With three sell-outs and a number of other events very well attended, organisers of this year’s Blas Festival are buoyed following their first weekend. But there is still plenty to take in before the festival ends this Saturday, 10th September.
Having attracted a large crowd on Friday for a celebration of the 80th birthday of Uist cultural icon, Rona Lightfoot, another stalwart of Gaelic culture, Skye’s Jonathan MacDonald, will be honoured at an event in his home turf in Kilmuir on Thursday 8th.
There are still four performances to come of the 2016 Blas new commission Beul na h-Oidhche gu Camhanaich (Mouth of the Night to First Light) from Highland-based Gaelic singer and harp player, Mary Ann Kennedy and Nick Turner with Calum Turner, Manx Singer Ruth Keggin and guitarist Finlay Wells from Oban. The new piece - the 11th commissioned by Blas in its short history - can be seen in Drumnadrochit (6th), Ullapool (7th), SEALL in Sleat (8th) and Acharacle (9th).
Home-grown Highland talent is always to the fore at Blas. In addition to Fèis Cèilidh Trail groups, Guth na nGael – a Gaelic and Gaeilge exchange project and pupils from the Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School, there will be a special performance of Graham Mackenzie’s Crossing Borders in Eden Court’s One Touch Theatre on Friday 9 September, at which Graham’s debut CD will be launched. He will be joined that evening by young Gaelic singers from Fèisean nan Gàidheal’s Fuaran project.
Blas is particularly pleased to be working with Play Pieces to bring a lunchtime play to Highland audiences. Hallaig, by Iain Finlay Macleod, is inspired by two poems written by Sorley Maclean - a story of unrequited love and how the small choices we make in life can affect us. It is about loss - of time, life, love and language and will be performed at 12:30pm in Aviemore on Tuesday 6th, Sleat in Skye on Wednesday 7th, Dingwall on Thursday 8th and Inverness on Saturday 10th.
Still to come, too, is the arrival of a superstar of traditional music in the shape of Sharon Shannon who, for over thirty years, has been at the forefront of traditional Irish music from her days of touring with The Waterboys and the release of her best-selling eponymous self-titled album in 1991. Sharon has gone on to record and perform across the globe with a host of renowned International artists including Sinead O’ Connor, Shane McGowan and Steve Earle with whom she recorded world No.1 song Galway Girl. She will be appearing on Wednesday 7th September in the Victoria Halls, Helensburgh with O Chruinneag, E Chruinneag which features Eilidh Cormack, Ellen MacDonald, Ceitlin LR Smith and Innes White. On Thursday 8th September she will be in Plockton High School Hall with Cape Breton guests Nuallan, Sgoil Chiùil na Gàidhealtachd and special guest Gaelic writer Rody Gorman. Friday 9th September takes Sharon to the Corran Halls in Oban with Nuallan, the Margaret Stewart Trio, Guth na nGael and special guest Gaelic writer Niall O' Gallagher.
Sharon Shannon will also appear at the Blas Finale Concert on Saturday 10th September in Eden Court, Inverness with newly-formed Highland and Island outfit Tide Lines, Nuallan and award-winning Gaelic writer, Angus Peter Campbell.
Along the way, festivalgoers can hear Tannara and Kilda, as well as a staple of the finest Gaelic singers including Darren Maclean, Kristine Kennedy, Rachel Walker, Anne Martin, Margaret MacLellan and Robert Robertson.
Arthur Cormack of Fèisean nan Gàidheal who organise the Blas Festival in partnership with The Highland Council said: “We are very happy that the first weekend of Blas has gone so well and hope the rest of the week will continue in that vein. Blas has become a fine celebration of Gaelic culture including music, song, drama and dance. Given that a number of shows have sold out, we would encourage people to buy tickets soon for events in the remainder of this year’s festival which are sure to offer something special to lovers of traditional music.”