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Artyness: Music is a community of friends

By Liza Mulholland

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Liza Mulholland
Liza Mulholland

By Liza Mulholland

This week I have been reflecting on two strands of what it is to love and play music – one uplifting, the other saddening – at the heart of which lies the same core: community.

Camaraderie and fraternity, through collaboration and playing with other musicians, are central to why I play music and what I love about it.

The sheer joy of creating something together, and the bonds and lifelong friendships forged, make music a highly special artform.

In the Highlands, we are fortunate to have a very close-knit and thriving community of musicians. We mostly know each other, and many musicians play in several different line-ups, so the creative cross-fertilisation and network of friendships is huge.

A heart-warming example of this was a recent gig in Inverness’s sparkly Botanic House music venue. Popular local band Ashley and the Cosmonauts, fronted by the fabulous Ashley Mackay, were doing their first gig in ages so lots of friends and fans were there at the pre-booked, socially distanced tables.

The musicians all play in other bands, including Robin Abbot and Derek Urquhart – stalwarts of our own Dorec-a-belle – so it was very much a case of enjoying the brilliant music and supporting our pals.

It was excellent, with Ashley’s soaring vocals and the Cosmonauts’ fantastic musicianship in top form. Uplifting, life-affirming and joyous, it felt great to be back out listening to a wonderful band of friends giving it their all.

Equally, when a close music community loses one of its own it is deeply saddening and heart-wrenching. The recent loss of local musician Craig Aitkenhead is just that.

Craig Aitkenhead.
Craig Aitkenhead.

Superb drummer with Inverness’s Little Mill of Happiness and legends Stetsonhead, Craig was not just an incredible musician but also universally popular and an extremely nice, funny and warm friend to many, whose untimely loss will be felt acutely within the community.

If memory serves me well, I first heard Stetsonhead in the Haugh Bar in 1995. Bruce and I had just moved into a flat on Tomnahurich Street and one Sunday afternoon we wandered over to the Haugh to hear a roster of live bands.

I had recently returned to my hometown after living in Glasgow, so was delighted to see old school friend Ali Dooner on lead vocals. Stetsonhead were superb; full-on charisma, a big rich sound, and great songs awash with darkly witty lyrics, they had the place jumping and I was hooked.

The band have been hugely loved regulars on the local scene and many venues and festivals further afield. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen them perform and each one a belter, with Craig there on drums driving that rhythmic energy with ease and flair.

On their Facebook page, brilliant young Inverness band Lional write that Craig has been both inspiration and role model to them.

I echo their heartfelt words, "So many of our lives have been brightened by Craig’s presence", in sending deepest condolences to his family.

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