Three singers from three islands have come together in a new collaboration which celebrates the art of songwriting.
The Between Islands project has produced a collection of songs, fusing diverse styles from three different island backgrounds.
Guitarist and singer Arthur Nicholson provides the Shetland link to the project, along with Orcadian Kris Drever who is living in the isles. The third member of the collaboration is Willie Campbell from Lewis.
Their work will be heard for the first time in public this summer when it is premiered at the Hebridean Celtic Festival, which is marking its 20th anniversary.
The collaboration project was devised by an Lanntair, the arts centre in Stornoway, and will start the centre’s week-long programme of events during HebCelt from 15th to 19th July.
Nicholson released his debut album Sticks & Stones in 2013 to significant acclaim and the following year won a coveted award for outstanding artists at the Danny Kyle Open Stage at Celtic Connections.
He was back at Celtic Connections last month providing support for American singer Allison Moorer – the appearance was part of his prize for winning a “Danny”.
Nicholson said, of Between Islands: “It’s great to be involved in a project involving the different outlying Scottish islands. I’m not sure if something like this has ever been done before.
“The writing process went pretty smoothly, especially considering none of us had worked together before. We’ve ended up with a good mixture of different sounding songs. Our voices seem to blend really well together.”
Drever is well-known to isles audiences as a solo artist, collaborator, and member of folk superstars Lau who appear at Mareel later in the year. At the same venue he recorded an EP alongside regular musical sidekick Eamonn Coyne. He has also produced several solo albums and had successful collaborations as a trio with John McCusker and Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble and as a duo with Eamonn Coyne from Treacherous Orchestra.
Lewis-born Campbell, formerly of guitar pop outfit Astrid and Glasgow group The Reindeer Section, has produced a number of albums, both solo and with evolving local collective, The Open Day Rotation. He has also collaborated with award winning poet Kevin MacNeil and, more recently, Calum Martin on Dalma, Willie’s debut Gaelic album.
Head of performing arts and cinema at an Lanntair, Alex MacDonald, said: “Between Islands came about because of an idea I had about celebrating the wealth of talent the islands have collectively; an exploration of our ties rather than our differences.
“It seemed to me that we could make something very special happen by pairing the right people, and I certainly think we have struck gold with this first project. So much so that we plan to extend the idea and include other art forms such as film or craft in the future, as well as aiming for a musical collaborative project each year.
“In fact I am already planning the next one – based on the fiddle tradition – and this time featuring three very talented young island women.
“Opening the HebCelt with this concert feels entirely appropriate. Both organisations are of course celebrating significant anniversaries this year, and this project is a clear illustration of our continued close relationship and in particular our shared aim of promoting island talent.”
The centenary of the Great War and the rich traditions of shinty played on Scotland’s west coast, will be explored in the production Curaidhean na Camanachd (Shinty’s Heroes) being staged at an Lanntair on 16th July.
Musical director Gary Innes and writer, broadcaster and shinty historian Hugh Dan MacLennan will be joined by singer Kathleen MacInnes, piper Duncan MacGillivray, and musicians Ewen and Allan Henderson.
The programme will revolve around the impact of World War One on shinty-playing areas, including the Hebrides, and detail the early traditions of the game in the islands, from St Kilda to North Uist, Barra, Scarp and Lewis, using a combination of wartime and sporting images, including many previously unseen.
The HebCelt audience will also see a return to the stage of Shine, a three-girl group formed originally in 1998.
The group is made up of Corrina Hewat, one of the world’s leading harp players and sought-after as a player, composer, arranger and teacher; Mary Macmaster, considered to be one of the most innovative players of the metal-strung harp in the world; and Lewis-born singer Alyth McCormack who tours extensively across Europe, the Americas, and the Far East with acts such as Paddy Moloney and The Chieftains.
Caroline Maclennan, HebCelt’s director, said: “Once again we have compiled a diverse, and we hope, thoroughly engaging programme for an Lanntair during the festival. It will showcase the best of our traditional music and present our cultural heritage in modern and engaging ways whilst celebrating the ongoing collaboration between our respective organisations.”
HebCelt, which was voted Best Event or Festival at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards in November, has already announced the first additions to an international line-up set to celebrate its landmark year.
This includes Grammy-nominated Afro Celt Sound System, Glasgow-based Treacherous Orchestra and Highland outfit The Elephant Sessions.
They will be joined by singer songwriter Chastity Brown, from Minneapolis; Canadian folk group Le Vent du Nord; Indian singer-songwriter, producer, and film score composer Raghu Dixit; Michigan roots ensemble Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys; and Jamie Smith’s MABON, an inter-Celtic band from Wales.
Renowned Scottish singer Karen Matheson, will be heading her own band which will include husband and fellow founder member of Capercaillie, Donald Shaw; and is joined in the festival line-up by singers Siobhan Miller and Iain Morrison; electro/techno group Halcyon, new band Malin; indie pop and folk-rock six-piece Sunshine Social; and Earths, a folk and punk four-piece from the Borders.