BLAS festival comes to Sleat

The Highlands’ premier Gaelic music festival descends on Sabhal Mòr Ostaig next month with two days of world-class performances by some of the best traditional artists in the country.

Duncan Chisholm, Mànran, Jarlath Henderson, Ali Hutton, Mischa MacPherson, Innes White, Megan Henderson and Hecla will appear over the weekend of 8 and 9 September as part of the Blas Festival – Fèisean nan Gàidheal – which kicks off at the beginning of the month in venues across the Highlands, Argyll and the Western Isles.

On Friday, 8 September, at 7.30pm, one of Scotland’s all-time great fiddle players, Duncan Chisholm, will perform at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s main hall. He will be accompanied by two of the country’s most celebrated pipers, Jarlath Henderson and Ali Hutton. Support on the night is from Hebridean musician Mischa MacPherson who will be joined by two accomplished and empathetic musicians – guitarist Innes White and fiddle player Megan Henderson of Breabach.

Mighty trad supergroup Mànran come to An Talla Mòr on Saturday, 9 September, at 8pm. They will be supported by Hebridean music trio, Hecla, and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s young musical talent Ceilear Fèis an Earraich.

Mànran are one of the most well-known and best-loved Scottish bands of today. The 2011 launch of their debut single, Latha Math, heralded a meteoric rise to the top of the Scottish music scene that quickly saw them begin to play many of the most prestigious festivals around the world. From then, multi-award-winning albums followed as the band continued to live up to the hype that surrounded their early release, while establishing their characteristic sound and distinctive approach to musical arrangements.

Hecla is a traditional music trio based in the Outer Hebrides. Featuring Ailis Sutherland (pipes/whistle), Ilona Kennedy (fiddle) and Kaitlin Ross (guitar/vocals), Hecla present beautiful, crisp and energetic arrangements of traditional Gaelic songs and instrumentals.

 SEALL artistic director, Duncan MacInnes, said: “Blas is a celebration of our music and traditions and a cultural showcase for the Highlands, which is very much what SEALL is all about.

“We are delighted to be part of the Festival for another year. We have hosted events for Blas since it piloted in 2004 and, through the programmes, have had a great excuse to welcome some of the best musicians in Scotland back to our stages.”

Festival finishes on a high

“It was a genuine privilege to be entertained by such wonderfully talented musicians.” A visitor at the last traditonal concert which played to a SOLD OUT audience with Mairearad Green, Anna Massie, Adam Sutherland and Hamish Napier. With just one more event to go, the Skye Festival has brought some extraordinary music and film, from many briliant performers.

Coming Soon – Three Blas Festival events

SEALL is delighted to have been offerred three events in this year’s Highland-wide Blas Festival. Two new Short Gaelic Plays will be presented at lunhtime on Wednesday 6 September; Duncan Chisholm are joined by the Mischa MacPherson Trio on Friday 8 September and finally Mànran are joined by Hecla and the Cèilidh trialers on Saturday 9 September.

Charity Cafe raises £1000 for Young People’s theatre

The SEALL Charity Café during the Skye Festival raised around £1000 for our Theatre for Young People fund. We want to expand the amount of good quality children’s events we promote and this was a good start. A good time was had by all at the Café. Thanks to the 12 helpers and all the supporters who provided food, raffle prizes and then came and ate it!

Duncan shortlisted for NRTF Special Award

Duncan MacInnes, the artistic director of SEALL and the Skye Festival, was recently shortlisted for the new ‘Speical Award’at the recent gathering in Nottingham of the National Rural Touring Forum. He was one of three, and the only one from Scotland, to get this accolade for an outstanding contribution to Rural Touring in the UK.

Bilingual website

We are in the process of bilingualising this website. The tabs on each event saying ‘click here for Gaelic’ will soon be operational – but not quite yet!

Gaelic Love and Transgressive Verse – another World Premiere!

