Monday, 23 December 2013

The End of Another Year

Hello everyone!  Well we’re at the end of another year. The choir are on a well deserved break but will get together for what’s now becoming an annual New Year buffet-ceilidh in Thurso, courtesy of our lovely soprano, Helen Heddle and her Tempest Café.

It’s been a wonderful year again – everyone packed into Ceòlas for a choir Burns Supper with a difference in January, winning at the International Pan Celtic Festival in April, taking part in the local Mòd in Bettyhill, winning the Puirt Competition, participating at the Inverness Mòd and being second-equal with Inverness GC to Dingwall, plenty parties and BBQs during the summer at Ceòlas new fire pit and BBQ areas, workshops with Mary Ann Kennedy in Thrumster and in Castletown courtesy of Christine Stone, participation at the National Mòd in Paisley and here we are already looking at next year and doing it all over again!

We also have a year to look back on with our soloists as well! Many of the choir obtained their Gaelic cards this year – Mikie, Ed, Mel, Eileen, Susan and Kooga – well done! They still continue to learn the language, along with other choristers Pat and Hugh, and all are looking to increase their language skills along with other new learners! We really have to congratulate all of the soloists in their achievements – many of them with silverware at their homes this year – Ed, Mel, Eileen and Kooga all took part in their first competitions this year. To add to his Provincial Mòd successes, Mikie had his first national Mòd success with third place out of 21 choristers in the Skye and Sutherland Bard competition, Neil won the trad competition at a number of provincial Mòds and made the final at the National, taking third place and Robert, after winning the Silver Pendant last year, went on to take the Gold Medal this year. Again, we should apologise to the Glynhill Hotel for the mess we made of his room – sorry! :D Robert also went on to win Best Up-and-Coming artiste at the MG Alba Trad Awards in December. Congratulations to him and indeed to them all!

We also were delighted to welcome a number of new choristers to the choir – Rebecca MacKenzie, Kelly Davidson and Sean Frame.

We’re really looking forward to having all the choristers that couldn’t sing with us in Paisley singing with us again in Inverness – Philip, Celia, Robert, Rebecca, Helen, Sheena, Alistair, Lee, Ruth, Sarah etc, etc – we missed you all!

We need to thank everyone again for their commitment, their time and effort – they’re a marvellous bunch and indeed all very much make up a family that we all miss when we’re not together! That includes our wonderful Gaelic Tutor and friend Christine Stone – she does a wonderful job looking after our Gaelic (and most of the Tenors, rowdy bunch that they are getting!), Graham, conductor of the Ladies Choir and Deputy Conductor, Pat (El Presidente!) Kieran, Philip and Ann.

Nollaig Chrìdheil dhuibh uile agus Bhliadhna Mhath Ùr dhuibh uile nuair a thigeas i!

Merry Christmas to you all and a Good New Year to you all when it comes!

See you all on the 3rd Jan at Ceòlas and 4th Jan in the Tempest Café at 6.30pm for 7pm. Choir returns on Thursday 16th January in Melvich Primary School at 7 pm for Ladies and 8 pm for mixed voices. Everyone will be welcome, especially new choristers!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Caithness & Sutherland Provincial Mòd, Am Blàran Odhar, June 1st 2013

The view was so good we all forgot to take photos of people....

This blog post is courtesy of our illustrious choir conductor, Raymond Bremner!

"The Caithness and Sutherland Provincial Mòd - the only provincial Mòd that imitates the National by being hosted in a different venue each year throughout the biggest provincial area in Scotland - covering the entire geographic area of the North of Scotland. We don't have a lot of hardened Mòd goers coming to our provincial Mòd who travel and attend the other more well-known Mòds in other areas of Scotland but what we do have is a great atmosphere, created by a lot of hard work undertaken by a close-knit community here in our home area.

The provincial Mòd at the weekend was all the more poignant given that we had so much of our local talent on show - both youth and adult. From Fèis to Choir, from soloists, instrumentalists to choral and group participation. We had the lot.

For me, I really look forward to Bettyhill every time. I remember when I first sat in the bay-windowed north room of the Bettyhill Hotel which now hosts diners - with characters like the late Willie Barra and Jessie Cameron together with Rona Lightfoot who was adjudicating at this years provincial. We would sit there singing and laughing until 5am with the sun going down for a brief minute and the sunlight never fading. There has even been times where some of the choir members have gone beach-walking at that time of the morning before going to bed! You have to experience it to believe it!

