Published: 14/10/2014 10:37 - Updated: 14/10/2014 11:03

A century of conflict marked in Mod Town House show

Erik Spence has added music to Rev John MacLeod's lyrics.
Erik Spence has added music to Rev John MacLeod's lyrics.

A CONCERT of songs of war and reconciliation at Inverness Town House will have a direct link to losses over 60 years apart at the end of World War I and in the Falklands.

Mac-talla Cogaidh (Echoes of War) is based on the songs and poems of Rev John MacLeod and inspired by two of his greatest poems Bantrach Cogaidh (The War Widow) and Nam Anna Le Mo Smaointe (Alone With My Thoughts), both set to music by Inverness broadcaster and musician Erik Spence.

Although latterly a minister in Oban, MacLeod was originally from the island of Lewis and his father was one of over 200 men — most of them sailors returning to the island from service in World War I — lost when the HMY Iolaire sank on New Year’s Day 1919.

The war widow was MacLeod’s own mother and MacLeod, who saw service in World War II as a Royal Navy chaplain, writes powerfully about how she never recovered from the loss of her husband.

Nam Anna Le Mo Smaointe, which won an award at the Pan Celtic Festival in Kilarney, refers to a later conflict, the 1982 Falklands War and the death of young Royal Marine Gordon MacPherson from Oban, who was killed in the Battle of Two Sisters aged just 20.

His brother David and mother Dorothy will in the free lunchtime concert tomorrow, which features performances from Dingwall Gaelic Choir, Lochardil Primary School Choir, accordionist Hamish Poulson and no less than six Mod Gold Medal winners, including James Graham and Kirsteen Menzies.

Former Bòrd na Gàidhlig chief executive Allan Campbell will host the event and Inverness Courier Gaelic correspondent Roddy MacLean will narrate MacLeod’s words.

Spence, an old friend of MacLeod who officiated at Spence’s wedding, has put the concert together with the permission of MacLeod’s daughter Kathleen, a music teacher in Inverness, and with the help of another friend from Oban, Dave Mason, who helped him set down the music.

"The obvious hook was the World War I anniversary, but I felt other conflicts could be brought in and this was a good way to co-ordinate John’s words," Spence said.

Introduced with the pipe tune Lord Lovat’s Lament, the event will have a definite military feel, according to Spence.

"It’s not a ceilidh, it’s not a concert. It’s a commemoration," he stated.

"Because of that, there was only one place we could hold it, the Town House. You’ve got the ambiance, the memorials, the regimental flags. It wouldn’t have been appropriate in somewhere like Hootananny or even Eden Court."

However, Spence promises it will not be an entirely gloomy or sombre 40 minutes.

Among the pieces Spence has selected is a carol, sung by the children of Lochardil Primary School, representing the Christmas truce of 1914 in the first winter of World War I while a constant refrain will be the repeated words "Cha bhi cogaidh — war no more".

Erik Spence has assembled a large cast of musicians and singers for Wednesday's event.
Erik Spence has assembled a large cast of musicians and singers for Wednesday's event.

"In John’s writing, there was always hope," Spence said.

"Death wasn’t the end for him."

That spirit of hope is also to be found in Thoir Dhomh Do Lamh (Give Me Your Hand), the first MacLeod/Spence collaboration to find success in the Pan Celtic Song Contest, which it won in 1976, and has since become a standard of the Gaelic repertoire.

Each of the five verses will be sung by a different Gold Medal winning singer and the effect is very emotional.

"I heard it last night and I was absolutely thrilled to bits with it," Spence said.

Mac-talla Cogaidh may have been designed as a one off event for the Inverness Mod Fringe, the largest in the Royal National Mod’s 122-year history, but Spence is hopeful that there will be another chance to hear it.

"I would love to see it repeated at next year’s Mod in Oban at John’s church — that would be the logical place for it, but it all depends on funding," he said.

"But An Comunn Gàidhealach have been very excited about the whole project. They see it as their part in the World War I centenary commemorations."

•Mac-talla Cogaidh (Echoes of War) is at Inverness Town House at 1pm on Wednesday 15th October as part of the Inverness Mod Fringe.

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