Ceòl Mòr Ostaig

28 May 2012 in Gaelic, Music, Showcase

CCA, Glasgow, 26 May 2012

SINCE 2004, Ceòl ’s Craic (“music and banter”) has been a social and cultural home from home for expat Gaels in Glasgow, combining elements of club, concert and ceilidh to showcase contemporary Gaelic creativity.

THE event’s final monthly outing ahead of its summer break was hosted by Scotland’s flagship Gaelic-medium college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye, and offered a series of taster sessions highlighting its range of tuition, from Gaelic song to filmmaking, before a concert featuring performances by staff and students.

Margaret Stewart (Euphoria Photography)

Margaret Stewart (Euphoria Photography)

Prominent on the bill were two of today’s most highly esteemed Gaelic singers, both originally from Lewis – Christine Primrose, who teaches at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and Margaret Stewart, its current Musician in Residence – with the individuality and distinctive refinement of their styles each rewardingly complemented by the other.

While Primrose’s reedy, delicately nasal timbre was the starker and more understated of the two, fragile yet with a hint of flinty toughness, her unhurried, evocatively measured cadences and sparing use of ornamentation gave full weight to her songs’ melodic potency, with subtle shifts of inflection between love songs and a Jacobite lament conveying the singer’s dual role both as imagined protagonist and chronicler of the events described.

Stewart’s liquid, velvety tones are the more obviously lyrical of the two, its finely nuanced expressive fluency fully displayed in a selection including an emigrant ballad, a lullaby and a fugitive crofter’s missive to his wife, the last vividly conjuring the song’s mingled emotions of longing, loneliness and stoicism even for those unversed in the language.

The half-dozen students taking part in the show, performing a mix of individual and ensemble turns throughout the night, presented a somewhat mixed advertisement for the standards of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s Gaelic and Traditional Music degree programme, although two of them stood out strongly. Invernessian Gaelic singer Ellen MacDonald, combining a beguilingly husky, tart-sweet voice with naturally assured handling of her material, proved herself a definite talent to watch, while Tiree-born accordionist Eilidh MacFadyen’s sturdy but sparky West Coast swing richly reflected her early tuition from the renowned Gordon Connell.

There was an enjoyable literary interlude from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s Writer in Residence, Peter Mackay, reading a few of his poems in Gaelic and English, ranging from the wistfully unrequited ‘Logorrhoea’ to the mythic and metaphysical overtones of ‘The Tunnel’. Rounding off both halves of the night in terrifically taut, rousing fashion were the Angus Nicolson Trio, featuring the gifted young Skye piper expertly flanked by Murdo Cameron on guitar and Andrew MacPherson on percussion and whistles, whose combination of forceful attack and snugly interlocked interplay resoundingly belied the compactness of their line-up.

© Sue Wilson, 2012