Music in Inverness in 2019 produced new talents, live gems, the odd bit of shock news and moments you would want to keep rewinding forever
SO what were the performances, experiences, talents, that tattooed themselves onto your life in 2019? Plus changes and surprises, dream gigs and unforgettable theatre.
More tribute acts celebrated talents we already know as new local talents emerged, venue changes loom (Ironworks, Mad Hatters at Hootanannys), less profile places emerge (Croy Village Hall with Croy Live).
Live entertainment places began to reconfigure – old familiar venues were undergoing shifts, possibly in location (Ironworks, Mad Hatters at Hootanannys). But also less high profile venues went from strength to strength (two were Elgin Town Hall and Croy Village Hall) with the Croy Live series).
Looking back, you are amazed how many creative talents and moments lit up our lives in the North, as you try to pick your five best gigs, best theatre, interviews, book moments and films.
But for music, here goes. Early gigs last year making their mark included the return of THE BROKEN RAVENS from Stornoway fronted by Nairn’s Toby Michaels for an early rock injection at Mad Hatters. Sadly, that line-up is now no more with the Ravens since announcing Iain 'Spanish' MacKay on vocals. Hopefully Toby will re-emerge in new musical projects in 2020.
As always, the Scottish music year begins with Glasgow’s Celtic Connections and – as ever – it was packed with North musicians. One of the more unusual partnerings was Carrbridge’s RACHEL SERMANNI with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and piper Jarlath Henderson.
It was an intriguing collaboration which enhanced the music of all taking part and lifted the experience to something unique that this festival specialises in – lateral thinking. Going down to Glasgow to catch this latest Rachel Sermanni rite of passage – appearing with the orchestra with her songs arranged by John Ashton Thomas and Esta Visser – "For Rachel the added clout of the orchestra's sound made her work shine... The intensity of I've Got A Girl was given a new grandeur by the orchestra, a sweep of strings added Hollywood to Don't Fade, the song making the best use of the orchestra including a perfectly-placed triangle note!
They also maximised the horror movie fingerslide in The Fog".
It's worth checking out the North musicians headed for the three-week Celtic Connections this year. See this week's Seven Days supplement in Inverness Courier, Ross-shire Journal, Strathspey Herald, Northern Scot, Northern Times and John O'Groat Journal.
But a couple with events there this week include Inverness's Bruce MacGregor with a gig on Sunday of tunes and tall tales, launching his book The Highlander's Revenge. Also Grantown's Hamish Napier will launch The Woods, third album in his album trilogy, at a gig on Sunday with fellow North-raised musician, fiddler Sarah-Jane Summers.
You can read an interview in Seven Days with Hamish this week where he talks about the new album.
Going back to 2019, standout moments of the year immediately include – NOEL GALLAGHER’S outdoor gig at Bught Park, and two more big-scale events were THE PROCLAIMERS
and SKIPINNISH’s 20th anniversary show at Bught Park’s Big Top, both blessed with vocal audiences – more events there with McFly and Skipinnish follow this year.
The Netsounds Showcase at the Ironworks in December 2018 had signalled some names to watch out for in 2019 – including Moray band The Roov, Lochaber’s Keir Gibson and the continuing progress of Cromarty’s Tamzene.
New festival THE GATHERING at the Northern Meeting Park brought a must-see line-up of young trad and folk talent to the centre of Inverness.
It also saw an early sign of the cult island sensation, Lewis’s PEAT & DIESEL, who went on to conquer Scotland, winning best live act at the Trad Awards, vying for number one with Christmas single Fairy Tale Of New York and selling out gigs such as the Barrowlands and the Ironworks.
Another traditional must-see event came in May with the FERGIE MACDONALD night at Eden Court hosted by BBC Scotland Take The Floor host Gary Innes – a night of great chat, music, top musicians and a traditional ceilidh feel, right down to the late-running finish!
