On Friday 24th April is the first big public outing of the replica Queen Mary harp after it has been seriously reworked inside by Natalie Surina of Ériú Harps. I am going to present my “Margaret 1281” programme of storytelling, song, harp music and bowed-lyre tunes, as part of the annual Northern Streams festival in Edinburgh.
Last night we went to Dundee, as I was performing my concert on board the Unicorn. We travelled in early just so we could have an hour or so wandering around the centre of town to see if anything was happening.
In city square there were perhaps a thousand people with flags and music, very peaceful and friendly, lots of family groups. They organised a procession around the block, so we followed on at the end.
We left the gathering and headed down to the docks. The Unicorn is a really beautiful ship, genuinely old and not over-manicured like many historical things. On board, the captains cabin had been cleared and was set with chairs; the wine was laid out on a table ouside the cabin entrance, on the main deck. The ceilings on board are very low!
As it got dimmer, people started arriving. There was not a huge turnout, but the low ceilings and the homely atmosphere of the ship seemed to draw people out; everyone was talking to each other in unexpected intimacy.
For the first half of the concert, I played a selection of 18th century music, from the pibroch Maol Donn to the breezy baroque Blossom of the Raspberry. My fiddle tune went OK and was well received – especially with the story about it.
In the interval everyone went into the main deck for wine and conversation. This went on for quite a long time!
Then for the second half I played the Lament for the Union set. People were interested and sympathetic to the sentiments – it felt like a historic moment, thinking about the beginning of the Union in 1707, on the eve of the historic referendum to undo it. Especially with the evening glow from the docks through the windows…
Walking back up through the town late at night to the bus station to catch our ride home, we saw a battle of the billboards. Looks like Yes is winning this one!
As well as doing some work canvassing for the referendum, I have been preparing for a couple of forthcoming events in Dundee. On Wednesday 1st October I am presenting Scottish music 78s for the Wighton lunchtime concert, though more imminent is my concert on Wednesday 17th September, on the eve of the referendum. I’m playing the harp in the elegant and unusual setting of the captain’s cabin on board HMS Unicorn, moored in Dundee docks. This classy wood-panneled room will be a lovely setting for the replica Queen Mary harp. There will be an interval with a glass of wine, and for the second half I am planning to play my “Lament for the Union” programme.
For the first half though, I am thinking of continuing the “300 years ago” theme with a selection of 18th century harp music. Normally I use the Downhill harp for that, but I know the Dundee people love the Queen Mary replica, and I only recently commandeered the Downhill back from my student who has it, so I am thinking laterally. Perhaps one of the ports played by John Robertson on the original Queen Mary harp in the early 1700s will allow me to joke about “Port Athol, Port Gordon and Port Seton” given the nautical setting!
I am also thinking that, as I always like to in a longer performance, I should pull something completely different out as a novelty and so I am thinking of playing a tune on the fiddle. Port na bPucaí has a suitable marine story to go with it and I think might be a nice suprise item. I just have to practice enough to be able to play it convincingly! We’ll see if my resolve can hold until next week!
Today I performed my Lament for the Union concert in St Andrews. I played the programme of music from my CD-single of the same name, and I used my Downhill harp for the event. The big growly voice of this harp worked very well for this pungent 18th century music, and suited well the airy acoustic of All Saints Church hall.
As well as the candles lit, we also had a big vase full of red and purple roses. At the end audience members each took a rose away “to remember the Union”.
Next Wednesday, I will present a topical concert of tunes from three hundred years ago when the Act of Union was signed between England and Scotland.
The concert is on Wednesday 3rd September, at 12.45pm, in All Saints Church Hall on North Castle Street in St Andrews, and is titled “Hot political tunes from three hundred years ago”.
I will present tunes from my new EP-CD Lament for the Union – thoughtful musical pieces which were composed or played in the years around 1707. They reflect contemporaries’ feelings on the newly signed act of union, and express a wide range of emotions felt by people at the time, from sorrow, to anger, to excitement, to cheeky practical joking.
For this concert, I plan to use my reproduction of the baroque Irish “Downhill” harp made in 1702.
At tomorrow’s concert, we will have two of Ealasaid’s artworks on display. I’ll play a couple of the tunes from my Tarbh CD, and so today I looked out the original artworks from the CD booklet for these two tunes, and framed them, so we can put one on each of the little shelves behind me in the hall. I have often thought before of exhibiting the artwork at a performance of the music, but I have never actually organised to do it before. We’ll see how it goes!
On Wednesday 6th August is my next concert in this summer’s series. I’ll be playing the replica Queen Mary harp in the lovely setting of All Saints Church hall on North Castle Street, St Andrews, starting 12.45pm. As usual, admission is free and all are welcome.
August’s programme is the supernatural music associated with the 18th century harper-composer, Ranald MacDonald of Morar. I’ll play just two of these huge architectural compositions, each of which is set in a mysterious world of weird beings and dangerous encounters with ghosts.
Here’s the first photo I have seen so far from the Ceòl Rígh Innse Gall concert at the Museum of the Isles, Armadale, on the Isle of Skye a couple of weeks ago.
Yesterday evening I was in Sleat, presenting the medieval Gaelic poetry addressed to the Clan Donald Lords of the Isles, alongside Gaelic singer Gillebrìde MacMillan. We did two different hour-long sets, the first a more formal presentation in the atmospheric acoustic of the Museum of the Isles, and the second after a delicious buffet supper in the Victorian Stables building on the Armadale estate.
The audience, who comprised the great and good of Clan Donald, were entranced and delighted by Gillebrìde’s singing of the classical Gaelic verses praising their 12th and 13th century ancestors Angus Og as well as Donald himself.
As well as playing the harp to accompanying Gillebrìde’s delivery, I also did some solo harp tunes on the replica Queen Mary harp, including Cogaidh no Sith. I was delighted to get the same reaction as when I played it in St Andrews – people said it mesmerised them and seemed much shorter than the 15 minutes (I played a half-version with only 6 variations).
I understand there was some videotape made as well as photographs – I have not seen any of this yet though.
Sleat was beautiful; this morning I woke up early and walked down through a wooded valley to a secluded bay where I was able to swim in the sunshine before going back to the B&B for a hearty breakfast with fresh local eggs and strawberries.
Here’s the view across to Morar while waiting on the 8:30am ferry this morning:
I am really looking forward to repeating some of this material with Gillebrìde on Sunday 29th at the MacMhuirich Symposium. Do come along if you can, at 7pm at the Western Club, 32 Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow G1 3AB.