Friday, 28 October 2005

Royal National Mod 2005 - Saturday 22/10/05

The Mod comes to an end today. The choirs will sing for a final time, all together, in Perceval Square, at 10.30. At the breakfast table, the post-mortem was continuing as to the reasons why the Canadian choir had not succeeded. The Gaelic tutor was staying with us, and she felt particularly down. You can only feel sorry. Once in Perceval Square I had to wait for quite a bit because the pipebands were once again late. They marched the choristers down Cromwell Street and into Perceval Square. A Lewis Crofters lorry has been set up with a set of speakers and conductors take turns conducting the massed choirs. At 1.15, I go down to the ferry terminal. Droves of people going on the ferry. They're seen off by the pipeband. The usual melee ensues, but everybody does manage to squeeze on board. With twice 3 hoots on the ship's whistle, the Isle of Lewis sails for Ullapool at 2.15 with a piper playing from the top of the wheelhouse. I walk back with a neighbour from Newton Street. It's a cold afternoon, but dry after an initial light shower at 10.45. Ann and Gordon have left for Kilbride in South Uist, which is where Ann is from. Carmel and John went on the plane to Edinburgh at midday. They read up on the island in the morning, as they knew very little about the history of the place. And history is so important, because it's the very history that has given rise to Gaelic music as we know it. The sun sets at 6pm, which brings Mod 2005 to a close!

Royal National Mod 2005 - Friday 21/10/05

Today is the big day for the choristers staying with us. Victoria Gaelic Choir is participating in 3 events. The first is at 9 o'clock at the Sports Centre. The four, Ann, Gordon, Carmel and John, get up at 6.30 a.m. and have breakfast at 7.30. An hour later, they walk up to the venue, with mrs B and myself following 15 minutes later. The two pieces are sung straight after one another: Mor a'cheannaich and Mura bitha Domhnall. Victoria are on 3rd, after Ceolraidh and Aberdeen. And, I'm sorry to report that it's not good, not half as good as those going before. A bit stunned, mrs B and I walk across to the Nicolson Assembly Hall, for the second event which runs concurrently - a third competition started at nine in the Town Hall. We sit through the first few choirs, but Victoria is 12th on the list, so we return to the Sports Centre for a coffee. Then we have another look at the Gaelic Showcase. Victoria's rendition of Maraiche nan Tonn and their own choice (unknown to me) was once more not impressive. Their marks were lowest for both Gaelic and music. We're just too late at the Sports Centre for the adjucation of their early morning performance. On a lighter note, at the Nicolson, the winning choir was called Atomaig Piseag. This means: Atomic Kitten. Excited choristers spread over the area, but the Victoria choir members are glum. Return to Newton for lunch, then walk back in the middle of a second outbreak of rain this week. At the Nic Assembly hall, the final competition takes place with Victoria. They have to compete against choirs from Largs, Nairn and Aberdeen. Prescribed piece is Miann Cridhe. Victoria do well by my ears, but end up last. Only 10 points (out of 355) behind winners Aberdeen. Chi mi 'n Gearraidh is always a winner. This all finishes at 3 pm, so I wend my way down to the Sports Centre for the last competition. Ten choirs perform, but I only hear the last five. Memorable performance by (I think) Cumbernauld choir, who sing about a train journey from Inverness to Achnasheen, with all the right noises for a steamtrain. The MC for the event cracks a joke about the choir's conductor, who he calls the traindriver. The other man retorts that he prefers to be a conductor (sic). Inverness end up winners, which closes competitions for Mod 2005. Go back to Newton, where mrs B is cooking, when Isles FM announce that five pipebands will be playing in the town at 6 o'clock. We rush out to Cromwell Street, but are kept waiting for 50 minutes. It's packed out in the town centre, but good-humoured. Everybody is nattering to everybody else, which actually comes through very well on my recordings. The pipeband comes down Cromwell Street, but stops at the trafficlights - and not because they're at red. A camera crew appears with a bright light and the presenter of the late night Mod programme on BBC2. This lady is known as Giggles, even though she is 46. She marches out in front of the pipeband. They head down North Beach Street, round the corner into Castle Street and into South Beach Street. Mrs B and I cut across through the pedestrianized part of Cromwell Street and await the passage of the pipeband. Rain starts to fall, but that doesn't faze the crowd. When the pipeband turns into James Street to carry on to the Sports Centre, we go straight ahead into Shell Street and Newton Street. We finish supper there. An empty feeling pervades me - the Mod is over and done with. Although there is plenty of events on in the town, I can't be bothered with any of it. Hear later that the Vatersay Boys were too drunk to play at the County Hotel. The Canadians walk out of the room when the Mod program commences at 11.35. They did attend the final concert at the Sports Centre at 7.30, where it probably sank it that they really were not up to standard, sorry as I am to have to report this. Yesterday, a number of them sat in amongst the crowd in the Nicolson Assembly Hall.

