Famous moments for SEALL director

SEALL’s creative director has been rewarded for a quarter of a century of dedicated service to his community and Scottish traditional music.

Duncan MacInnes is one of seven individuals who have been inducted into this year’s Hands Up for Trad Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame.

The prestigious award recognises people who work tirelessly to help their community and enrich the lives of others through selfless service or charitable work. Inductions will take place at a ceremony in Glasgow’s Òran Mòr on 2 November.

The services to the community category of the awards, reflects the 25 years Duncan spent as a volunteer bringing Scottish traditional music to audiences in the south of Skye as well as nurturing and supporting the local young talent of his communities by providing the musicians with their first experiences of public performance.

Duncan has lived in Sleat all his adult life and a countryside ranger at the Clan Donald centre at Armadale Castle. It was here he first began promoting performing arts events, after the Old Stables building was turned into a restaurant.

Duncan said: “Because I was involved in the local drama group here, Edinburgh Mime Company approached me and said they wanted to come to Skye. I got them into the village hall. That got me thinking the Stables at Armadale Castle would make an excellent performance space and, by default, I became the centre’s arts officer. We put on events with the likes of Capercaillie, Seolas, Archie Fisher and Hamish Imlach.”

In 1991, Duncan finished working for the Clan but realised there was still an audience for performing arts on Sleat.

He said: “We had a very good local audience by then and so a group of people set up SEALL with me. I started promoting events in venues around Sleat and, 27 years later, I am still at it.”

Each year, SEALL delivers a year-round touring programme and the Fèis an Eilein, The Skye Festival. Their offices are based at the Gaelic College, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and the organisation was recently given top approval by the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP who said: “SEALL is an inspiration to what can be achieved in terms of support for Scotland’s culture. Over the years, SEALL has become one of the best rural performing arts promoters in Scotland …” and “…connects with the local communities to help serve them.”

Based at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College, on Sleat, SEALL runs a year-round programme of almost 80 events as well as the Fèis an Eilein – the two-month-long Skye Festival in July and August.

In 2016 SEALL developed into a professional team of three paid freelance staff, to which Duncan, as creative driector, is one. He continues to volunteer some of his time in the evenings as master of ceremony at SEALL events.

This year, with the help of continuing support from Creative Scotland, funders, members and supporters, the community-led organisation revealed ambitious plans to broaden its reach to venues and communities across Skye and Lochalsh as well as improve its programme. It is expected that 2018 will be a landmark year for SEALL which will host its 2,000th event.

Duncan added: “Over the winter, I archived 27 years of posters and updated our database. We have held over 1800 events so far.

“It is interesting to note the number of bands who began their careers on the SEALL stage who are now doing their 20 or 25-year anniversary tours. In May Daìmh are celebrating their 20th anniversary. We hosted their very first concert as a band in Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. Kate Rusby played at SEALL just three weeks before winning the Mercury Prize and, many of the nominees and winners of this year’s big trad awards have all played here at some stage of their early careers.

“We promoted Arthur Cormack when he was just starting out and we would really like to do more to give our young local talent a step up the career ladder. To this end, we invite our young rising stars of traditional music to perform opening sets for our trad giants. Years later, these youngsters will become the next big names, attract audiences in their thousands and command higher fees, just like their forerunners.”

Norman Gillies, former director of Sabhal Mor Ostaig, said: “In my twenty-five years at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig I got to know Duncan well and I am full of admiration for what he has achieved for the Sleat community over many years. 

“During my time as Director of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig I worked closely with Duncan in his role at SEALL, and as an individual promoting the arts and rural development. 

“The respect I had for Duncan meant that Sabhal Mòr Ostaig buildings were made available to him for any events that he wished to promote.  We saw this co-operation with Duncan, and SEALL, as fulfilling our role in terms of community engagement.

“The partnership that evolved brought great benefit, both social and economic, to the Sleat community.  Working in conjunction with the Summer School programme at Sabhal Mòr Duncan and his team put together what became Fèis an Eilein, an eclectic mix of events which attracted over three thousand visitors over a packed two-week programme. 

“Duncan worked tirelessly, and most of the time for very little return, to ensure that Fèis an Eilein became one of Scotland’s best known and best loved small festivals.  He also, of course, managed to find the energy to put on a year-long programme of arts events ranging from welly boot dancers from South Africa to Scottish Opera and some memorable traditional cèilidhs.

“He is a creative, intelligent and caring individual and, whilst he would be the last to seek kudos for what he has made a life’s work in community service, he is more than deserving of public recognition.

“He also has enough chutzpah to present the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs with a book of Gaelic erotic verse on the occasion of her opening the new SEALL offices.”

This is the second time Duncan has been recognised for his services to the community and performing arts. Last year, he received a Highly Commended Special Award in the 2017 Rural Touring Awards.

The Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame is dedicated to giving acknowledgement and recognition to musicians and industry people who, by their dedication and hard work, have supported and influenced the development of Scottish traditional music during their lives. Launched at the Scots Trad Music Awards in December 2005, the membership of the Hall of Fame is added to annually.