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Artyness columnist and musician Liza Mulholland talks about the exciting project Spirit:360 – and the return of Woodzstock and a sponsorship that helps showcase young talent

By Liza Mulholland

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Sometimes a project comes along that just seems to work incredibly well on so many levels; it’s inspirational, engaging, enables creativity, commissions original work from artistes, is informative, has lasting positive benefits, and at its heart is community.

Liza Mulholland
Liza Mulholland

I’m talking about Spirit:360, a “commissioning programme, supported by the Highland Place Partnership through Creative Scotland Place Partnership funding, for emerging and established creative professionals – writers, musicians, filmmakers, visual artists and others – to create new work inspired by local stories that reflect the theme Spirit of the Highlands”.

Spirit:360 launched in summer 2021, inviting applications from artistes for paid commissions, and is part of the Spirit of the Highlands project (encompassing the transformation of Inverness Castle). Resulting work will be showcased on a new online platform, alongside the story which inspired it.

I was delighted to be awarded a music commission, based on a story I had previously submitted to the Spirit: Stories arm of the project, namely an account of how landless cottars, from the South Lochs area of Lewis in 1891, were tried for trespass and jailed in Inverness Castle prison.

The men, in a desperate bid for land on which to support their impoverished families, had attempted to re-settle old villages of Steimreway and Orinsay, from which their forefathers had been forcibly evicted. They were duly arrested, tried in Stornoway Sheriff Court, and sent to Inverness jail.

Regarded as convicts in law, they were heroes to the people, and on release were greeted by the cheering townsfolk and carried through the streets, dining in the Royal Hotel on Academy Street (now the Clydesdale Bank) to celebratory speeches by local dignitaries in support of land reform.

Sandi Thom.
Sandi Thom.

It’s been an incredible pleasure to research the story, and compose and record a trio of pieces, Na Gaisgich (The Heroes), which I hope will evoke elements of this story; people’s bond with place and land, the jubilation with which the men were greeted by Invernessians, as well as the ongoing issues of land ownership and use.

Other land campaigners were also tried and imprisoned in Inverness, and I hope Na Gaisgich helps amplify these lesser-known moments in the history of the castle. I’ll let you know when all the artiste commissions go online for viewing/ listening.

Another inspiring project is the Liam Colgan Music Fund, set up in memory of local musician Liam.

This week it is sponsoring the Haybarn Stage of the Black Isle’s Woodzstock Festival where Sandi Thom (pictured) is headlining on Saturday.

Several young singer-songwriters have won the chance to play live at the festival.

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