Victoria Gaelic Choir (Guth nan Eilean) at the Tall Ships event on June 25th 2005. Picture taken from their website

The below link is a recording of the songs they sang at the first competition, but not as performed on October 21st; this was recorded on February 22nd, 2005.
Much better.

Royal National Mod 2005 - Wednesday 19/10/05

Very early start today (7.50), as I am determined to attend acompetition at the Royal British Legion Club at 9 a.m.. Five ladieswill each sing a song from Songs of the Hebrides, collected round theturn of the 19th/20th century by Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser and RevKenneth MacLeod.

These songs first introduced me to Scots Gaelic. The actual scorescontain both Gaelic and English. Although I've since learned that thetranslations can be a bit shaky, they've stuck. At 9 o'clock sharp, wecommence. The ladies are accompanied on the piano, and all is well withno 1, Eilidh Davies, who went on to win. Jackie Cotter, from Edinburgh,was next up and had a breakdown of communication with the accompanist.Result: two stoppages and a ruffled singer. Ann Marie McLean andPauline McCamley went through their pieces without mishap. JillainFaith Thomson was absolutely consumed with nerves. A lump in the throatdoesn't help either, with the result that Tha mi sgith didn't go to well. What a shame. On that note, it was across to the Town Hall for the lady solo singers.

They all had to sing Ghraidh an tig thu. The usual muddle wastaking place, with people not appearing in the order they were billed.Several had withdrawn from competition. Fiona MacKenzie from Dingwallwon. A little after 11, the competition was declared closed, and theadjudicators came to a conclusion. Next item on the morning's agenda:precenting.
If you want to hear what that sounds like, follow this link: I took from It contains an introduction and is15 minutes long. It also comprises other recordings of precenting fromelsewhere within the Christian church.
There were 3 competitors. The first isn't too bad, but hasdifficulty going over the congregation. A lot of old folk have come inspecially to take part in this. The precentors have to line 2 verses ofa psalm of their choice. Number 2, Torquil MacLeod, an islander, doesvery well. Donald Angus Matheson unfortunately had a spot of bother.Torquil MacLeod wins hands down. Next on the agenda: a jaunt to thesports centre where they are singing in duets. Confusion reignssupreme, as there are several people who have not reported to theorganisers. I sit in on proceedings until I get bored waiting. Returnto Newton, but get picked up by mrs B's eldest son in Island Road. Yep,such a long way to go from there (not). He leaves for Glasgow today,through Tarbert and Skye at 2 pm. At 2.30 I head back into town to jumpon the Mod Shuttlebus which is supposed to take me to the PrimarySchool. Well, the lady in the bus station was very unhelpful and justtold me to accost any Mod official; it's a Mod bus, nothing to do withthe council. No sign of any bus, so I leg it all the way to JamiesonAvenue. Twenty minutes later, I slink into the Assembly Hall to listento a batch of young girls, all singing whilst playing the clarsach, theGaelic harp.

Little Josie Duncan from Laxdale carries off the main prize. A womanstands on the stage, like at all events, but she SHOUTS out theannouncements for the competitions. We're overrunning by about an hour.Standards are quite high. One competition gets shifted to another room,so we get on with a competition in which only one person has entered.Esme Boone has travelled all the way from Northern Ontario in Canada.Unfortunately, her voice outdid the harp, and her performance did notmerit awarding the trophy to her. Ouch. The final session was dedicatedto groups of 3 clarsachan or more. The first group, Na h-Uiruisgean[Waterspouts] made a valiant effort, but why the heck they included afiddle is beyond me. Not a strong performance, but they're yet young.Second was a very creditable performance by the City of Edinburgh MusicSchool, who had 4 harpists out. Finally a group of 14 (yes, fourteen)harpists basically rearranged the hall to be able to fit in. Quitegood, an an unusual combination. They won the competition. Return toNewton at 5.15. to help mrs B serve dinner to our 4 Canadians afterthey return from rehearsal at the Golf Club. This time round they donot stay behind after supper, and I can join mrs B for an evening mealnot long afterwards.

