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ISLAND CULTURES EXPLORED IN UNIQUE COLLABORATION

26 Feb 2015

They may be geographically removed and unique in their own way, but Scotland’s northernmost islands share many cultural connections, not least their Viking heritage and a tradition of expressing their distinctive lifestyles through music.

Now a new collaboration, bringing together a trio of songwriters, has produced a collection of songs for the current generation, fusing diverse styles from three different island backgrounds.

Between Islands’, the work of Kris Drever, from Orkney, Arthur Nicholson, from Shetland, and Willie Campbell, from Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, will be heard for the first time in public this summer when it is premiered at the Hebridean Celtic Festival, which is marking its 20th anniversary.

The collaboration project was devised by an Lanntair, the arts centre in Stornoway - which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year - and will start the centre’s week-long programme of events during HebCelt from 15-19 July.

Alex MacDonald, Head of Performing Arts and cinema at an Lanntair, said: “Between Islands came about because of an idea I had about celebrating the wealth of talent the islands have collectively; an exploration of our ties rather than our differences.
 
“It seemed to me that we could make something very special happen by pairing the right people, and I certainly think we have struck gold with this first project. So much so that we plan to extend the idea and include other art forms such as film or craft in the future, as well as aiming for a musical collaborative project each year. In fact I am already planning the next one - based on the fiddle tradition – and this time featuring three very talented young island women.
 
“Opening the HebCelt with this concert feels entirely appropriate.  Both organisations are of course celebrating significant anniversaries this year, and this project is a clear illustration of our continued close relationship and in particular our shared aim of promoting island talent.”

Kris Drever is widely acclaimed as a solo artist, collaborator, and member of folk superstars Lau. Named as ‘Best Newcomer’ in the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards in 2007, he has produced several solo albums and also had successful collaborations as a trio with John McCusker and Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble and as a duo with Eamonn Coyne (from Treacherous Orchestra).

Shetlander Arthur Nicholson released his debut album Sticks & Stones in 2013 to significant acclaim and the following year won a coveted award for outstanding artists at the Danny Kyle Open Stage at Celtic Connections.

Lewis-born Willie Campbell, formerly of guitar pop outfit Astrid and Glasgow group The Reindeer Section, has produced a number of albums, both solo and with evolving local collective, The Open Day Rotation.  He has also collaborated with award winning poet Kevin MacNeil and, more recently, Calum Martin on Dalma, Willie’s debut Gaelic album.
  
Arthur said: “It's great to be involved in a project involving the different outlying Scottish islands. I'm not sure if something like this has ever been done before.

“The writing process went pretty smoothly, especially considering none of us had worked together before. We've ended up with a good mixture of different sounding songs. Our voices seem to blend really well together.”

Willie said: “I enjoyed every minute of the writing process for Between Islands. The three of us have our own distinct ways of approaching song writing, but without a doubt the environment you live in comes through so there's definitely a strong presence of the islands in the songs and themes that are familiar to all three of us.
 
“I hadn't heard Arthur’s or Kris' songs before the project, but we clicked really easily in terms of writing. Also, voices don't always blend and complement each other the way ours seem to.

“I'm so looking forward to playing these songs to an audience for the first time in An Lanntair.”

The centenary of the Great War and the rich traditions of shinty played on Scotland’s west coast, will be explored in the production Curaidhean na Camanachd (Shinty’s Heroes) being staged at an Lanntair on 16 July.
 
Musical Director Gary Innes and writer, broadcaster and shinty historian Hugh Dan MacLennan will be joined by singer Kathleen MacInnes, acclaimed piper Duncan MacGillivray, and musicians Ewen and Allan Henderson.
 
The programme will revolve around the impact of World War I on shinty-playing areas, including the Hebrides, and detail the early traditions of the game in the islands, from St Kilda to North Uist, Barra, Scarp and Lewis, using a combination of war-time and sporting images, including many previously unseen.

An Lanntair will also host the return of popular Gaelic group Na h-Òganaich who are widely credited with reviving interest in Gaelic music in the 1970s for a younger generation and influencing many musicians who followed in their footsteps, including Capercaillie.
Founding members Margaret and Donnie MacLeod were brought up in Edinburgh and Peterhead, but spoke Gaelic as their parents were from Lewis. Margaret won the coveted Gold Medal at the 1970 Royal National Mod and the following year she formed Na h-Òganaich with Donnie and friend Noel Eadie.
 
Na h-Òganaich went on to win the folksong competition at the 1971 Mod and the Celtavision Song Contest at Pan-Celtic week in Killarney in 1972. Gradually their appearances on stage and television spread through the Celtic nations, Europe, Canada and the USA, earning them cult status. 

The HebCelt audience will also see a return to the stage of Shine, a three-girl group formed originally in 1998.
 
The group is made up of Corrina Hewat, one of the world’s leading harp players and sought-after as a player, composer, arranger and teacher; Mary Macmaster , considered to be one of the most innovative players of the metal-strung harp in the world; and Lewis-born singer Alyth McCormack who tours extensively across Europe, the Americas, and the Far East with acts such as Paddy Moloney and The Chieftains.

Caroline Maclennan, HebCelt’s director, said: “Once again we have compiled a diverse, and we hope, thoroughly engaging programme for an Lanntair during the festival.  It will showcase the best of our traditional music and present our cultural heritage in modern and engaging ways whilst celebrating the ongoing collaboration between our respective organisations.” 

 
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