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All aboard the Cèilidh Trail!

By Liza Mulholland

With June’s weather unseasonably wet and cold, many are asking what’s happened to summer. But with the countdown to the school holidays and Cèilidh Trail season, there can be no doubt – it must be summer!

Fans of traditional music are in for a treat, for throughout July and August scores of young people will be touring the Highlands, taking music and song to communities – indoors and in the open air – day and night.

The success of the Fèis movement has spawned numerous exciting projects, one of which is the Cèilidh Trail concept, first launched by Fèis Rois nearly 20 years ago. Offering professional development and a stepping-stone between youth music instruction and further study or launching a career as a performing artist, the trails are designed to build confidence and give young musicians aged between 16 and 25 a supported taste of life on the road.

Providing paid gigs over summer weeks, tours involve diverse performances and venues from canal sides and historic sites to tearooms and village halls, offering experience of working with audiences both local and visiting. These talented young people, who audition for places, gain valuable experience in putting musical sets and arrangements together, working as an ensemble, planning and rehearsing, travel and logistics, presentation and performance… and developing stamina!

Most are organised by local Fèisean and supported by Fèisean nan Gàidheal and other funders, and we are lucky to have several in the Highlands, from Strathspey through Nairn and Ross-shire, up to Sutherland and out west to Skye and Lochalsh. I’d like to give a big shout out though to a trail not the work of a Fèis but due to the dedicated efforts and energy of one creative young Inverness woman.

Rachel Campbell, an experienced musician and fiddle tutor, has established her own music school, Astar (Gaelic for distance), offering classes and events in traditional music, Gaelic language and song. Oh, and the small matter of running two cèilidh bands, one under 18s and one for adults.

Fiddle teacher Rachel Campbell runs Astar music school. Picture: Gair Fraser/SPP
Fiddle teacher Rachel Campbell runs Astar music school. Picture: Gair Fraser/SPP

Highland tradition and history are at the heart of what she does, and Gaelic-speaking Rachel will take the Youth Cèilidh Band out to Uist for the Cèolas Summer School before leading the Monster Trad Music Trail youngsters out on the road.

She has created a fabulous two-week itinerary around Inverness and Loch Ness (July 15-27), with bespoke accompanying map, and is researching stories, tunes and songs from local areas to share along the way.

I applaud what Rachel and Fèisean are doing to bring music to our communities and pass the baton of traditional culture on to the next generation, so would implore you to go and hear whichever Cèilidh Trail visits your town or village. Those young musicians are giving it their all, so let’s give them our support!

Another passionate musician who believed in putting something back, and whom I'll remember with great affection and respect, is the late Rick Taylor. An inspirational musician of monumental talents as performer, composer, teacher and mentor, Rick’s career took him around the world with stars including Elton John and George Michael.

Settling on Skye, this sublime trombonist became part of the Peatbog Faeries sound and was eagerly embraced by numerous folk artistes. As one of our early guest tutors at Blazin’ in Beauly, Rick’s warm personality and knack for getting the best from groupwork students ensured he became a welcome Beauly regular.

I chatted with him just weeks ago at friend Christine Hanson’s Cremation of Sam McGee, in which he sang a most beautiful song and his inventive, sympathetic playing brought such colour and texture to the show soundscape.

The love and esteem in which he was held is reflected in countless online posts from stunned and bereft friends, but one I thought particularly apt likened Rick to a ‘musical midwife’; enabling, encouraging and enthusing others, no matter their age or ability, and bringing so much great music into the world. The lasting legacy of a lovely man.

Coming up:

Friday, June 28. Fundraising Cèilidh for Astar’s Monster Trad Music Trail in Ardersier Memorial Hall, 8pm-11.30pm.

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