left the island on the Monday on a few ribs which had been sent over from Oban as the ferry had been overbooked and around 30 people were left behind on the island! It was a stunning crossing through the Sound of Mull on such a hot and flat calm evening.
I also fitted in a solo project Radio session for world on 3 with Mary-Anne Kennedy.
Breabach played at the Cambridge Folk festival in July which was a great experience and then shortly afterwards we were back into the recording studio in August to record our new album Ùrlar.
We recorded at CastleSound in Pencaitland with Stuart Hamilton engineering. We also worked with Kris Drever from the band LAU who produced the album.
In between recording, I performed with my solo line-up at Piping Live festival, opening for Julie Fowlis and her band. We also played a slot in the Piping Centre later that evening as part of the Piping Live Festival Club.
Breabach visited Norway again at the end of August for the Farsund festival where we collaborated with Cathie Jordan of Dervish, Roger Tallroth of Väsen and several other talented Scandinavian musicians.
Toward the end of September Breabach flew out to the middle East for a couple of days off in Dubai before travelling through the desert to Muscat, Oman where we were hosted by Gordon Mackenzie who is also a Lewis man and is based out there. It was a brilliant week in the sun and got to explore Muscat. It was my first experience of Scuba diving in the warm waters of the Gulf of Oman and I even managed to fit in a quick recording session at a studio in Muscat for an album which was being made back in Scotland!
From Muscat we travelled to South Korea to play at the Ulsan World Music festival which was the bands first visit to South Korea. We were looked after extremely well and the experience was truly memorable.
From South Korea we travelled to Halifax, Canada, where we went on to perform at Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton. We played 6 concerts all around Cape Breton and it the hospitality was second to none! The Scottish connections there abound with a very high percentage of the people and place names there with Scottish Origins and there is a fair bit of gaelic still spoken.
We returned back to Scotland where our new album Ùrlar was waiting for us and we had a small launch party in Glasgow.
November was a pretty busy month with a UK tour of Ùrlar taking us from the Highlands all the way to the South Coast of England.
I also managed to fit in my first visit to Orkney for a few days where I played with Neil Ewart as part of the Live Music Now organisation, giving performances in some of the Schools, Care homes and centres for people with disabilities. It was a fantastic few days of meeting some real characters and also getting to explore a little bit of Mainland Orkney.
In December I was invited to the Scots Traditional Music Awards where I was nominated for Instrumentalist of the year and Breabach won live act of the year. I was chuffed to be nominated alongside some other fantastic musicians and delighted that Breabach won the award for the Live Act category.
Before the turn of the year, we were off to Australia for the Woodford Folk Festival for some great gigs – see Jan 2014 blog for more info.