Wednesday 28 October 2015

Gaelic Singers

Julie Fowlis
At Celtic Connections I have heard some of the most perfect Gaelic singers -
Karen Matheson, Julie Fowlis, Kathleen MacInnes.

They sing with pure tones in the lilting soft clarity.

I don’t speak any Gaelic but I appreciate the emotion in the songs.

Last year I heard yet another young Gaelic singer at Celtic late session -  Mischa Macpherson

Karen Matheson
Mischa Macpherson
It used to be that we were embarrassed by our Scots accents and the Scottish songs were portrayed as twee chocolate box White Heather club. It is so good to see Scots proud.

Dougie MacLean in an interview for the Herald spoke of his two grandparents who spoke Gaelic.
 When Dougie talks about the magic of songwriting, he knows what he is talking about  - his most famous song Caledonia - has become a music covered part of Scottish culture and has been sung by everyone from Frankie Miller to Ronan Keating.

"My grandparents were Gaelic speakers and my earliest memory is of my grandfather coming up from Dunkeld having had a few glasses of whisky and sitting in the kitchen singing his beautiful Gaelic songs, and the tears would be running down his face. In my family, singing songs was like eating, breathing and sleeping. I think Scotland has that desire to sing, because of that Gaelic heritage that permeates most of our culture.
"But to be able to sing, you need to have songs, and people have to write them. People here have long made their own songs, to sing in the fields or wherever. There's the wonderful traditions of, say, the north-east bothy ballads, of the Gaels making up songs for their work: it's only in modern times that you actually have the concept of the professional songwriter. It's sad we have lost that tradition, of people writing songs for themselves."

Tuesday 27 October 2015


Punch Brothers

From Thursday 14 to Sunday 31 January, 2,500 musicians from around the world will gather in Glasgow for 18 days of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, workshops, free events, late night sessions and a host of special one-off musical collaborations. 

Stars of world, folk and roots music, who will perform on 26 stages at venues across the city, include Rickie Lee Jones, The Chieftains, Lau, The Unthanks, Béla Fleck, Robert Plant, Lucinda Williams, Admiral Fallow, Toumani Diabaté, Karine Polwart, Boys of the Lough, John Grant. 

Martyn Bennett concert

With artists from Inner Mongolia to Armagh, Senegal to Italy, and Brittany to the Outer Hebrides to Southern Manitoba performing at the festival in 2016 Celtic Connections remains a hotbed of musical talent from cultures and countries from across the globe. 
Eddi Reader
Nicola Benedetti
I have been taking photos at Celtic Connections since 2008. 
When I look at my Celtic Connections photos - one thing stands out – the fun and joy of those taking part have during the 18 day festival.  Also the very high quality of musicanship, beautiful voices and interesting collborations.

Aly Bain
Finlay MacDonald

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Iain MacWhirter: Disunited Kingdom talk Edinburgh book festival 2015:

Iain MacWhirter - Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won a Referendum but Lost Scotland
Award- winning Scottish journalist and political commentator for the Herald Iain MacWhirter, has written his second book on the Scottish Referendum 'Disunited Kingdom" How Westminster won a Referendum but Lost Scotland".  
He writes that the SNP 167 pages indie light White Paper was pretty much the same as what Regions in other federal states enjoy. We may say that there is a fine line between Indie light and Federal states that pretty much run all their own affairs. He argues that the Union has been presented as a partnership of equals and of two nations joining together – as a moral union in 1707, which has now been broken by the chancellor George Osborne.

MacWhirter takes a broad and informed view as an insider of both Westminster and Holyrood politics. He also reported frequently on the Scottish Referendum, in the Herald and Sunday Herald. His first book was The Road to Referendum. He gave a talk at Edinburgh book festival 2015 about how inspirational the whole Referendum process was and how it engaged so many different voice
In MacWhirter’s view nationalism in Europe has now replaced class warfare. "Decline of industrial class politics and the rise of regionalism in Europe, nationalism is proving to be a new organising principle in democratic engagement."  
He writes that, "Young people see independence as the only viable challenge to globalization and the dominance of neo liberalisation."  Civic nationalism allows for a means of progressing the democratic process.

For him an independent Scotland would be a better society. There is a huge democratic deficit between Scotland and England and are now on very different paths. He argues that baby steps devolution is not workable and it would be better from a position of implicit sovereignty strength through independence to then remake the UK holistically. To then work to establish new ground rules to work alongside the other UK nations. This is pretty much the thinking that I believed with regard to Scotland and that federalism will not be achievable through Westminster.

He has visited many other federal states to gather information on how their Federalism works. The Scottish Parliament is NOT the strongest devolved parliament in the world. Regions like Quebec or Alaska are practically independent as we in the UK would describe it. – they control ALL their taxes, economy, borrowing etc. Only foreign affairs and defence are shared. 

*MacWhirter had three main reasons for his decision to vote for Scottish Independence
The first reason was that England sees little need for Federalism and seems happy with the Westminster system. The second was the SNP White Paper (at 167 pages) of indie light – was in affect so light and safe, how was it independence at all? So much would remain the same.  Real Independence statements are normally short ones......!
I agree - playing it safe may have been the right thing five years ago - but now we need to be more radical!  Otherwise what's the point? 

His third, and most important reason, was Osborne's saying that Scotland could not use its pound, while all those south of Hadrian's Wall could.  Even though the two countries are big trading partners.  In his mind this broke the moral union. 

I agree with many of his arguments with some reservation. MacWhirter doesn’t feel that the UK is a repressive state. In my view unless Labour politicians leave the House of Lords – this is still a country of patronage, elitism and inequality. The UK is a top-down hierarchy. The Land Reform Bill is also crucial too with the gross ownership of Scottish land by only a few. 
Also at the Union of the Parliaments there was a great deal of coercion placed on the Scottish Parliament – historian Tom Devine writes that troops were positioned at the border and in Northern Ireland, England also refused to trade with Scotland (Tom Devine, The Scottish Nation). Most of Scotland at the time was strongly opposed to the Union. Of course there were back then some advantages of the Union, as all the political elite left Edinburgh for London with James VI and his court!  Which meant the great thinkers were free to have their discussions and we had the Scottish Enlightenment.

The English press appeared to believe that the SNP was about right wing thugs and attempted to portray this in the media. Nothing could be further from the truth. The grassroots indie campaign was energetic and inspired and led by articulate artists, journalists, scientists and business people from all walks of life.

*MacWhirter presented Westminster Live for ten years before returning to Scotland in 1999 to present Holyrood Live in 1999. He wrote Road to Referendum.