Royal National Mod 2005 - Thursday 20/10/05

Yesterday was the last day of children's competitions. From now on, it's purely adults. Three major competitions are decided at the Sports Centre: the Gold Medal, the Traditional Final and the Silver Pendant. I am NOT attending those events, as it transpires that you have to pay up separately for each of those. Entry fees are £6 for a whole day's access to competitions, but not to the the evening concert. When I get into the Town Hall, I find out that I only have to pay £3 today. I'm not there on the stroke of 9 a.m., but things are, as per usual, overrunning by about an hour. I catch the last two of the self-accompanied solo singers. Iain Blair, from Renfrewshire, is just about to start his second song. Judging by remarks from the adjudicators, his first song was a stop-start affair. Only 3 competitors out of the 6 listed turned up. Iain A Gordon, Nairn, gave a very nice rendition of Chi mi bheanna mor [I see big mountains], which was performed at the funeral of president Kennedy in 1961, which won him the trophy. Trophies are pretty grandiose affairs: silver cups, shields, batons, quaichs etc. Next up: folk groups. First is Mac Talla, an American formation. A breakdown in communication causes their downfall, and the fiddle doesn't seem to help proceedings either. Pity. Picture below from the Mac Talla website.

Second song is better, but the voice aren't the strongest part of the group. Next group up is Gleusda + 1. Officially, Gleusda has 4 performers, but a 5th has joined them for the occasion. Very good performance with 2 pieces again. First song is accompanied by a tenor recorder flute, a clarsach and a guitar. I don't know the name of the songs unfortunately. Ceol Chluaidh (Clyde Music) gives a good performance as well, with Iain Blair amongst the group members. Last band but certainly not least was a late entry, Rapad. They gave a Capercaillie-style (and level) puirt-a-beul, for which they were awarded very high marks indeed. I did not stay on for the quartets, as my backside was hurting from sitting in uncomfortable chairs. As it's Thursday, I go to the Baltic for the Thursday papers: Stornoway Gazette, Press and Journal, West Highland Free Press, Hebridean. The weather this week has been very good, sunny and dry, although cool. After lunch, I'm about to set off for the Nicolson when it starts to rain. It doesn't amount to very much. It's very busy in the town this week,more people about than usually. Stornoway is festooned with fairy lights and there are little signs to show where all the venues are. Banners enliven the railings around the town. It's suddenly a nice lively place. Head off down Island Road in a light drizzle, which stops by the time I reach the Nicolson. Two coaches are parked up along Smith Avenue, both from the same company. One carries the Glasgow Islay choir, the other the Govan choir. The afternoon session in the Nicolson Assembly hall deals with the Rural choirs. Others sing at the Town Hall. Here, we have 6 choirs, from: Harris, Lochs, Strathaird (Skye), Melvich (Sutherland), Tong and Back. They all sing Eilean an Fhraoich, in praise of the isle of Lewis. In addition, they sing a song of their own choice. After each song, they patiently wait for the adjudicators to make up their mind. It does drag proceedings out, but: it's a competition. Apart from the prize for the best choir, there are separate prizes for best marks in Gaelic, music and best conductor. In the end, Back choir wins. To give its full title: Coisir Ghaidhlig Sgire a'Bhac. Get your tongue round that! Forgot to mention in Monday's entry (October 17th) that there was a very nice exhibition in the Crush Hall in the Nic. It showcased history in Lochs, Ness and Carloway; CDs, T-shirts were on sale. Mrs B gave me a T-shirt for a present. There were also good learning books for Gaelic, published for Gaelic medium education by Storlann. Keep a quiet evening in - it's been a busy day. And my backside hurts. Just as well mrs B has those comfy chairs.

Royal National Mod 2005 - Tuesday 18/10/05

Day 2 of the Mod, and mrs B's Canadian guests arrive today. Two couples from the Victoria Gaelic Choir on Vancouver Island will be with us until Saturday. Before they arrive, I head down to the Sports Centre to listen to young precentors. Precenting is a practice in the Free (Presbyterian) Church, where a precentors sings out a psalm a line at a time, and the congregation pitches in. It gives a very peculiar sound. The children have a group of their classmates as 'congregation', whilst the precentor does his or her job. Return to Newton for lunch, and meet Carmel and John, as well as Ann and Gordon. They have choir practice at 5pm and 10am each day. This evening and tomorrow night they will be having dinner at mrs B's. Just before 2, I head into town, to listen to various school choirs in An Lanntair.

