By Calum Macleod
AN aircraft hangar in Dalcross, Inverness Museum, Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre and a cruiser on Loch Ness will all be transformed into ceilidh houses when the Highland cultural festival Blas returns in September.
These more offbeat venues will join Eden Court Theatre and village halls the length and breadth of the Highland region to host 40 concerts and other events on the Blas 2010 programme, featuring such stars of the traditional and Celtic music scene as Donnie Munro, Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain, Shooglenifty, Dochas and Skerryvore.
This week’s official programme launch was also held in a slightly unusual venue, the Highland Archive and Registration Centre at Bught Park, Inverness. The festival’s new programme and those from the previous five years are to be archived at the centre in recognition of its place in Highland life.
Councillor Michael Foxley, leader of the Highland Council administration and one of the prime movers behind the festival’s creation, said it was fitting Blas’s records were to be saved for posterity, given its cultural and economic contribution to the area. Blas brings approximately £800,000 into the Highland economy and last year the festival saw a 25 per cent increase in ticket sales.
“The Blas Festival is the Highland Festival,” Dr Foxley declared. “It is the indigenous festival of who we are and who we want to be.”
Warning that there are hard budget decisions to come as public spending is slashed, Dr Foxley called on the public to fight for continued support for Blas.
“Arts have always been an easy hit, but the arts have a very major economic impact and, to be honest, cheer us up,” he said. “As many people as possible need to come to the ward forums so that, when we have the big blocks concerned about potholes and care homes and teachers, we have a big block arguing for Blas.”
Arthur Cormack, the director of Fèisean nan Gàidheal, stressed that the benefits of Blas were not merely economic.
“It’s not just that the festival is value for money, but valuable in lots of ways,” he said. “It brings money into the economy, but it also brings events into venues large and small. No matter where you live in the Highlands, you will be able to experience some very high quality music and song in your own area.
“This year we are going to have over 80 events. In addition to the 40 main events in the programme, the Highland Council has an education programme. Artists go into schools during the day and provide very high quality events for the pupils.”
Over the 10 days of Blas, from September 3-12, the festival will be offering not only music and storytelling, but – in keeping with the meaning of “Blas”, which translates as “taste” – food events, including the return of the popular gourmet cruise and ceilidh on Loch Ness.
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery will be the location for an event celebrating the city of Inverness with award-winning Nairn fiddler Ruaridh MacMillan, Mod gold medal winner Kirsteen MacDonald and the Inverness Courier’s Gaelic columnist Roddy MacLean, while Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre will host an evening of music and song associated with the battle from fiddler Duncan Chisholm, pianist Mhairi Hall and Gaelic singers Margaret Bennett, Fiona J. MacKenzie and Rachel Walker.
“We will also be staging two events at Inverness Airport,” Blas festival director Donna Macrae revealed.
“Our opening night sees Blas present a mighty dance in the massive Hangar 2 with Shooglenifty, Skerryvore and Niteworks and on our final weekend we hold a dinner and ball in the airport restaurant with Gaelic song, stories from a former airline pilot and reeling the night away, so the festival is really taking off in style with the support of Highlands and Islands Airports.”
- Our pictures show Iain Gordon MacFarlane and Kirsty-Anne MacFarlane (top), and festival director Donna Macrae, at the Blas launch. Photos: Alasdair Allen /SPP