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SEALL Festival: Big music in small halls

Published: 05 Nov 2018

The first festival of small halls in Europe launches on the Isle of Skye on 23 November bringing big music to ten remote village halls around the Island and Lochalsh until 1 December.

The festival will run for eight days and includes concerts, cèilidhs and public and music workshops in halls and schools by some of the nation’s finest traditional musicians, including Jarlath Henderson, Duncan Chisholm, Mairearad Green, Innes Watson, Donald Shaw, Mike Vass and Seán Gray, culminating in a mammoth St Andrew’s Night Big Cèilidh for all at the Sligachan Hotel on 30 November.

Creative Scotland is delighted to support the first SEALL Festival of Small Halls. We are committed to increasing opportunities for everyone to participate in creative activity and this is an excellent example of how this can be achieved across rural areas- Karen Dick, Creative Scotland

The new festival was inspired by the Festival of Small Halls in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and SEALL’s desire to develop a new touring structure to take great music into smaller venues within their extended community.

The global Small Halls family includes Festivals of Small Halls in Australia and Ontario where communities host traditional artists in halls, inspired by the spirit of community, hospitality, exceptional music and fun.

SEALL Festival of Small Halls is the first of its kind in Europe and aims to provide a platform for global recognition of the north west Highlands as a significant player in Scotland’s cultural development. Last month, SEALL creative director Duncan MacInnes was invited to Small Halls events in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland to begin the development of an international connection with venues and musicians across the world over the coming years.

Highland Councillor John Finlayson said: “It is exciting to note that SEALL, through this project, is creating international links with the global small halls community and that this winter festival on Skye is the first of its kind in Europe.

“The fact that our small halls festival could, with the right amount of support, become a truly international event is both inspiring and encouraging. Highland Council is committed to harnessing the energy and traditions of our remote rural communities and connecting them to the rest of the world.”

The SEALL Festival of Small Halls is delivered by SEALL (Skye Events for All), a well-established charitable performing arts promoter based in the south of Skye. The new project has attracted major funding from Creative Scotland, Scotland’s Winter Festivals Event Fund, Culture and Business Scotland Fund, The Highland Council and The Edinbane Community Company.

Karen Dick, Creative Scotland’s Place, Partnerships and Communities Officer, said: “Creative Scotland is delighted to support the first SEALL Festival of Small Halls. We are committed to increasing opportunities for everyone to participate in creative activity and this is an excellent example of how this can be achieved across rural areas.

“SEALL has created an ambitious programme which is international in its outlook but rooted in the traditions and culture of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye. We hope local communities and visitors enjoy the diverse range of performances and events taking place across the festival.”

The festival has gathered significant enthusiasm and support from the participating communities and local businesses, including the Sligachan Hotel, the festival’s main local business sponsors and has also gained recognition by national and local government.

SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Kate Forbes, said: “SEALL has a great track record of organising excellent events and this latest initiative is no different. There is a network of small village halls across Skye, built to bring people together to enjoy the talents of musicians and performers. There is no reason why friends and neighbours in rural areas should not enjoy Scottish music right on their doorstep.

“I love SEALL’s vision of bringing music and the arts to the very heart of communities. Some of the smallest villages have great halls where so many folk musicians in particular first started out. It stands to reason these halls should continue to be used for the reason they were built.”

“I hope to make it to some of these events, not least because the line-up of musicians is truly incredible.”

The event kicks off in Elgol Hall on 23 November with an exciting double bill of music with an emphasis on celebration. The evening includes a festival dinner and cèilidh dance. Concerts will then take place in Breakish, Edinbane, Elgol, Kilmuir, Minginish, Plockton, Raasay, Tarskavaig and Waternish, when between two and four of the participating musicians will share the stages. Each of the hall committees are celebrating in different ways: some with food and a bar and some with tea and cake or a cèilidh dance to close the evening. There will also be music workshops in halls and schools and late sessions after the concerts.

Councillor Finlayson added: “It is commendable that SEALL is taking advantage of 27 years’ experience in delivering performing arts events to remote rural townships and seeks to broaden its reach across the Island and beyond to bring traditional musicians of the highest quality to some of our smallest and most remote village halls.

“Moreover, by utilising the traditional ‘gathering’ and empowering communities with a choice of how they wish to celebrate, the project is helping to safeguard our legacy of the traditional cèilidh and inspiring a whole new generation.”

During the festival, Glasgow-based writer Elizabeth Reeder and artist Amanda Thomson will be responding to people, place and performance via blogging, gathering information and documenting the event with a view to producing a multi-artform record for the future.

The Big Cèilidh takes place on St Andrew’s Night in Seumas’ Bar, Sligachan Hotel, as part of Scotland’s Winter Festivals celebrations. The St Andrew’s Day event will be a unique and very special celebration of community life and friendship when the musicians take to the stage for a one-off spectacular concert and good, old-fashioned cèilidh dance.

Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development Ben Macpherson, said: “The SEALL Festival of Small Halls is a great opportunity for local communities and visitors to join some of our finest and talented performers in celebration of St Andrew’s Day, while promoting Skye’s unique music and traditions at venues across the island and Lochalsh.

“Every year, Scotland’s Winter Festivals welcome hundreds of thousands of people from far and wide, engaging with our diverse communities and significantly boosting the economy. I am delighted that SEALL Festival of Small Halls will form part of Scotland’s Winter Festivals celebrations.”

SEALL’s Festival Producer, Marie Lewis, said: “We are both delighted and humbled by the amount of support and enthusiasm we have received from funders, local businesses, hall committees and communities towards the first SEALL Festival of Small Halls.

“People are genuinely excited about having the rare chance to experience a group of Scotland’s high calibre traditional musicians playing together in their hall. The mood is one of celebration, friendship and inclusiveness and everyone is invited to take part.

“The funding we have secured from the generosity of our major funders and local businesses has been gratefully received and accounts for 50 per cent of the overall costs of bringing the event to Skye and Lochalsh. We are, therefore, very busy with fundraising for the rest and we have been bag-packing at the Portree Co-op and have coming up an auction at the Old Inn, Carbost, on 9 November.”

People, place and performance are the themes of the festival which focuses on community spirit and civic engagement and promotes the relevance of Scotland’s traditional culture to present and future generations.

Marie explained: “Our musicians are tradition bearers, committed to the development of traditional music. They have a wide appeal and will engage audiences young and old.

“Festival events will expose young people to their traditional cultural heritage by allowing them to participate in a fun, old-fashioned community event, encouraging an appreciation of the traditional performing arts, strengthening social bonds with their communities and enriching their life experiences.”

Celebrated fiddle player Duncan Chisholm is looking forward to taking part in the event. He said: “My journey started by playing the small halls around the Highlands and Islands, connecting with small communities and being inspired by people and place. I witnessed the collective excitement and the enrichment of people’s lives on their own doorsteps.”

“Our music and culture rely upon our young people being inspired, not only in our towns and cities but in our rural communities as well.

“I strongly feel that the wellbeing of all people in our rural communities relies upon a robust and positive arts presence in their lives and the SEALL Festival of Small Halls aims to bring exactly that to the communities in and around Skye and Lochalsh.”

The SEALL Festival of Small Halls takes place from Friday 23 November to Saturday 1 December. Pick up a programme from local outlets. Information, online programmes and tickets are available from seall.co.uk.