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Blas Festival reveals many exciting projects for the live festival's return in November celebrating Gaelic culture

By Margaret Chrystall

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The Blas Festival, celebrating Gaelic culture, returns from November 19-27 with a line-up of top traditional musicians and singers, most of whom didn’t perform for over 18 months due to Covid.

Karen Matheson.
Karen Matheson.

Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw and Charlie McKerron, Skipinnish front man and singer, Norrie MacIver and BBC Radio 2 Folk awards winners, Mischa Macpherson, Brìghde Chaimbeul, Ross Ainslie and Tim Edey, will perform during the nine-day festival which will take place in venues from Staffin in Skye to Strathy and Applecross to Arisaig.

The festival will host 26 concerts and cèilidhs, a variety of workshops and Facebook Live events.

Kim Carnie's Buaidh nam Ban will celebrate women bards.
Kim Carnie's Buaidh nam Ban will celebrate women bards.

Blas, which means ‘taste’ or ‘sample’ is organised by Fèisean nan Gàidheal in partnership with Highland Council and will take place from November 19-27.

It will open with a brand-new musical commission, Buaidh nam Ban, by Mànran singer and TV presenter, Kim Carnie, celebrating the life and works of women bàrds including Màiri Mhòr nan Òran and will culminate in a night of special concerts in Strathy, Raasay, Kilmuir and Inverness.

As always, a special birthday is being celebrated at the 17th Blas Festival.

Aonghas Grant, birthday celebration.
Aonghas Grant, birthday celebration.

Legendary Lochaber left-handed fiddler, Angus Grant, will celebrate his 90th birthday in style with musician friends including former pupils Allan Henderson, Ingrid Henderson, Sarah Jayne Shankland, Eilidh Shaw and Kevin Cameron.

There will be also a special night dedicated to the Uist singer, piper and tradition bearer, Catriona Garbutt, who will be joined by fellow Uist musicians and singers including Sineag MacIntyre, piper Dr Angus Macdonald, Catriona’s nephew Niall Campbell and Ruairidh Gray.

Fiddler Iain Fraser will premiere his new album Gneiss which was commissioned by Fèis Rois. The album celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Adult Fèis (Fèis Rois nan Inbheach) and features a host of artists who have a strong link with this much-loved annual event.

On the final night of the festival there will be a special performance of the soundtrack from BBC Scotland’s Gaelic drama, Gruth is Uachdar (Crowdie and Cream), composed by Donald Shaw and Charlie McKerron of Capercaillie.

They were awarded the Royal Television Award for both soundtrack and theme tune and will recreate the music – for the first time in 20 years since its broadcast – in the stunning setting of Inverness Cathedral with a stellar line up of traditional musicians and an opening set by Karen Matheson.

Daimh will play in Gairloch. Picture: Archie MacFarlane
Daimh will play in Gairloch. Picture: Archie MacFarlane

Other highlights of this year’s Blas include young folk band, Eabhal, along with Gaelic singer, Deirdre Graham, in Lochcarron; Tim Edey and Ross Ainslie in Arisaig; west coast folk group Dàimh in Gairloch; Gaelic singer Norrie MacIver and young trio, Hecla, in Strathdearn and Strathy; Celtic Praise in Inverness Cathedral with John Murdo Martin and Isobel Ann Martin; and husband and wife duo, Fionnag NicConnich and Brian Ó hEadhra in Lochinver and Applecross with their family and Emma MacLeod, a Gaelic singer from Scalpay who went viral on Twitter during lockdown with her stunning contribution to #CovidCeilidh, started by Highland fiddler Duncan Chisholm, and who won the prestigious Traditional Gold Medal at last week’s National Mòd.

Arthur Cormack from Blas Festival organisers, Fèisean nan Gàidheal, added: “In what has been another challenging year for musicians and communities, we are looking forward to bringing the Blas Festival back to audiences across the Highlands.

"The varied programme, which will consist of both ticketed and free events, provides much needed work for musicians and creative practitioners.

"Musicians contributed greatly to the wellbeing of people during Covid lockdown periods and we hope they will now be supported as live events take place once again.

"We aim to make it as safe as possible for people to attend Blas events and are grateful to all our funders, particularly Highland Council, for continuing to support the festival.

"We look forward to the nine-day celebration of Highland culture next month.”

Shona MacLennan, Ceannard, Bòrd na Gàidhlig commented: ‘We are delighted that the Blàs Festival will be bringing Gaelic song and music to audiences throughout the Highlands this year.

"The online event last year provided a welcome uplift in a very challenging year and the festival’s impact will be even greater with live audiences.

"The festival portrays the best of Gaelic language and culture and each year contributes to the aim of the National Gaelic Language Plan that Gaelic is used more often, by more people in a wider range of situations.”

The full programme of events can be found at www.blas.scot along with details of how to purchase tickets.

The Blas Festival features homegrown talent alongside internationally renowned traditional musicians. Gaelic plays a prominent part in every Blas event, making it a key Highland cultural event.

The roots of this 17th Blas, were created as a result of Highland Council’s desire to have a festival, in its area, which would match the vitality of Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours.

Fèisean nan Gàidheal was asked by The Highland Council to develop and deliver the festival, which it has done successfully in partnership with local Fèisean and promoters.

The Blas Festival primary funders and supporters include Highland Council, Creative Scotland, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, and Fèisean nan Gàidheal.

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