Another great thing about our Mòd here is that the junior and senior competitions are all still on the same day creating a great atmosphere - we need to encourage the adults to attend the junior competitions more and the juniors also to attend the adult competitions more - for inspiration to both camps - the Eisteddfod does this so much better by having those "intermediate" areas that bridge the divide that we see so often at our own National Level. Seeing the juniors is an inspiration - especially when you arrive and see them all playing football on the field in their kilts! That hasn't changed since the days when James Graham and his mate James MacRae were doing the same at Bettyhill - with Willie Barra having to sort James MacRae's tie before he went into competition! As we know, James Graham went onto win the major Junior awards that year at National level (1996!) and then finally to win the Gold Medal, carving a well-deserved career at the same time. Finlay MacKay, Golspie is another Gold Medallist from our area, Philip Todd a silver medallist and Christine Stone our current Traditional Gold Medallist - we have quite a boast from our Provincial area!

What's so important is that we continue to build on this past - and this year we saw that in no small measure. The up-and-coming Mikie Henderson who's taking on the challenge of learning the language to compete for the Silver - whether this year or next, we don't care, we just want him to keep going with the language to get that silver card and represent our area at National Level - which he did so well on Saturday!

Then, from the Western Isles, but claimed as our own, we have Neil MacRitchie, from Carloway. Committed to Melvich Gaelic Choir before his own village choir got under way, he has stuck with us and is now getting right back into the way of singing in Gaelic. We're delighted that we can boast a traditional song competition in our area and with the new cup that has been going for three years now with the revered name of Willie MacDonald (Barra) being commemorated both for his contribution to Gaelic and, in particular, Caithness, being the very first Traditional Gold Medallist at the Royal National Mòd in Stirling 1971, anyone who has their name engraved on that trophy can consider themselves honoured. Rona Lightfoot's short, blunt and very sweet adjudication to Neil - "Traditional Gold Medal - here you come!".

We also have other wonderful voices - Ed Boyter and his lovely partner Mel Hayes - who both sang in the Skye and Sutherland Bard Competition, with Ed himself winning. It's Mel's own fault that he won - if she hadn't brought him to her first choir practice, he wouldn't be in the choir to this day and would not be gracing a stage never mind singing solo at a Mòd - we're delighted that Mel came along those months ago, and that Ed decided to continue! Both sang wonderfully and with conviction - we know the practice that they put in as well! Eileen - with a lovely top soprano voice - how well she and Mel coped with the challenge of so much singing, colds and all - and still making a lovely contribution on the day. Ann Boag, who chaired the competition, stated that she wouldn't like to be the adjudicators - that the competition was fantastic - and very difficult. But how wonderful it was to hear each being announced with thunderous applause from their choir buddies, and again after they finished - wolf whistles and all!!!! It's a modern age folks - get with it - encourage it and accept it - the pomp of yester-year is gone - long live the modern age of the Mòd with the excitement it brings! Then there is the one and only - K-O-O-O-O-O-O-G-A! With the presence of a one-man choir! The grandson of the well-known heavy-weight Highland Games Chieftain at the Mey Games, Charlie Simpson. Descendent of the owners of the island of Stroma, he took to the stage, convinced he would forget his words in the last verse, and didn't! Whilst all of them might have been nervous, none forgot their words or stalled! We were a very proud choir for their contribution and their first Provincial Mòd singing solo will not be forgotten - they all go to Inverness in 3 weeks time and then to the National - gur math thèid leibh uile!

Our choir took to the stage in the afternoon - if we could get through An Dubh Ghleannach with any completion at all I would be happy - as usual, the choir turned up trumps! Not the best performance (well c'mon, we just managed it on the day with everyone not having to look at their words - not bad for June!!!!!). Puirt was better - more balanced, and we liked the decision of the adjudicators!

Our ladies were outstanding - nuff said!

Biadh, ceòl 's òl, craic 's comhradh - wonderful stuff in the evening - but who on earth decided not to have a bar at the final concert this year - thanks Mikie for taking us back to Bettyhill and saving the evening by allowing us to get the refreshments for Strathy Hall. There is a balance to be had - both for juniors and seniors - crisps and bottles of juice are not that for a tenor and bass section of a choir until midnight, unless of course, we're told to prepare before hand haha! :D

Hats off to Bettyhill Committee - another great Mòd and another great time in your company! Looking forward to the next one already! Well done everyone!"


