There was a distinctly Scottish flavour to our July with both the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention in Aberdeen and Speyfest in Fochabers but we were kept busy at home also.
At the start of the month we were delighted to return to Youghal to work with Craobh Eochaille CCÉ and enjoy the opening night of Seisiún with Ceolta Sí. We were delighted to work with the young musicians during the day and also engage in discussions with branch chairman Mícheál de Buitléir on their vision for the future of Irish traditional music in Youghal. During our visit, we had an opportunity to visit the old Clock Tower in the company of John McGrath, the last resident of the tower. We also met other members of the community who shared their memories and knowledge of local history. Many towns have a rich cultural heritage but Youghal is an often underappreciated jewel of Ireland’s Ancient East. The performances by Ceolta Sí have gone from strength to strength and we were delighted to join with them for the end of their Seisiún performance.
You can read more about Daithí’s experience at NAFCo in the mid-month blog here. He presented a research paper on Josephine Keegan and contributed to a public discussion with Catríona MacDonald, Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University, on performing research. There were plenty of tunes, interesting papers, films and concerts during what was a very enjoyable and thought provoking event.
Daithí was on LMFM and Dundalk FM in July chatting about Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, DkIT and Speyfest. As one of the co-ordinators of the Gig Rig with Kay Webster, he was delighted to share some insight into the rich line-up that will take to the stage in Bolton Square, Drogheda during the Fleadh. There are many current students and graduates of DkIT performing also and the Creative Arts Research Centre will host a symposium organised by both of us on the Friday. We’ll be busy performing also with an album launch on the Monday followed by a slot on the Gig Rig.
In other preparations for Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2018, we had a great day in Dundalk Credit Union as they hosted a Fleadh Fever Session. We were joined on the day by Jane Meehan, Caoimhe McKiverigan, Conor Walsh and Ciara Brannigan. Marie Clarke also joined us for a song and lots of supporters dropped in to enjoy the hospitality of the Credit Union, who are the main sponsors of this year’s Fleadh. We also dropped into Clarke’s Bar in Drogheda where we had great fun with Willie Fogarty of ComhaltasLive and members of Drogheda Comhaltas. You can catch some of the videos on the Comhaltas website.
Speyfest was, once again, outstanding. We had previously attended in 2016 following our performances at the International Society for Music Education Conference in Glasgow and returned this year with the support of Culture Ireland as part of the GB18 programme of events. As well as performing, we facilitated workshops in Baxter’s Village and supervised a film project by one of our students who is engaged in a funded summer research programme. We were also joined for the trip by four students from DkIT – Caoimhe McKiverigan, Jane Meegan, Conor Bogue and Calvin McManus. They joined us to perform a number of tracks from the A Louth Lilt album and some older material.
We are indebted once again to our good friend John Mehigan who is a consistently friendly face to all who attend the festival. The friendliness and sense of community in relation to this festival is always evident and Jim Hallyburton was at the airport to collect us, inviting us back to his house for a few tunes in the afternoon sunshine where we met again with Janet, who has looked after us so well in the past.
Our musicking in Fochabers began on Thursday evening when we were part of a monster session at Spey Bay. Beginning out of doors on the balmy summer evening, as night fell the cool sea breeze coaxed us indoors where Irish and Scottish tunes were intermingled and a variety of musical styles were evident. Tunes old and new, fast and slow, delighted all those present, the majority of whom seemed to be musicians, even if they weren’t playing. On Friday morning we rose early to visit the grave of William Marshall in Bellie Churchyard before leading the workshops out at Baxters. The beautiful day allowed us to take some of the groups outdoors and all levels were catered for. That night we had the opportunity the sit back and enjoy the Milne’s Fiddlers, Rachel Hare and Ron Jappy and, of course, James Alexander and friends.
James was joined by a number of his musical friends for a very special concert on the Friday night that reflected his immense contribution to Scottish traditional music and music education in Fochabers. Amongst the performers were his school friend Dougie Laurence, Charlie McKerron from Capercaillie, Paul Anderson who was the 2018 NAFCo Ambassador, Gregor Borland who has recently returned to Scotland from a period in Spain, and former student of James’ Mhairi Marwick and Raemond Jappy. Skerryvore were amongst the bands who performed for the Stomp that night bringing a rock sensibility to end the evening.
Saturday was again busy as straight after the workshops we dashed to the festival site where we took to the stage with all of our workshop participants after the Speyfest Young Entertainer Competition. The winners of the competition were a wonderful trio of young fiddlers who had been attending our workshops and undoubtedly have a bright future ahead of them. Through the afternoon, visiting bands were interspersed with local bands and these included Kilderkin with Lewis Wiles and also The Forty Elephants with Chris Wiles. Lewis and Chris were outstanding MCs throughout the weekend. Saturday night’s line-up included Flook, whose excellent performances were enhanced by the wonderful lighting production in the main Bothy tent.
Sunday began early as we participated in the ecumenical service for Speyfest. We played both stages later in the day, in between catching many of the great performers at the festival. It was a thrill to see the Fochaber’s Fiddlers again, led by Sir James Alexander. That night Adam Sutherland was followed by Rura who were followed by Skippinish in what was a fantastic climax to the festival and our trip to Scotland. The music was incentive and creative – Adam at times leaned towards jazz and Rura towards rock – but the sound also relied on older traditions and some familiarity, including a performance of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ by Skippinish.
Returning to Fochabers has allowed us to continue an aspect of our research relating to festivals and musical identities. We have previously presented on Speyfest at the ICTM Ireland conference in 2017 and look forward to continue to develop our research in this area. We have been fortunate to visit Scotland a number of times over the past two years and you can read some of our previous reflections from April 2017 and January 2018 in our previous blogs.
Monday morning we were brought back to Inverness airport by Isobel and made our way back to Co. Louth to immerse ourselves once again in preparations for the Fleadh in Drogheda. Maybe you’ll join us there.