Traditional Music This Autumn
Photo: Feis na Mara
The summer music scene in Scotland is dominated by big outdoor festivals catering for thousands with the popular artists of the day. When it comes to autumn it’s time to head indoors and enjoy some traditional music. No visit to Scotland would be complete without sampling some Gaelic singing, folk or fiddle music and of course a ceilidh. Music plays a huge part in keeping alive local history and heritage so events like these are not just great fun they are important for Scottish culture. Wherever you are staying in the country you are probably not too far away from some traditional entertainment, everything from an impromptu jam session in a local pub to a massive festival with the biggest names in the business. Here are a few highlights to look out for over the next few months.
The Royal National Mod takes place every year in a different location. For over 100 years this has been the premier competition for traditional Gaelic singing and music. This October sees the Mod return to its spiritual home in the Gaelic heartland of Stornoway. It will be a massive gathering of musicians and singers and the whole week will be crammed with performances, ceilidhs and events. There is a special atmosphere when the Mod is in town, everyone seems to be speaking in Gaelic and music seems to be streaming from every building. But as well as the serious side to the competition the night life is vibrant and very welcoming to visitors. It’s not difficult to see why it has been affectionately referred to as “The Whisky Olympics”. Peninsula Cottage lies just a few miles north of the town. It’s only a ten minute drive away, has panoramic views out to sea and the beach only a short walk away. The very best the islands have to offer.
For those unable to make the national Mod there are a number of smaller regional competitions throughout the year that also make for a fascinating day out. These are usually free to attend and are possibly the best and most entertaining way that visitors can play a part in the preservation of Gaelic culture.
Feis na Mara takes place in Mallaig in the beginning of October. This grassroots festival takes place mainly in Morar Community Centre and a number of pubs and hotels in the town. For a weekend the whole of Mallaig gets into the party mood. The spirit of the event is one of the community coming together and the music, although traditional, is more leaning towards festival party music. The highlights of the star studded line up this year are Niteworks and The League of Highland Gentlemen, winners of the best up and coming artists at last year’s prestigious Scottish Trad Music Awards. Borrodale House lies on the road to the isles just 10 miles from Mallaig. With beaches, biking and kayaking on the doorstep it makes a fantastic place to unwind after a hectic weekend of partying.
The attractive village of Beauly refers to itself as The Fiddle Town of Scotland. Every October Blazin’ in Beauly sees the globally renowned Blazin’ Fiddles host a wonderful week of tuition, concerts, ceilidhs and craic. Special guests from around the world take this opportunity to be immersed in the Scottish musical tradition but also give this event a truly unique international flavour. The culmination of the week is the ceilidh on the Friday night with what seems like the entire village in attendance, an experience not to be missed. Bruiach House in Kiltarlity gives easy access and has a piano in the sitting room and plenty of space for dancing should you want to carry on the party afterwards.
Set in the historic seaside town of Dunbar The Dunbar Traditional Music Festival has been held on the last weekend of September since 1988 and predominantly focuses on folk music but pipes & drums, children's workshops, informal jam sessions, concerts, ceilidhs and open air performances all make this one of the community’s most loved events. This year promises to showcase local and young talent as well as established and internationally known artists. Thistledown is a traditional fisherman’s cottage but refurbished to a very high standard. Just down the coast from Dunbar it offers a quiet getaway with superb sea views as well as being just a one hour train ride into Edinburgh.