Ceilidh Trail students Fèis up to Eden Court finale
After yet another massively busy Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail that has seen 15 of the traditional music programme’s finest young students touring Scotland and beyond (as three groups) things come to a end for another year with one final concert at Eden Court on Saturday night. Kyle Walker caught up with the Fèis’s chief executive Fiona Dalgetty to look back on this year’s trail
Hi Fiona! It’s nearly the end of another incredibly busy Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail – how’s everybody doing? Must be shattered by now after so many shows!
Our musicians have had so many amazing experiences on this year’s Ceilidh Trail. We have three bands with five musicians in each group, and all of them have had a wide range of performance experiences from village halls to pub session to outdoor events through our partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage to festivals. I think it is fair to say that they are tired, but also inspired and motivated to take their performance and stagecraft to the next level.
So how has Ceilidh Trail number 19 gone for everybody? What particular moments/shows have stood out for you and the students this year?
Watching these young musicians in week three of the tour, it always amazes me that they only actually met each other for the first time on Monday, July 9. Many of our audiences think they are watching a professional band who has been working together for a long time. The way the project works, we open for applications in January and have a residential audience weekend in February of each year. This year 29 young musicians auditioned for the 15 places available. As artistic director, I then split the 15 successful applicants into three groups with a good balance of instruments and singers in each band and they meet for an intensive rehearsal week in July before going on tour for a month.
Highlights this year have included:
The local Ceilidh Trail group have played for lots of amazing ceilidh dances on the West Coast, including Applecross, Poolewe and Achiltibuie. It’s brilliant to see visitors to our community joining in with the dancing and often commenting that the Ceilidh Trail event they have attended has been the highlight of their holiday. It enables people to hear high quality, authentic, traditional music, but also to connect with the local community and the place they are visiting.
Our two groups touring nationally across Scotland have been split into two bands where one band focuses on Gaelic repertoire and the other on Scots material.
A highlight for the Scots Trail was playing at The Tolbooth in Stirling, which is a beautiful venue where many of the professional acts they look to for inspiration would play on their tours. They also loved collaborating with young artists from across the world at the Aberdeen International Festival of Youth Arts.
The Gaelic Trail had an amazing experience performing to a packed audience on the Frigate Unicorn, one of the oldest war ships in the world, in Dundee. They have also just performed at Cambridge Folk Festival where former Fèis Rois participants, Elephant Sessions headlined the Saturday night.
How do you and the musicians stay motivated and active during the almost 100 performances in the space of a month? Any tricks on keeping the long journeys flying past?
I think, because this is such an intense training project, and they only put their performance material together at the beginning of July, the material is all still fresh and they enjoy sharing it with audiences and developing their arrangements as the project goes on. This is also a really good project for learning what it is really like to tour as a band and be together all the time for five weeks – performing together, eating every meal together, staying in the same accommodation. I think they are learning that it is important to find time for yourself when you are on the road and they have been swimming if there is a pool nearby, running, exploring the communities in which they are playing. A pack of cards definitely helps pass the time on the long journeys!
It’s your 10th year in partnership with Cambridge Folk Festival – it’s one of the biggest events in the folk calendar, so how important has it been to have that connection? And how did this year’s performance at the festival go – were there any special anniversary parts to the show?
This has been a really special year marking the 10th anniversary of our partnership with Cambridge Folk Festival. This year’s Ceilidh Trail joined the legendary Brian McNeill for his showcase on Stage 2, as well as performing their own 1-hour set in the Club Tent to an audience of around 1000 people. It was really inspiring for this year’s crop of Ceilidh Trail musicians to see previous Fèis Rois participants performing on the main stages. For example, Brìghde Chaimbeul from Kyle took part in our Ceilidh Trail in 2015 and visited Cambridge Folk Festival for the first time with Fèis Rois that year. After winning the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2016, Brìghde was playing on the main stage this year. Similarly, Rachel Newton, whose mum is from Achiltibuie, is known for her work as a solo artist, as well as with her band The Shee. Rachel is also a former Ceilidh Trail participant who performed on the main stage this year with both The Shee and Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band.
To mark the 10th year of our partnership, we asked Cambridge Folk Festival to nominate a young musician to be part of one of our Ceilidh Trail groups. Felix Churchill-Moss (mandolin) was offered this opportunity and he has been touring with our Galeic Trail learning all about Gaelic culture and music.
It’s obviously been a busy summer all round for Feis Rois, on top of the Ceilidh Trail, you worked with Eden Court on Under Canvas! Now that that’s over and done with, how do you think that went? Are you looking forward to bringing it back next year?
We were really delighted to work with our colleagues at Eden Court to bring Under Canvas to Inverness this summer. It was a huge success and very popular with local people and visitors alike. Plans are afoot for 2019 – watch this space!
After 19 years, what do you think it is that continues to make the Ceilidh Trail such a valuable opportunity and experience for young musicians?
The Ceilidh Trail is a really valuable opportunity for young musicians because they genuinely experience what it is like to be a touring artist. As well as performing, they learn about promoting their gigs, communicating with venues and other people in the industry, and how to do their own sound. Since the project began in 2000, more than 120 musicians have taken part and many of them have gone on to carve out very successful careers in the Scottish Music Industry, including John Somerville (Treacherous Orchestra), Fraya Thomsen (The Duplets), Mischa Macpherson (winner of the 2014 Gaelic Singer of the Year and BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award) and Innes White (Assynt and Heidi Talbot) to name but a few.
Looking forward to next year’s Ceilidh Trail (already, I know!) – with next year seeing Trail 20, are there any plans to mark that number in 2019?
We have already had venues in touch to book the Ceilidh Trail for 2019. In addition to the Ceilidh Trail and Under Canvas, Fèis Rois has also programmed the Scottish Pavilion at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient for the first time this year. Selling 500,000+ tickets, this is widely regarded as Europe’s largest Celtic Festival. We are looking forward to reviewing this first year where we have 6 bands showcasing and then looking to include our Ceilidh Trail musicians in this project next year.