Showcasing the best of Gaelic musical talent

Former Mod Gold medallist Arthur Cormack takes to the HebCelt stage this summer with Blair Douglas and Friends.
Former Mod Gold medallist Arthur Cormack takes to the HebCelt stage this summer with Blair Douglas and Friends.

Some of the finest Gaelic artists from Scotland and Ireland will be taking to the stage in Stornoway when the Hebridean Celtic Festival celebrates its cultural heritage.

The Gaelic Showcase will be held over four days at An Lanntair arts centre during HebCelt, which runs from July 17th to 20th and this year is marking its 18th anniversary.

The festival was first held in 1996 to raise awareness of Celtic music and to promote the Gaelic language to a wide audience.

Caroline Maclennan, the festival director, said: “We place particular emphasis on supporting and promoting local artists, including our Gaelic tradition bearers. This showcase initiative, devised in collaboration with An Lanntair, is demonstrative of our ongoing efforts to raise awareness of our unique heritage to the international audience that the event attracts.

“The line-up brings together some well-established and emerging talents and our audiences can look forward to some memorable concerts.”

The opening show on Wednesday, July 17th features Lewis Women and Friends, an idea originally conceived by An Lanntair as part of the centre’s opening series of events in 2005 and has become a highlight of the annual programme.

It has brought together some of the finest traditional singers from the islands, sometimes for the first time.

This year’s line-up will see singers Isobel Ann Martin, Linda Macleod and Fiona Mackenzie joined by harpist/vocalist Micha Macpherson and fiddler Jane Hepburn.

The following night Arthur Cormack & Blair Douglas and Friends take to the stage. Arthur, a former Royal National Mod gold medal winner, has several albums to his credit as a solo singer and with Blair and others in the bands Mac-talla and Cliar.

He is currently recording a new album for release later this year and is also chief executive of Fèisean nan Gàidheal which serves 45 Fèisean (Gaelic arts festivals for young people) across Scotland offering tuition to around 13,000 individuals annually.

Blair, a founder member of Runrig, is an acclaimed solo artist who was voted Composer of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2008 and the following year An Aifreann Ghàidhlig – a Gaelic Mass – which he composed, premiered at the Blas Festival.

Arthur Cormack said: “It is great to see HebCelt specifically showcasing Gaelic music at this year’s festival and I am very pleased to be appearing in one of the Lanntair concerts along with Blair Douglas and others.

“HebCelt has become hugely popular and I know, from experience with my own family, how much young people enjoy attending the events.

“HebCelt attracts an audience of all ages, though, offering a wide range of music to suit many tastes and I believe it contributes to the normalisation of Gaelic with Gaelic artists appearing alongside those from other musical genres.

“It is also great to see the festival taking events outwith Stornoway so that the enjoyment and benefits are more widespread.”

On Friday audiences will be treated to Nasc - meaning ‘link’ in Irish - a new cross-cultural collaboration featuring two of Scotland and Ireland’s finest young Gaelic singers, Maeve Mackinnon and Gráinne Holland.

The project also includes three phenomenal instrumentalists; Donal O’Connor (At First Light), Ross Martin and celebrated cellist and composer Neil Martin.

Saturday is the turn of Kathleen Macinnes with her band. Kathleen has enjoyed a varied career in broadcasting, film, theatre and singing for many years.

She has acted in short films and sang in the first ever Gaelic feature film Seachd - The Inaccessible Pinnacle - from which Ridley Scott hired her to sing on the soundtrack of Hollywood film Robin Hood in 2010.

She featured in The Transatlantic Sessions Series 5 with Aly Bain, Jerry Douglas and Alison Krauss. Her second album was awarded Album of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2012 and a track from that album, Sneachd Air Druim Uachdar was nominated at the Radio 2 Folk awards 2013.

In addition, on Thursday before festival headliner Van Morrison, the main arena will host BLASTa (tasty in Gaelic) a collaboration specially commissioned for this year’s HebCelt and featuring multi-talented Hebridean Gaelic singers Calum Alex Macmillan, Norrie Tago MacIver, Jenna Cumming, Gillie Mackenzie, Anna Murray and Mary Smith.

And the younger talent are not forgotten, as the Islands Stage on Friday afternoon will feature a special showcase for Fèis Eilean an Fhraoich.

Other projects aimed at promoting Gaelic to visitors to the festival include language taster sessions, You’ve Been G’d which seeks to engage audiences with short Gaelic phrases and the opportunity to promote language and learning opportunities by other agencies through the festival.

For more information and a full line-up of this year’s HebCelt programme, visit www.hebceltfest.com