Gaelic culture and music to be celebrated at Blas 2023

The Highland 9-day festival returns in September

Some of Scotland’s best-loved traditional musicians and singers, including Ross Ainslie, Tim Edey, Jenna Cumming, Ruairidh Gray, Ewen Henderson and Deirdre Graham, will take to the stage in venues from Skye to Acharacle this September as the Blas Festival returns with its annual celebration of Gaelic music and culture. 

The Blas Festival, which will run from 1st – 9th September 2023, showcases Gaelic culture and the thriving Scottish traditional music scene over 9 days of events in venues across the Highlands and Islands and this year will host around 25 concerts and cèilidhs, an education and communities programme and an online offering which will include workshops, Gaelic song sessions and livestreamed concerts. 

This year Blas, which means ‘taste’ or ‘sample’, and is organised by Fèisean nan Gàidheal in partnership with The Highland Council, will visit an array of communities across the Highlands including Inverness, Glenelg, Lairg, Gairloch, Ballachuilish, Applecross, Portree, Kingussie and more. The festival will highlight the Highlands’ rich culture and heritage with events showcasing a mix of old and brand-new Gaelic songs, stories and collaborations in a variety of venues from village halls to arts centres, attracting audiences from home and abroad.

The festival will open with a special concert in Inverness Cathedral featuring two brother and sister duos, one from Inverness, Peigi and Donaidh Barker, and the other, Seumas & Caoimhe Ui Fhlatharta, from Connemara on the west coast of Ireland. They will be joined by Binneas, a Gaelic harmony collective featuring Gaelic and folk singers from across Scotland, led by Gaelic singer John Joe MacNeil, and Jenna Cumming, Inverness-born award-winning Gaelic singer.

As always there will be a few big birthday celebrations for respected tradition bearers including Isle of Lewis singer and musician, Calum Martin (70th); Rita Hunter, whowas a driving force behind much of the growth in interest in traditional music in the Highlands and managed the successful Dingwall-based arts organisation, Fèis Rois, until 2008; Ness Melodeon Band member Murdo John Mackenzie who turns 80; and world renowned Glenuig piper, Dr Angus Macdonald. Some familiar faces appearing on stage to celebrate these birthdays in style include Donald Shaw, Malcolm Jones, Finlay Macdonald, Ali Hutton, Iain MacFarlane, Allan Macdonald and many more.

International connections will also be showcased in An Tinne, led by Skye Gaelic singer, Anne Martin. A musical journey of recognition and reconciliation, An Tinne, connects a collection of Trotternish songs, stories and objects across the centuries between Scotland and Australia and this powerful musical work inspired standing ovations when it premiered in Skye last year. Anne will be joined by Anna Murray, Anna-Wendy Stevenson, Ingrid Henderson, Hannah Moule and Maggie Rigby for performances in Croy, Resolis and Inverinate.

The next generation of young musicians will entertain audiences throughout the festival, including musicians from Fèis Eilean an Fhraoich (Isle of Lewis), Fèis Thròndairnis (Staffin), Fèis nan Garbh Chrìochan (West Lochaber), Fèis an Earraich (Skye and Lochalsh), Fèis Inbhir Narainn (Nairn), Fèis Spè (Speyside), Fèis Lochabair (Lochaber) and Fèis Rois Kiltearn Fiddlers, culminating in a Ceòl nam Fèis finale concert, held in Lochaber to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the local Fèis, which will see young people from Fèisean come together from across the country to celebrate our outstanding young homegrown talent.

Every year a brand-new musical work is premiered at Blas Festival and this year it comes from Lochaber multi-instrumentalist, Ewen HendersonLèirsinn (meaning perception in Gaelic) is an innovative new piece of music, born amid the travel restrictions in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, which explores the way humans relate and respond to the physical spaces and landscapes around them and how this, in some way, is shaped by the imagination. For the performances, Ewen will be joined by a stellar line-up of musicians including Megan Henderson, Hamish Napier, Innes Watson, Iain MacFarlane and Su-a-Lee, in Nairn, Plockton and Kingussie.

Other highlights of this year’s Blas include double Mòd medallist, Ruairidh Gray with Robert Nairn, in Kilmuir and Invergarry; Capercaillie’s Charlie McKerron, piper Ross Ainslie, Tim Edey and Marc Clement in Acharacle and Ballachuilish; Gaelic singers Darren MacleanMairi Callan with Iain MacMaster in Dunvegan and Glenelg; and Deirdre Graham with The Graham Mackenzie Trio in Roybridge and Applecross.

Calum Alex Macmillan from Blas Festival organisers, Fèisean nan Gàidheal, commented: “Despite the challenges of rising costs and reduced funding we are delivering on our commitment to bringing good quality musical events to communities across the Highlands, in collaboration with our partners, including the festival’s main supporter, The Highland Council.  We are hugely appreciative of the continued support from all our supporters and hope audiences across the Highlands and Islands will enjoy our representation of Gaelic culture.”

Siobhan AndersonMusic Officer at Creative Scotland said: “The Blas 2023 programme is brim-full of exciting and innovative performances. Reaching into every corner of the Highlands and Islands, Blas is opening up Scotland’s vibrant and thriving Gaelic arts and culture scene for more people to enjoy. The incredible contributions of artists and organisations alike will be celebrated through concerts showing a strong admiration and appreciation for the tradition bearers who laid the foundations for the performers of today. New commissions and performances by local Fèisean will nourish the artists of tomorrow and bring delight to audiences across the area.”

Brian Ó hEadhra, Partnerships & Development Manager, Bòrd na Gàidhlig said: “We are delighted to support the Blas Festival once again and contribute to the celebration of Gaelic music and culture. Through our partnership with Fèisean nan Gàidheal, Bòrd na Gàidhlig is committed to incorporating the Gaelic language throughout the festival, ensuring its rich heritage and traditions are showcased to audiences from near and far.”

The full programme of main events can be found at www.blas.scot along with details of how to purchase tickets.

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