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Machraichean Uibhist

What a flower show this past few weeks. You can’t beat Uist fields and roadsides for “Gàirnealaireachd Ghàidhealach“! Click to enlarge…

Might anyone wish to use any of these pictures, that should be fine. Just drop me a line – and give me a credit… 🙂 .

Meet Catrin Evans, new singer-songwriter

Agus seo pìos eile, a’ sealltainn nach eil òigridh Uibhist gun tàlant san nòs ùr…

Island Voices - Guthan nan Eilean

Catrin Evans lives on Grimsay and studies at Sgoil Lìonacleit. And in her spare time she writes songs – songs which are making an impression. She’s started to be a regular performer at Taigh Chearsabhagh’s Taigh Ciùil, and she’s been away to the “Wee Studio” in Stornoway to make some recordings, thanks to family support and a Creative Scotland award for young musicians. Here, she talks to Gordon Wells about how she started writing songs, what the process is, and how the island environment inspires her. She also talks about the experience of recording in a professional studio, and how it’s boosted her confidence and desire to do more writing and performing:-

(If you’re an iPad or iPhone user you may need to follow this link: http://ipad.io/f0rp)

Here’s the Wee Studio recording of one of her songs – “Battleship”. (And you can follow the words if you…

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Air Sgàth an Traoin

“For the Corncrake’s Sake” – an addition to my (very) occasional series on the theme of “Gàirnealaireachd Ghàidhealach”. If you’re thinking “RAF” or “bullseye” you may be on the right lines, but you’re still wide of the exact mark… (Click to enlarge.)

Tàlant

Abair spors a bh’ againn a-nochd le Carrageen agus “Gille an Fheadain Duibh” – sgeulachd le Pàdruig Moireasdan a tha ri fhaighinn san leabhar “Thugam agus Bhuam”. Chaidh a cur ann an cruth ùr dà-chànanach airson an àrd-ùrlair le Màiri Mhoireasdan agus Eairdsidh Caimbeul. Agus is iad a rinn dsioba math dheth!

Ach bha gu leòr eile an sàs sa phìos obrach seo – na sgoilearan ann an Loch nam Madadh agus Càirinis, a’ choisir aig Fèis Tir an Eòrna, Chris Spears – an neach-ealain a rinn obair ionmhalta a’ toirt beatha uamhasach dhan fhuamhaire agus dhan dràgon, Loriana Pauli – “Ban-rìgh na h-Eilbheis” – a thug puirt ùra dhuinn, gun ghuth air an obair bhidio is audio a chaidh a chur ris….  Tha liosta fhada ann.

Cha robh mi fhèin ach nam “second farmer” – ach tha fhios gur e promotion a tha sineach bho “third spear-carrier”, an triob mu dheireadh a bha mi air an àrd-ùrlar leis na Sinodun Players ann an Camelot air ais ann an 1973 – mas math mo chuimhne…

Abair na th’ ann de thàlant ann an coimhearsnachd bheag dhùthchail. Tha rudeigin sònraichte againn an seo. Agus  ’s e a’ Ghàidhlig as coireach, tha mi cinnteach. No, ga chur ann an dòigh eile, leis gu bheil dà chànan againn sa choimhearsnachd seo, tha beairteas culturach a bharrachd againn. Agus tha sin a’ tarraing dhaoine ealanta eile ann, a tha ag iarraidh a bhith a’ fuireach ann an àrainneachd a tha taiceil dha na tàlantan aca fhèin.

Cò na h-àiteachan eile ann am Breatainn far am faiceadh tu an leithid?

Only Connect – back to the croft

Question: How do I get from Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to All American renaissance man Paul Robeson via the Reverend George Reginald Wells (alias my dad) in less than six degrees of separation? And end up at home in the Hebrides?

Answer: Follow the musical trail…

Step One. Here’s the Qawwali master in a spell-binding performance in the video clip below of “Ye jo halkaa halkaa suroor hai”. (Go to this blog for Romanised Urdu lyrics and English translation of the basic text.) The clip takes you through a transcendental Sufi meditation on “light intoxication” in the presence of the divine. Recorded live in Birmingham in 1983 – the year I started working there – it’s a full seventy minute rendition. (I wasn’t at this performance, but did get to see him performing some years later.) If you’re in the mood, stay with it right the way through. Alternatively, after several introductory “scene-setting” verses, just check the introduction of the main theme at 5.22. The central lyric and melody are gradually expounded over the next couple of minutes, before the musical ante is raised again at 7.24. Having now clocked the tune, feel free to move on “from the sublime” straight to Step Two. But be careful. It’s quite a jump.

