The highly successful 10th Anniversary festival of last year was bound to be a hard act to follow. The 11th festival got underway on 11th September with a unique event in keeping with the national theme of â€˜Homecomingâ€™. When thinking about homecoming as an opportunity to celebrate Scottish Culture, Iâ€™m not sure that the Scottish Government had the arrival of Somerled, the Viking forerunner of the Lord of the Isles and ancestor of Clan MacDonald, in mind. Nevertheless, Norwegian saxophonist, Trygve Seim, together with Frode Haiti, and our own Laura MacDonald and Tom Bancroft performed Trygveâ€™s original composition in the atmospheric if midgy setting of Finlaggan, where the Lords of the Isles held Council.
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For many other concert goers, it was tremendous to hear the powerful duo of Alan Barnes, well known English saxophonist, and Scottish pianist Paul Harrison, stalwart of this and many previous festivals. They performed a beautiful mix of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk compositions like: â€˜Do nothing till you hear from meâ€™ and classic Monk numbers like â€˜In walked Budâ€™ and the harmonically challenging piece â€˜Evidenceâ€™, all played with enormous skill and dexterity. Continue reading.....
Continuing the theme of homecoming, Festival enthusiasts were treated to a fascinating talk on the Scandinavian settlement of Islay by Drs Alan MacNiven and Arne Kruse of Edinburgh University. They reviewed the available evidence, and concluded that in the 8th century Viking culture had first overcome Islayâ€™s native people, then in its turn was assimilated into Gaelic culture, unlike in the Northern Isles where Norse culture long predominated. Returning to the Festival itself, we were all keen to see Alan Barnes and Bruce Adams, with the added attraction of some very fine home baking at Portnahaven village hall. We heard very impressive solos from this mainstream band, which received rapturous applause from a particularly appreciative audience. It was also lovely to hear the eloquent tones of Nikki King, who sang a series of Billy Holiday compositions. After a six year absence from the Festival, it was a delight to see and hear her back on Islay.
For those enthusiasts not perhaps too sure about modern experimental jazz, it was possible to get behind the solid traditional beat of Dave Bachelorâ€™s â€˜Bachelors of Jazzâ€™ and be entertained with the sound of both jazz and banter from the musicians in equal measure. Both Forrie Cairns on clarinet and Alistair MacDonald on banjo and vocals gave super solos. Meanwhile, at the Columba Centre in Bowmore, regular performer Laura MacDonald presented her new, specially commissioned works. As ever, the final day saw a very moving tribute by the Subie Coleman Quintet to the famous American soul star Esther Phillips. Even John Lennon paid fulsome tribute to Phillips in a TV recording, as one of the finest vocalists to perform a Beatles number.
The Grand Finale again featured leading performers from the Festival, Alan Barnes and Phil Bancroft, accompanied by the omnipresent Paul Harrison on piano. It was a positive delight to hear Islayâ€™s own vocalist Sheena Swanson; her voice just becomes richer and richer each year. It was also novel this year to allow young budding jazz musicians to join the professional musicians. Young sisters Kirsty and Siobhan Duncan performed along with the two brothers.
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.