Saint Andrew’s Day, 30 November, is the national day of Scotland. It is celebrated in Scotland itself and in many places across the world,where Scotland’s sons and daughters have made lives and communities.
Saint Andrew’s Day celebrations, as with other holidays in these times, will look a bit different than in years past There are always things that change. There are things that stay the same, though.
Wherever and however Saint Andrew’s Day is celebrated, music is one of those things which holds both constancy and change within it. (Want to know how Saint Andrew become Scotland’s saint? Follow that link above)
With that in mind, here are ideas for music of Scotland that you may not have heard from artists you may or may not know. As you listen, though, you will have the chance to learn more about Scotland, past and present and help you celbebrate Saint Andrew’s Day.
Read on to the end to find out about a music festival which is going on right now and through Saint Andrew’s night, which you can attend on line (if you happen to be reading this later, some of the events will be archived for later viewing, too).
Fifteen years ago, two brothers and two of their friends joined up on the isle of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides to play music that became the start of the ban Skerryvore. d Joined by four more friends and offering a lively and distinctive fusion of West Coast trad with high energy rock vibes, they’ve traveled the world with music of pipes, accordion, fiddle, drums, keyboards, guitar, and song. Their album Live Across Scotland brings that concert energy to listeners.
It was recorded in venues well and lesser known, places the band have loved playing to audiences who clearly love them right back. Listen out especially for Take My Hand, Path to Home, and Soraidh Slan & The Rise to get a flavor of their music.
Ewen Henderson, who comes from Lochaber in the Western Highlands, has spent much time in bands as well as composing music for film and various commissions, so it has taken him a while to make a solo album. It also did not go quite the way he though it would, which explains why he chose to call it Steall, which means torrent in Gaelic.
“The plan was to created a carefully created series of vignettes reflecting the many interests and journeys up until now,” he said. He found that when he started thinking about the music that his intention was “overwhelmed by a cascade of memories, impulse, and ideas.“ He trusted these impulses, creating a work that is at times lively and at times reflective, drawing on tradition and including original work, and allowing him to share his skills as a singer as well as a player on fiddle, pipes, and other instruments.
Oran a’Bhranndaidh/Song of the Brandy is a good place to meet his take on traditional song in Gaelic, while Camus Daraich is a reflective instrumental inspired by a beach in the Western Highlands. There are hornpipes, quiet airs, waltzes, and a conclusion with a tune Henderson wrote as a surprise for his wife. It’s a lovely tune, but as you will learn in the sleeve notes, the surprise did not quite come about as he’d planned.
Siblings Joy and Andrew Dunlop. grew up in Argyll in Scotland’s west. They both chose to follow music, heading in different directions. Joy chose to pursue traditional Gaelic song and dance and Andrew to follow classical music. They have each won top awards and forged high level professional careers on their respective paths. They have called the first album they’ve made together Dithis/Duo. “Despite Andrew and I having performed together for many years and having an extensive back catalogue, we actually chose to arrange and record repertoire that were new to us as a duo,” Joy said.
“Some were songs that I’d known for years and always wanted to record, others were totally new to me but instantly caught my attention.” Dithis is filled with songs with good stories in both word and melody, with Andrew’s piano adding layers to the stories Joy tells with the lyrics. There are songs in English, Scots, and Gaelic. Listen out especially for Solas M’aigh/My Hope’s Light, and the duo’s take on the classic Robert Burns song Ae Fond Kiss.
Lauren MacColl speaks eloquently through her fiddle. Though she is a gifted composer, for her album Landskein she chose to immerse herself in tunes from the past. Her past, in a way.
MacColl is from the northern Highlands; so are the tunes she’s chosen. “The melodies on this recording are all old. Some I’ve carried with me for some time, and others I unearthed especially for this recording,” she writes. James Ross adds piano to four of the eleven tracks; otherwise it’s MacColl and her fiddle. Listen well: through her playing you can hear the landscape of this part of the Highlands, and hints of the stories it holds. Listen out especially for Air Mullach Beinn Fhuathais / On Top of Ben Wyvis and Là Dhomh ‘s Mi Dìreadh Bealaich / One Day as I Climbed the Hill.
You’ll have the chance to hear Lauren MacColl play if you take in concerts and workshops being offered by the Blas Festival.
Usually, this festival takes place in various locations across the Highlands. This year, organizers and artists are making it available online.
Some events are free, others are free but require booking, and other are ticketed (and are a bargain given the level of talent on offer). Here’s a link to one page Blas Festival schedule so you can see at a glance what’s going on.
MacColl will play on 27th and 28th November. She will be part of concerts which are planned to include Hamish Napier, Su-a Lee, Rachel Newton, Megan Henderson, and more. There are many fine performances on schedule through the festival as well. Festival favorites Dawn and Margie Beaton from Cape Breton (pictured left) are among those joining in.
However you choose to mark Saint Andrew’s Day, the work of these musicians will offer you many paths to explore and enjoy.
Photograph of Joy and Andrew Dunlop by Kris Kesiak; photograph from Loch Linne in Lochaber by David Dixon; photograph of Lauren MacColl by Kerry Dexter; photograph of Dawn and Margie Beaton by Ryan MacDonald
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