The first competition sees choirs from Glasgow, Tarbert [Harris], Back, Lionel and Shawbost competing by singing Bat' an Taillear and Cailleach a'Ghobhainn. The organisational nightmares become apparent whe we're kept waiting for a choir to turn up that has had to sing at a different venue elsewhere in the town. One person sits behind a keyboard on a table, for the sole purpose of giving the starting note. Two adjudicators are seated in front of the stage. One of them judges the Gaelic, the other the music. The adjudicators have got the relevant pieces of musical score in front of them. The choisters are all dressed uniformly. The first competition is won by the Sir E Scott School of Tarbert. The musical adjudicator give us a little speech, telling the audience and participants what he was expecting. The Gaelic adjudicator does likewise. She speaks in Gaelic, but gives the marks out in English at popular request. Maletta MacPhail is known to me after project Timbertown. I should point out that the Mod is all about Gaelic culture. As I neither speak nor understand the language, I have to select those competitions where a knowledge of Gaelic is not top of the list of priorities. I.e. I am focusing on music. I still have considerable problems, but just manage to keep abreast of proceedings. In this competition, North Lanark Choir had to withdraw. Well after the official starting time of 3 pm, the second choral competition of the afternoon commences. Participants here are from schools in Back, Tarbert, Lionel and Barvas. They sing Null do dh'Uibhist and 'S cian bho dh'fhag mi Leodhas. Choirs from Glasgow and North Lanark withdrew. At the adjudication, marks out of a 100 are awarded for Gaelic and for music. The aggregate total determines who wins, and for this competition (C73), it's Lionel. Barbara MacKenzie, one of mrs B's nieces, is delighted. The conductor of the Barvas choir pulled a face as he left the stage, but he was 3rd out of 4. In front of me, a boy of 10 is fidgeting and fiddling with the seats. People move back and forth along the rows between performances. At 4.30, proceedings draw to a close and I return to Newton. Mrs B is getting in a flap to get supper ready for the Canadians, but still manages to pull it all off at 7pm. I act as waiter, serving everything onto and off the table. Although I had my supper at a normal hour, the guests remained at their table until 9.30, and mrs B could not eat until 10.20. A fire is lit in the sitting room, and I entertain our foursome with some Gaelic songs on the keyboard. At times, I feel like a pied piper. Mrs B's granddaughter is drawn to my playing, as is her cousin. The Canadians like it. Ann and Gordon retire for the night fairly early, as they have had a long journey. I'm chatting to John and Carmel for quite some time. Bed at midnight.

Royal National Mod 2005 - Monday 17/10/05

Today sees the start of the main children's competitions. Mrs B's granddaughter is off bright and early to take part in two competitions: singing, at An Lanntair, at 9 a.m.. Mrs B and myself join her at 10.30 in the Old Gym at the Nicolson Institue for a recitation. I know the poem almost as well as the lass. It's about a dog who carries a big bone. When he comes to a river, he looks in and sees another big dog with a bone. he drops his bone and jumps at the other dog. Splash! Afterwards, we wend our way towards the Sports Centre across the road. The Old Gym was a bit delapidated, but the Sports Centre is nice and new.
The big games hall has been filled with hundreds of seats, staging, banners for the Mod and its sponsorts. As well as 4 BBC TV cameras. Before we go in, we meet up with one of mrs B's nephews. Two of his daughters are singing in a duet. We sit beside the windows screening the swimming pool. Then we head into the hall to listen to the duets. I record two of them on my MP3-player. Having done that, we all head back to Newton for lunch. The lassie is disappointed she did not win anything. She had won in the local Glasgow Mod earlier in the year. As compensation, she is allowed to go and stay with her cousins in the family caravan at Reef, Uig. After dinner, I take mrs B up to hear the prize winners' concert in the Sports Centre. As we go out the strains of the pipe band waft on the evening wind, but we can't place it. Turns out they're right outside the sports centre. We go into the packed hall to listen to some remarkable performances by youngsters as young as 5. One little boy goes wildly off key as he has to reach an upper G four times. Some very creditable instrumentalists, such as accordion, melodeon, piano and piper. A 16-year old lad, a cousin of mrs B's, pipes the concert open. He sweeps the board every time he takes part in a competition. One girl of 5 can barely be heard as she goes through her song, but everybody keeps completely quiet. Concert finishes at 9.15. As we head back down Island Road, I have to catch mrs B as she stumbles over an unevenness in the road. No damage done.