The SOFAR SESSIONS saw their first year in Inverness celebrated at a special venue – Inverness Cathedral with Nairn-raised Mike Vass in a line-up including part of the Sofar organising team Nicky Murray and Chloe Rodgers, plus Chloe Bryce and Patsy Reid and visiting Glasgow singer songwriter Zoe Graham making a standout night of music.
Unique one-off nights that notched up four and five-star reviews included singer-songwriters NERINA PALLOT and BLUE ROSE CODE;
Achiltibuie/Ullapool and Fortrose musicians MAIREARAD GREEN & ANNA MASSIE and Hebridean supergroup THE TUMBLING SOULS;
the joyful non-stop celebration of The Four Seasons’ music at Eden Court’s big stage performance BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY and Beatles’ tribute LET IT BE;
Festivals included small, relaxed Tore event WOODZSTOCK
creative industries summit XPONORTH, with all its music showcases and top-notch rock celebration MONSTERFEST;
world music collaboration came with the duo CATRIN FINCH AND SECKOU KEITA on harp and kora, playing music inspired by Welsh female Osprey Clarach and the theme of migration;
Classical triumphs included the Highland MAHLER PLAYERS’ five-star performance of Die Walkure: Act One in a specially-commissioned arrangement for small orchestra which featured top soloists tenor Peter Wedd, Claire Rutter and Iestyn Edwards, making it "impossible to miss the emotional impact of the music combined with the stunning performances of all three soloists".
SCOTTISH OPERA go big on voices, design, passion and this year offered their quirky steampunk revived version of THE MAGIC FLUTE with another revived production in November, the sumptuous version of TOSCA with Natalya Romaniw the power at the heart of the production in the title role.
And in a year where trad and folk blazed across the live calendar, there were two more significant nights, featuring the annual Ironworks gig from HO-RO where they opened the show with a powerful tribute to the venue itself and the impact music has on lives, and NITEWORKS' dramatic return with a fully-conceived experience for the audience with lightshow and a sense of drama a magnificent extra dimension to one of the savviest line-ups out there when it comes to fusing dance and traditional sounds.
So to narrow a year’s worth of music to my top 5 is tough – at least 10 more jostle in the queue behind these:
1 Belladrum, August – a golden year for the festival with a quintessential Tartan Heart line-up that brought Lewis Capaldi, as just one of the best-ever Bella moments (The Roov, Seedlings, just one more standout in the Seedlings tent).
2 Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Inverness, June – it felt like a big moment for Inverness, once we would never have dreamed Oasis songs would ring out across the city. Great Highland supports too from Inverness’s Lional and Caithness’s wonderboys Neon Waltz.
3 Edwyn Collins, Ironworks, Inverness, September – emotional and inspirational. Nothing can touch those legendary songs sung in that unique voice. Also great year for support Astrid who brought out a new, stonking album.
4 Primal Scream, Ironworks, December – ignited the venue with Bobby Gillespie’s rock presence and a setlist packed with a careerful of successful gear changes.
5 Chancers and The Dihydro, the Market Bar, Inverness, June – a gig close after the debuts of both new Inverness bands, this gig was an exhilarating reminder of the venue's role as a nest that nurtures musicians of many genres.
Both bands continue to grow, with The Dihydro just having a gig embracing their contrasting dance side, collaborating with another exciting Inverness band, The Dazed Digital Age.
If there's a message to carry forward into 2020, it is that our abundance of musical choices on a nightly basis in the city and across the Highlands is a gift we shouldn't take for granted.
As we await news on the future incarnations of Inverness venues such as the Ironworks and Mad Hatters, why not make some plans to support music – for the musicians and the businesses that depend on the future of music – and ourselves, for our own pleasure and well-being.
Check out my review of 2019's theatre highspots on this site's Theatre page: https://www.whatson-north.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/review-2019-theatre-189449/
Also, see my colleague Kyle Walker's big moments of 2019 in his review too! https://www.whatson-north.co.uk/whats-on/news/2019-in-review-kyles-top-tunes-theatre-and-talking-from-year-of-muchness-189411/