Music students forging many exciting paths 

The music courses have been in existence now for 16 years at the Benbecula campus of Lews Castle College UHI.   

As programme leaders for the University of the Highlands and Islands BA (Hons) Applied Music degree Lews Castle College UHI had their first cohort of graduates  in 2016.  They also offer a masters degree - MA Music and the Environment. 

They are educational leaders in the use of blended learning to teach – allowing students flexibility to build their music studies around their lives – enabling them to study from home or indeed to move to a beautiful and culturally rich location such as Uist to study.  The degree is multi-genre and develops skills in a range of areas relative to music and the creative industries.  Uist attracts students with an interest in traditional and Gaelic music. 

The 16 years of music courses have been celebrated in a new composition ‘Suite Uist’ by Anna-Wendy Stevenson, recorded by the Far Flung Collective and released at Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow in January this year. 

Read more: Music students forging many exciting paths 

Success story of a reluctant performer

Islanders in the USA…writer Katie Macleod, left, and singer Julie Fowlis

By Katie Macleod

The last rays of the day’s sun stream through the window, and notes of fiddle music float through the air from the adjoining room, where the sound check is taking place. Julie Fowlis, the award-winning Gaelic singer and musician from North Uist, looks refreshed and relaxed despite a four-hour drive to Pennsylvania for the fourth stop on a US tour.

Her presence on this side of the Atlantic is even more impressive given that she is terrified of flying. “So I sort of dread the tour every single time it comes along,” she admits with a laugh, “but as soon as I get my feet onto terra firma I’m so glad to be here.”

“I love the experience of touring in America, it’s very different to touring anywhere else. The audiences are different, even the practicalities are different, like the big highways and the enormous hotels, everything’s to the max, supersize... The whole experience is just the volume turned up, you know.”

Read more: Success story of a reluctant performer

20 years of cèolas…and many more to come

By Eilidh Whiteford

Twenty years of promoting Gaelic culture and heritage from within the language’s heartland is being celebrated as community-managed project Ceòlas reaches this major milestone.

The brainchild of Hamish Moore, Daliburgh-based Ceòlas began as a week-long summer school in 1996. Mary Schmoller, Ceòlas Operations Manager, said: “Hamish had been to Cape Breton [in eastern Canada] and realised how similar parts of it were still to the culture of the islands.

“He discussed the idea with PnE [Pròiseact nan Ealan, the former national Gaelic Arts Agency] about where would be most suitable and it transpired that South Uist could be a candidate community.

“The project was first run by PnE with the support of the local Arts Development Officer ‘Ryno’ Morrison and, after observing the programme, several people became involved in a variety of roles over the coming years until it became a community-managed project in 2001.”

She continued: “For many of our directors, Ceòlas has given them the opportunity to contribute to the cultural and social development of the islands.

“The Summer School is a beacon of what is best about a Gaelic community, in song, music and dance in public and in private homes at house cèilidhs.”