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Pan Celtic Festival, Carlow 2013

“To promote and strengthen Celtic languages, culture, music, song and sport and to encourage inter-Celtic tourism, trade and commerce, and exchange of information.”

-the aim of Pan Celtic, taken from its constitution

The Pan Celtic idea originated in 1970, and the Pan Celtic symbol was adopted in 1977 following an International competition. The image depicting this symbol surrounded by the national flags of Alba (Scotland), Eire (Ireland), Cymru (Wales), Kernow (Cornwall), Breizh (Brittany), and Mannin (Isle of Man), was developed later the same year. The Pan Celtic Festival (or Féile Pan Cheilteach in Irish Gaelic) is always held the week following Easter, with the very first of these being in Killarney in 1971. Fantastically the birth of the Pan Celtic, as well as the Féile Pan Cheilteach, has given rise to many other festivals either being restarted or created across the aforementioned nations, including the Kana ar Bobal in Brittany and An Cruinneach in the Isle of Man.

The North of Scotland Representation 2013, is possibly the biggest contingent from Alba that the Pan Celtic Festival has witnessed, representing Thurso Pipe Band, Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich and Coilich a Chinn a Tuath (including representatives from Lairg Gaelic Choir).

The bus to Carlow left Thurso at 5.30am prompt on Monday 1st April, with Hugh making a fine steward, and went the long way out of Caithness via Castletown, Wick and Thrumster to pick everyone up. The drinking started at approximately 7am (well, it was Raymond’s birthday!) ……

Through Sutherland, picking up Lairgies along the way, we made good time to a very sunny Inverness airport, where the drinking continued, and by the time we got onto the plane it was a relatively drunk Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich which delighted passengers with a couple of songs! Our illustrious leader didn’t delight the trolley dollies though, by chasing passengers up and down the aisle with his newly acquired feather duster (the less asked about this the better – see picture evidence though! ;-).

Raymond's Birthday Outfit

We landed in a cold, overcast Belfast at about midday, and continued our journey by coach to Carlow, arriving at about 5pm. The serious drinking and singing had started by 6pm.

That evening we went to the Irishmans pub, and sang everything from our Gaelic competition entries to Scots folk songs. Flower of Scotland seemed to particularly impress the locals! After a while we were asked next door, where the room was filled with songs, poems, stories, and a wee bit of theatre … an entirely different atmosphere. It was quiet and respectful, the old folk sang their beautiful songs. Our own Christine, Rebecca, Neil, Sarah, Raymond, as well as the choir, did their turn. It was lovely. Afterwards it was back to Ewings for the obligatory lock-in. So, night one, voices completely ruined, great craic had by all,  precedent established …

On Wednesday we had the 2nd birthday of the week, this time it being that of Mel, who is a soprano. It has to be said that the celebrations were a wee bit more sedate than those witnessed on Monday, but Mel still ended up in a pink feather boa by midnight (just normal every day wear for the Piseagan)!

For most of Wednesday folk did their own thing, although, as with each day of the week, the choir had a wee practice in the Irishmans, which became our local for the duration of the trip (well, during respectable hours anyway). The folk group Ceol Bho Thuath also had a couple of practices during the day in preparation for the Trad competitions in the evening.

On Wednesday night, everyone who is anyone was at the Sevenoaks Hotel to support our very own Cairistiona as well as Alex MacDonald in the solo Trad Singing Competition. Both were invited to attend by the Pan Celtic organisers after winning the ladies and men’s Traditional Gold Medals at last year’s Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail 2012 ann an Dun Omhain. We were also supporting Ceol Bho Thuath in the Traditional Folk Group competition, which was made up of Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich members (Raymond Bremner – keyboard, vocals; Ed Boyter – bodhran, vocals; Michael Simpson – guitar, vocals; and Cairistiona Stone, Sarah Sutherland and Rebecca MacDonald – vocals).

