Mary Ann Kennedy and Na Seòid with Skipinnish - Wednesday
A great line-up started the 13th HebCeltFest at An Lanntair: Mary Ann Kennedy, Na Seòid, and Skipinnish, together making 8 musicians in total. And it was a great start to the Festival – An Lanntair has formal raked seating, which you might think makes it hard work for musicians to get the foot-stomping going, but the audience were hugely appreciative.
All the players are well known in their own right, but what they create as a group is greater than the sum of its parts. Na Seòid ('The Heroes') are James Graham, Calum Ailig MacMillan, Norrie MacIver, Tormod MacArthur, Gillebride MacMillan, Angus MacPhail, and Griogair Labhruidh. All of them are award-winning musicians, but particularly memorable are the spellbinding voices of Griogair Labhruidh and local Lewis musician Calum Ailig MacMillan (who professed not to be fazed by playing to a home crowd that must have included many of his relatives!), as well as the fine command of the lower registers of Angus MacPhail.
Opening the second half was a piece with three sets of pipes and a djembe, which added an interesting intercultural element that worked really well. The audience particularly loved a mouth music trio ('puirt a beul') in the second part – these real tongue-twisters are not only hugely catchy, but they're a great technical feat.
Mary Ann Kennedy's final song was perhaps the only place where she put her own talents to the fore during the evening, but it was strongly and beautifully sung, and hugely evocative of the sense of place that many find so inspiring in Celtic music – and might come far to hear.
Bob and Linda had come 'by accident' from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and managed to catch this performance. 'The talent is immense', commented Bob. 'Any one of the people on that stage could be doing a concert on their own'. As for understanding the Gaelic language in which many of the songs are performed, Bob and Linda found that it didn't matter. 'I knew none of the words they were singing, but it was unbelievably poetic', said Bob.
There was a nice interaction between the players, who were clearly enjoying playing together – some of it translated into English, for the benefit of a proportion of non-Gaelic speakers in the audience. Accordion-player Angus MacPhail was referred to as 'the tea-boy', presumably because he'd joined them from the band Skipinnish, but he had his chance to get his own back later in the evening when he came on with Skipinnish partner, piper Andrew Stevenson, for a rousing set of dance tunes. The audience left briefly for An Lanntair to be magically transformed from raked seating to a sprung dancefloor, and the ceilidh dancing went on until late. It might be a cliché to say that HebCeltFest 13 got off to a flying start, but the first night audience was so clearly out for a good time – and these musicians made sure they got it!