یہ جو ہلکا ہلکا سرور ہے

Step Two. Now check this song “Chale jaise havaien” from  the Hindi film “Main hoon na”. Recognise that tune from somewhere? Yes, it’s a classic example of the Bollywood capacity to “borrow” musical patterns that work, and “recycle” them to mass popular acclaim. Note also the location of the film, shot at St Paul’s School, Darjeeling.

चले  जैसे हवाईएँ

Step Three. Wind back the years to the Second World War. Same location. Very different ambience. This is pre-Independence India, and St Paul’s, originally an Anglo-Indian school, is in its colonial heyday – run on traditional English Public School lines, complete with the then young (but to be long-lived) school “padre” fresh out from Blighty, George Reginald Wells. Despite (or maybe because of?) his intensive choral training at King’s College, Cambridge, Dad confessed to having a poor ear for Indian musicality, so quite what he would have made of the Ustad I’m not sure, but I fear he would perhaps have been “less than impressed” by this Bollywood jollity in a setting he always looked back on with deep and serious affection, bordering on reverence. Which cues a return from lighthearted if skilfully executed fun and exuberance to something rather more spiritual.

Once in Royal David’s City

Step Four. Dad was actually the only one of four Wells brothers who didn’t get to do the opening treble solo at the annual festival of carols, but he did become a very fine bass-baritone himself, and he appreciated the talents of others too when he recognised them, which took him to Sheffield Town Hall, even before his Darjeeling days, to see and hear Paul Robeson in concert, another experience he liked to recall in later years. “Deep River” was one of his favourites, but this clip, wherever it was recorded, is worth listening to right through, as it gives an impression not only of Robeson’s singing talent, but also of his wider humanitarian drive and motivations. Often described as decades ahead of his time, was he also an early exponent of what we now call “World Music”?

Deep River (and then some)

Step Five. Here in Benbecula, I’m left wondering if Robeson’s rendition of the “Eriskay Love Lilt” (from 4.58) was Dad’s first introduction to Gaelic music, an initial Hebridean connection before meeting and marrying Uist crofter’s daughter Anna Sheonaidh ‘ic Ghilleasbaig  – “Ban Uibhisteach ann an India”?

And the rest, of course, is history…

Have I woven an unusually complex web? Well no, I don’t think so, though I’m pleased to have inlaid a couple of sparkling gems in the pattern, despite my “humble” crofting stock. If we’re all a maximum of just six steps away from everyone else, metaphorically if not literally, then we’re all capable of intricate variations on this kind of theme. It’s a great game. Just pick a couple of big names from the worlds of music, sport, politics etc, and trace a linking path through a family connection. We can all be touched by distinction or genius. Everyone should try it!

Stoneybridge Workshop Weekend

The film-making class at the Stoneybridge Workshop Weekend in South Uist made a short film about some of the classes that were being held on the Saturday. In the morning and early afternoon we worked on camera skills, and then got some experience of editing at the end of the day. Many human stars, but the oscar must go to the canine participant who brought a whole new meaning to the concept of an “archaeological dig”… Who said you should never work with animals?

Stoneybridge Workshop Weekend from Gordon Wells on Vimeo.

Technical Postscript (for the nerdish tendency): Using Vimeo rather than YouTube is a new departure for me. There’s a discernible drop-off in video quality in the embedded version, though a direct comparison with the Island Voices YouTube clips would probably not be fair, as the source files for the latter were enormous .avi files, whereas for this clip I used a much smaller .wmv file – conveniently loadable from the comfort of my own home.

Ban Uibhisteach ann an India

The Indo-Gaelic connection spans more than just the one generation in my family. My mother, Anna Sheonaidh ‘ic Ghilleasbaig (nach maireann), wrote this piece for the year 2000 edition of An t-Uibhisteach (also no longer with us). Lifted from the pages of the magazine the pictures are grainy, but the text is vivid and reminds me strongly of how she loved her time in India (where she met and married my father, and with which she always felt and professed a strong affinity, in part because of her Hebridean heritage) – and how she loved talking about her memories of it too.

St Kilda – Skara Brae meets Easter Island

The day job took me to St Kilda last week – ho hum. These islands famously defy adequate verbal description, so I won’t even try. Some pictures instead:

Cleits like these in the foreground adorn the island in their hundreds

Cleits like these in the foreground adorn the island in their hundreds

Cleit close-up

Cleit close-up

Monumental sea stacks round Boreray

The islands were evacuated last century. Lucky me to get there last week!GW - not exactly parliamentary material

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