Celtic Connections 2009: New Voices – Griogair Labhruidh

26 Jan 2009 in Argyll & the Islands, Festival, Gaelic, Music, Outer Hebrides

Strathclyde Suite, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 24 January 2009

Griogair Labhruidh

TAKING PLACE when most people are still in bed or reading the Sunday papers, the second of this year’s Celtic Connections New Voices commissions drew a healthy – if far from full – attendance to the 1pm performance of Griogair Labhruidh’s Fear-ealaidh.

A fiercely proud Gael brought up in Gartocharn on the east side of Loch Lomond, Griogair (pronounced “Gri-gar”) has returned to his family’s roots, spending the last few years living on the island of South Uist and submerging himself in Gaelic culture. He’s passionate to the point of obsession, and it’s via Fear-ealaidh he addresses the issues of economy, history, culture, education, and just about anything else that threatens the Gaelic way of life.

Dressed in a silky waistcoat and sporting a day’s stubble on his face, Labhruidh (pronounced “Lowry”) enters the Strathclyde Suite looking like a scruffy snooker player. Flanked by Colla Domhnallach on fiddle and Ally MacKenzie on accordion, things quickly get underway with a tune about “the new Gaelic TV channel” (BBC Alba), Labhruidh taking centre stage behind the pipes.

It’s not long before the songs start, and quicker still before Labhruidh launches into the first of many over-zealous speeches decrying his love for Gaelic. In this case, a song about the lack of Gaelic poetry taught in schools and “not getting the respect it deserves.”

“Lock the doors,” he adds, as if those feeling shut out by his partisanship may be sneakily checking where the exit doors are. “No-one’s escaping. If you don’t get the funny bits, ask the Gaelic-speaking person beside you.”

Unfortunately – for me at least – there was none.

Nevertheless, with his hands placed firmly on his thighs, and eyes rolling in the back of his head, when Labhruidh sings you can’t deny every note, every syllable is wrung with emotion. You might not understand the words, but with the advent of the pre-song theme, you easily get a sense and feeling for what moves him so strongly.

With Sile Denvir (clarsach) and Eanna O’ Croinin (uilleann pipes) accompanying, Labhruidh left the scene of his own show briefly to allow Sineag Nic an t-Saor to sing one of his own songs. But that was before the highlight of this hour-long performance: a personal, spiritual piece inspired by the Appin Chalice, once used by an army regiment for mass on the eve of the battle of Culloden.

All fine and well. However, you couldn’t help think this was just a regular Griogair Labhruidh gig – not a specially-designed piece for New Voices.

Towards the end, a couple of step dancers came on during the last set. Sadly they chose to strut their stuff on the floor – and not the stage – thus only the first row got to view the action. As Labhruidh and friends departed the stage, the house lights came up and all inside the Strathclyde Suite stared towards the exits.

Then, suddenly, reappearing on his own, Labhruidh took one final bow before putting his own words to the melody of Farewell To Nigg. A fit of the giggles nearly derailed him a couple of times during the rendition but, like his devotion to Gaelic, it’s certainly no laughing matter.

© Barry Gordon, 2009