Virtual tour is way for Breabach to give back to venues such as Findhorn's Universal Hall
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Breabach spent lockdown working on a project that the band's touring schedule had never allowed space for, as John Davidson learned on a virtual trip to Findhorn
How to combine creative flair, musical masterpieces and support for closed-down venues during nearly a year of lockdowns and restrictions?
Well, the Breabach way was to pick up on a project that has sat at the back of their minds for much longer than that – and turn it into a positive.
They joined forces with Bafta-winning animator Cat Bruce to launch a new film, writing the musical score individually from their own homes.
The film, Dùsgadh – Gaelic for ‘awakening’ – features five original pieces of music, each one written, arranged and recorded from home by a different member of Breabach.
Having completed the animation, with help from some key players including sound man Keir Long, the band embarked on a 'virtual tour' of UK venues, starting with Eden Court on February 11 and also taking in Aberdeen and the Isle of Lewis.
I dropped into the Universal Hall 'show' at Findhorn and was surprised by the impressive production.
The hour-long event features some live footage of the band before the 23-minute feature film is shown – in English or Gaelic. The animation is based on a folkloric tale called The Sea Maiden, collected by John Francis Campbell, and is narrated by renowned tradition bearer Margaret Bennett.
It's a curious tale of a hunter's mission to regain her human form after being turned into a wolf-dog by a two-headed sea serpent.
Written down, that sounds very peculiar, but the film ebbs and flows as the story unfolds, taking the viewer along with the current thanks to the perfect interplay between screen and sound.
Breabach's music is delightful and a pleasure to listen to in itself, but the collective offers something more, especially with Bennett's perfect tone for such a traditional tale.
At the conclusion of the film, there was even a virtual interval with viewers invited to charge their glasses before a Q&A session with broadcaster and musician Anna Massie, of Blazin' Fiddles fame.
During their Zoom-style chat, the band members – including the newest member Conal McDonagh, who joined the line-up just weeks before the first lockdown last March – explained that the restrictions gave them the excuse they needed to get this project off the ground.
Ewan Robertson said: "We'd discussed working with Cat in the past but our touring schedule never allowed it to happen, so this felt like the perfect opportunity to get this off the ground."
Cat, who won a Scottish Bafta in 2016 for her animation No Place Like Home, had also worked with Breabach on their 2019 award-winning album Frenzy of the Meeting.
The band members – Conal and Ewan along with Megan Henderson, James Lindsay and Calum MacCrimmon – also talked about their connection to the virtual venue, in this case the Universal Hall at Findhorn.
A percentage of money from the ticket sales is going to each of the venues or festivals – the band's way of helping to support these pillars of the arts in communities here in the Highlands and across the UK.
For Ewan, the Findhorn event is as close as it get to a 'home gig'. He comes from Carrbridge, "just over the Dava", and says his parents always bring an entourage with them whenever he plays there.
Breabach, and many others, will be hoping they'll be back there in the flesh before too long. In the meantime, Dùsgadh offers an opportunity to feel part of something bigger.
- The virtual tour continues online with tickets for all events still available from www.myplayer.uk or www.breabach.com