Ceol Bho Thuath

Cairistiona and Alex were unlucky in the Trad Solo comp, but they were both fab. Cairistiona sang beautifully and reduced everyone who knew her to tears with her 2nd song entitled ‘Raoir Reubadh an Iolaire’, which is about a young women on the Isle of Lewis, full of hope, and waiting for her love to come home from the war in 1919, only to find him washed up on the shore, after a great storm broke the ship, ‘with no shoes on his feet’. Hauntingly beautiful and tragic. Her first song was entitled Eilean Fraoich and is an anthem to her native Lewis.

Ceol Bho Thuath sang ‘Bi Falbh on Uinneig’ and ‘Alasdair Mhic Cholla Ghasta’. They really contested first place in the Folk Group competition, and certainly appeared to be the firm favourite of the audience, however a gorgeous couple of songs by the last group of the night (one of the Welsh folk groups called Murad Olaf) pipped them to the post. Ceol Bho Thuath had to settle for a very respectable 2nd place.

Thursday was relatively quiet and activity-free for most of us. Folk did their own thing around town and the festival. A definite highlight of the day was the arrival of Atomic Piseag and the associated drams and songs.  Ed celebrated his birthday (the 3rd choir birthday of the trip), we all continued our celebration of being together in Ireland, a great festival, new connections, good times with friends, the laughter and music.

Atomic Piseag

Friday ended up being an extremely busy day. Late morning saw Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich and friends, complete with the newly arrived (and fresher looking) Atomic Piseag contingent, having our last practice in the Irishmans. Some voices were a bit strained by this point due to colds and copious amounts of ……. singing (ahem), but we were sounding not too bad regardless. Practice over, there was just a couple of free hours before we met up at the Irishmans again in order to join the parade with the other nations through Carlow. Thurso Pipe Band were leading the parade so our group filed in proudly behind them, and strode through Carlow with our heads held high and Satires waving! The parade ended with an open air Ceilidh at Town Hall Plaza.

Just enough time for some tea, and then Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich and Coilich a Chinn a Tuath and Atomic Piseag headed to Carlow Cathedral where we had been invited to sing at the Choral Concert. So many beautiful choirs, but I think Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich stole the show with our renditions of Cearcall a Chuain and Maoileas Mor Na Guailne. The acoustics were awesome – wish I could always sing in Kirks and Cathedrals!  You can find Cearcall a Chuain on youtube here. (thanks to Neil Parkin for this)

Ceol Bho Thuath had been invited to play at the Welsh Night, and a contingent from Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich went along for the craic.

Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich

Saturday was the day of the Choral Competitions, and it was always going to be full on, with Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich competing in two competitions, Atomic Piseag in one competition, and Coilich a Chinn a Tuath in one competition. We also had the Scottish Night that evening.

The Choral Competition was held at St Mary’s Academy, and as it was in a big sports hall there were good points and bad points in terms of performing. The acoustics were nowhere near as good as they were in the vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral. It was a great day though, and the throng from Alba came away with the following awards:

Ladies – Atomic Piseag (1st)

Men – Coilich a Chinn a Tuath (1st)

Rural – Coisir Ghaidhlig Mhealbhaich  (1st)


Happy Conductors and Gaelic Tutors

Atomic Piseag also won the supreme award, being the best choir of the festival, which was amazing!!!

The Scottish Night at the Sevenoaks Hotel was always going to be a fantastic evening of fun, fab singing, and funky ceilidh dancing, but I don’t think any of us realised just how good a night it would be. It was certainly my favourite evening of the whole week.

The highlights of the evening for me included a mental Orcadian Strip the Willow, and Thurso Pipe Band playing in the hall!! The Scots were on good form, and perhaps were in a wee bit of a mischievous mood when the band announced that we were to take our partners for the Orcadian Strip the Willow. ;-) There was a large Welsh representation at our night, and we possibly sent off couples down the line just a wee bitty too close together.  This resulted in folk losing their dancing partner, folk crumpled in a dizzy mess on the floor, folk not knowing where they were meant to go next, and one young Welsh lad, upon finding himself partnerless halfway down the dreel, busting out fantastic dance moves for our amusement……… just a normal Ceilidh then….. ha ha

Thurso Pipe Band playing towards the end of the night was great too. I had to wonder when I was watching them how on earth they managed to play so well, after having more than a few wee drams!

Coilich a Chinn a Tuath

On Sunday we had to endure the 12 hour journey back to Caithness. What a great week. Good craic, and fab singing – what more could you want.