New book on the Campbells of Greepe

17 Jan 2013 in Gaelic, Music, Outer Hebrides, Writing

A CELEBRATORY new book documenting the lives of a famed family of Gaelic singers will be officially launched on Saturday, January 19, to coincide with a special concert at Celtic Connections.

Fonn: The Campbells of Greepe (subtitled Music and a Sense of Place in a Gaelic Family Song Tradition) tells the story of a Hebridean family with a gift for music which goes back generations – and pays tribute to the place and culture that allowed them to flourish.

A quick glance at their family tree reveals seven Mod medallists, including several winners of that prestigious ‘double’ in traditional Gaelic singing: the Gold Medal and the Traditional Medal.

Many of the Campbells, who hailed from Skye and latterly Glasgow, are household names throughout the Highlands and Islands and in the world of Scottish music. One of them, Kenna Campbell, famously sang the 23rd Psalm at the memorial service for the late Labour leader, John Smith.

Kenna, honoured with a doctorate from RSAMD in 2009, was part of folk group Na h-Eilthirich (The Exiles) in the 70s, along with her sister Ann and brother Seumas, while, in more recent years, other members of the family have sung together in Cliar.

The first of the Mod Gold Medal winners in the Campbell family was Kenna’s aunt, Seonag, who won in 1957. Other winners were Kenna’s sister Ann, Ann’s daughter, Maggie MacDonald, and Kenna’s two daughters, Mary Ann and Wilma Kennedy. They were both double medallists, just as their uncle Seumas was in in his day.

Fonn, which is being launched at Sabhal Mor’s 40th Anniversary Festival Concert in Glasgow’s City Halls, tells the story of the family in their own words and those of their friends.

The main part of the book is recollections based on interviews by journalist and broadcaster Morag Stewart. There are also pictures from the family albums, family trees, maps of the area of Skye they came from, press cuttings and record cards.

Fonn is completely bilingual, being presented in Gaelic and English throughout, and also features a large collection of traditional songs from the family’s repertoire, transcribed by Mary Ann.

There is also an accompanying CD featuring rare recordings of older family members, including some from the archives at The School of Scottish Studies dating back to the 50s.

A CD of the same name, Fonn, is available separately and features new recordings of the family together. It was produced by Jerry Boys to coincide with the book and is available from Watercolour Music.

A large number of people were involved with Fonn. The book’s introduction was written by Dr John Macinnes, formerly of Edinburgh University, while the project was initially co-ordinated by Skye-based photographer and broadcaster Cailean Maclean. The photographic images used for the cover designs were by Phil Gorton from Skye.

The idea itself came from the former manager of Lewis-based publishers Acair. Norma Macleod, who is now retired, also edited the book in close co-operation with members of the family. She described the finished product as “a magnificent record of a family who contribute such an amazing amount to Gaelic tradition, music and song”.

Acair manager Agnes Rennie said Fonn was “for anyone with an interest in Gaelic music and heritage”, adding: “It pulls together a lot of things that we, as a company, value and work to promote.”

Mary Ann Kennedy said: “If it weren’t for Norma Macleod at Acair, this would never have happened. We are incredibly grateful because various people have taken an interest in our music and our story.

“We really don’t regard ourselves as being special. The reason the family are who they are and do what they do is because of the community that they grew up in.”

Fonn: The Campbells of Greepe (Music and a Sense of Place in a Gaelic Family Song Tradition) is available from Acair – – and all good book shops, priced £30.

Source: Acair