Read more: 20 years of cèolas…and many more to come

Piper's tunes found after tragedy

(By Katie Laing)
WHO in the Western Isles could forget the terrible events of January 2005, when three generations of the same family lost their lives as they tried to flee the hurricane that hit the islands.
Murdina and Archie MacPherson and their two children all perished, as did Murdina’s father, Calum Campbell, when the cars in which they were travelling were swept away by the sea. It is thought they left Murdina and Archie’s home in South Uist for fear of it being flooded.
Calum, who was 67, was well known as a piper and piping instructor and had also composed some tunes. The sheer number of them, though, did not become clear until his son Niall embarked on the difficult task of sorting through his father’s effects.
These tunes have now been put together in a new book from Lewis-based publishers Acair, working with various members of Calum’s family and staff from The National Piping Centre in Glasgow, in particular Roddy MacLeod MBE.
Ceòl Chaluim – The Pipe Music of Calum Campbell of Benbecula is a fitting tribute to a Hebridean who contributed so much to the music of this part of the world.
Roddy MacLeod hailed it as a “very welcome addition to the published repertoire of pipe music” and said that he had been unaware of just how much music Calum had written until staff at The Piping Centre began typesetting them.
The same was true of Calum’s family. In his introduction to the book, Niall said he would find pipe tunes in “boxes and folders, drawers and cupboards”, adding: “Some of them I was aware of, others I had never heard before.”
Niall found 60 or 70 tunes in various stages of completion and took them to the Piping Centre where Roddy agreed that 50 of them were complete tunes by Calum while the rest were second or third (even fourth) parts to pre-existing tunes.
Calum’s sister Catriona Garbutt, who wrote another introduction to the book, and her daughter Marion had an integral role in proofing the music.
Roddy gave all the compositions the thumbs up, telling Niall they were all “good tunes”. They had also all been signed and dated by Calum himself – a sure sign that, for his perfectionist dad, they passed muster.
Niall said: “The one thing I know is that if he had his name upon it, he declared it suitable as a good tune. I wouldn’t have been comfortable publishing something that he wasn’t satisfied was decent.”
Calum was a Hebridean piper out of a long tradition and this is evident in his tunes which, like the songs of village bards in earlier times, commemorated many local events and personalities. Most famous of them was Hercules the Bear, composed in 1980 about the animal that escaped while filming a TV advert in North Uist.
The tune is one of Niall’s personal favourites. “Quite a lot of his tunes mimic what the sentiment was. He was clearly envisaging Hercules jumping over the peatbogs and fences and almost sticking two fingers up, saying ‘you can’t catch me’.” Hercules the Bear is, naturally, a jig.
Calum’s compositions have another pleasing trait, as well as their sense of humour and light touch on life: onomatopoeia.
The Pumping Station, for example, written in 1956, mimics the noises of the engines in the pumping station in Balivanich where Calum’s father had worked, while Marion Margaret MacRury is about an aunt who was particularly proficient at picking winkles and the tune mirrors the sound of the winkles dropping in a bucket.
Another of Niall’s favourites is Harry in a Hurry. Written about an old cousin who was “so deliberate and slow”, Calum composed a tune that was quite the opposite.
This was one of the tunes played by renowned singer Julie Fowlis at a preview for the book in The Piping Centre back in August. The book was formally launched on Wednesday October 14 at The Royal National Mod in Oban. Julie was taught by Calum at Carinish Primary School and said he “introduced me to the music of the pipes and opened up a new world to me,” adding: “For that, Calum, I am forever indebted to you.”
Another esteemed piper, Fred Morrison, wrote the foreword. He recalled first hearing Calum play in the late 1970s and being drawn to his “musical, expressive and individual” playing. Of the book, he said: “For his music to be shared with everyone at last is a fitting tribute.”
A second concert is to be held to mark the launch of the book, this time in the Balivanich Hall, on November 12. A documentary on the making of the book, by Mac TV, is also in the pipeline and is due to be shown on BBC Alba at the end of December.
While there is an element of catharsis – “this is the first time we’ve been able to talk about it and look at music and at piping” – the whole process has been quite arduous.
And having been through it, Niall believes a lot of our heritage is at risk of being lost because of that acute mourning period, when loved ones cannot look at the creative works that have been left behind, and the subsequent uncertainty about what to do with the material when they can finally face it.
“I think a lot of our heritage gets lost because of this healing period. Quite often, people don’t really acknowledge that they have come out of it.”
He added: “The first tune was written in 1956. If it’s one person’s lifetime of works and it gets lost in a box then that’s tragic for our heritage and I think Acair should be commended for encouraging people to do this.”
He said they were also “very, very pleased with the help we’ve got from The Piping Centre”. Again, without them, the book would not have been possible.
He admitted it would be “quite a big thing” for their family to finally see their father’s book. “It never leaves you,” he admitted. “The tragic element is always there.”

Ceòl Chaluim – The Pipe Music of Calum Campbell of Benbecula is available from, priced £10.95.

Joy for Julie Fowlis on US stage

More than 100 folk music fans from Pennsylvania sat enraptured on Sunday night (11th October) as they listened to the magical vocals and musical talents of the Hebrides’ very own Julie Fowlis.
Sponsored by the local Susquehanna Folk Music Society, the gig at the intimate Abbey Bar in the city of Harrisburg marked the fourth night of Julie Fowlis’ latest US tour, which began on 8th October.  “We started off in Vermont, it’s beautiful with the autumn colours. We’ve been before, and it’s always nice to go back to places that you’ve enjoyed visiting the first time round,” Julie explained in a quiet moment during the band’s sound check.
“I love the experience of touring in America, it’s very very different to touring anywhere else.  The audiences are different, even the practicalities are different, like the big highways and the enormous hotels, everything’s to the max, supersized - the whole experience is like having the volume turned up!”

The award-winning singer was joined on the stage by her band, which features her husband, Éamon Doorley, on Irish bouzouki, Duncan Chisholm on fiddle, and Tony Byrne on guitar. Julie also demonstrated her skills as an instrumentalist, deftly playing the bagpipes, the flute, and the Indian shruti box at various points throughout the 90-minute show.
She was softly spoken and friendly as she chatted to the audience before each set, explaining why she finds certain songs particularly moving, and outlining the cultural context behind the lyrics, whether that was the proud proclamations of the Clan Macdonald, a musical interpretation of a Sorley Maclean poem, or the simple but soothing sounds of a Gaelic lullaby.
“I’m just continually inspired by other singers, and the old songs in particular, they’re so amazing,” said Julie before the show.  “I mean they’ve lasted five and six and seven hundred years, you know it’s not for nothing that they’ve survived, they’re strong melodies, and they’re strong stories, and they obviously speak to people on some level.”
Given the two standing ovations Julie and her band received from the crowd in Pennsylvania, it seemed the old Gaelic songs had a similar effect on a new American audience last weekend, and will continue to do so as Julie continues her tour across ten US states over the next three weeks.

Gaelic superstar Julie Fowlis with award-winning writer Katie Macleod