No other four Gaelic singers, musicians and academics could have dared to, or even succeeded in, pulling off a night of risqué Gaelic love and transgressive verse. Ian MacPherson, Peter MacKay, Anne Martin and Ingrid Henderson presented ‘An Leabhar Liath’ or ‘The Light Blue Book’ to a delighted Skye Festival audience on 24 August. The full-house was treated to a no-holds barred night of bawdy songs and in-your-face Gaelic and English poetry, but with a deep sense of academia and fun.

Spotlight on SEALL in Volunteer Arts

Voluntary arts recently asked SEALL and the Skye Festival about their work with volunteers. We featured volunteer director Jacqui MacKinnon and her raffle-selling daughter Hannah.

Open up this blog and read about it HERE

Traditional dance steps out

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s  Sophie Stephenson is an expert in Scottish step dance.

She has taught and performed the traditional dance style in countries around the world, including Canada, the US, Norway and Spain, showcasing the relevance of this timeworn artform in both a Scottish and International context.

At the age of 11, Sophie took her first step dance classes with pioneering dancer Harvey Beaton from Cape Breton. After university, she moved to South Uist to immerse herself in Gaelic language and culture whilst attending a course in traditional music at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Benbecula. It was here that she began teaching weekly step classes. A dance travel scholarship then took her to Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island where she learned all about the style in a community context. She came to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Sleat in 2013 to study Gaelic and now works in the college’s marketing department, while still teaching step dance through her Sophabulous Step Dance classes and workshops.

Whilst her steps are rooted in a uniquely Scottish or Cape Breton style, Sophie is international in her outlook and endeavours to make connections with other percussive dance styles and music and dance cultures. To this end, she has been involved in a number of international creative projects including Tosta (Gaelic and Basque), Keltika (Basque, Breton, Irish and Scottish) and Three Feet, Six Shoes (Scottish, Irish and Flamenco).

Sophie aims to approach the style in a fresh and inspiring way. She says she is less concerned with notions of trying to revive and or preserve an old tradition but rather to promote the dance and realise its relevance within today’s Scottish context. To this end, she has undertaken a wide range of recent collaborations including TradBeats, which features Gaelic mouth music, step dance, beatboxing and body percussion; Highland hip hop ensemble Spring Break; a film project with Basque rap and step dance on the txallaparta (Basque instrument); and ‘Threads’ theatre production with Stellar Quines Theatre Company.

Sophie said: “I am trying to promote a fresh take on the tradition by bringing it into theatre and film and through collaborating with international artists.

Sophie was selected as one of the artists to represent Scotland at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient this August in Brittany where she will be performing alongside Capercaillie. She then returns to Skye where she will be holding a Sophabulous Step Dance Weekend, with workshops at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig during the Skye Festival – Fèis an Eilein.

The weekend takes place on Saturday and Sunday, 19 and 20 August and is suitable for adults and children over 12. Students will have a chance to try out their newly learned steps, if they so wish, at an informal music session on the Saturday evening.

Sophie added: “Step dance is a natural response to music. If you can feel the music, it is normal to want to dance to it. For me, it’s like playing along to the tunes with your feet”

“Step dance is not intended to be a spectacle. Whether it’s on stage, as part of social dance or just jamming along at a session, it’s about responding to the music and being part of the music, like a musician.”

“I teach my students the basic traditional steps. How they put these together to express themselves is up to them.”

“I believe there is a lot of potential for step dance to be further integrated within traditional music in Scotland.  We have a vibrant trad scene with sessions, cèilidhs, festivals and touring musicians. Step dance has a place in all of these contexts and is accessible to anyone who wants to learn.”

The weekend is available as a residential course or two consecutive day courses and places are limited.





Standing ovation for Secret North

An outstanding performance of the Secret North on 21 June received a standing ovation from an appreciative audience in a packed An Talla Mòr.

Ailie Robertson, Donald Grant, Sondre Meisfjord, Karen Tween, Jarlath Henderson and Marit Fált played new music from either side of the North Sea from their recent collaboration.

Duncan reported: “A totally brilliant concert which led to a very rare spontaneous standing ovation at the end.

“There were about 80 people there, including one honeymoon couple, several visitors from across Europe and a couple of large parties from Skye.”