Less than a month to go to the Islay Sessions 2017 taking place in Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich. And after having to miss it last year due to my heart operation I’ll be back to enjoy them even more this year. This years programme includes a variety of artists, some I’ve seen before, others will be new to me.
The Islay Sessions 2017 start on Friday 17/Nov with a Concert in the Conservatory at the Port Charlotte Hotel. Adam Sutherland and Mark Clement will be performing. After the concert there will be informal sessions in the Port Charlotte Hotel bar, I expect until late into the night.
There will be workshops on Saturday morning, the participants will then also perform at the big concert on Saturday evening 18/Nov at Bruichladdich Hall. I hope many local musicians young and old will join Tannara, the Joy Dunlop Trio and Jenn & Laura Beth.
The weekend will close with another Concert in the Conservatory at the Port Charlotte Hotel on Sun 19/Nov (followed by more informal sessions in the bar I hope), this time with Innes Watson.
Same as last year (and the year before. And the year before. And the year before. etc) Islay is represented at the Birdfair in Rutland. There’s one difference this year though, this year the Islay stand is a double stand. Much easier to find and more space to sample some of the liquid offerings from Islay and Jura while discussing the bird- and other wildlife. Here are two impressions of the stand:
As you can see there’s whisky and gin from all the distilleries as well as beer from Islay Ales. There’s also some generous helpings of Walker’s shortbread I’m told (I think it might be what’s visible just right of the table under the ‘visit The Oa’ poster). So if you’re at the Birdfair head over to Marquee 7 Stand 14/15 to meet the Islay crew, have a chat and enjoy a sample.
A quick update to the Updates from the Great Islay Swim posted last week. Bruichladdich have posted a nice video from the Sound of Islay leg of the swim, taking them from McArthur’s Head lighthouse to Rhuvaal lighthouse. I’ve walked from Bunnahabhain to Rhuvaal several times, I can’t imagine swimming all that (not to mention the rest from McArthur’s Head to Bunnahabhain). Watch the swimmers in action in the sun and the rain:
Sorry I’m a bit late, I got my dates mixed up and for some reason thought it’s in a week. But then again it’s not too late yet. The annual Cantilena Festival on Islay officially starts today (there were a few warmup events this week already). Beautiful music played in various venues across Islay, here’s an overview of the programme starting tonight:
The Festival opens at the Columba Centre in Bowmore with a programme of chamber music including Mozart’s Piano trio in G major and Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Players involved in this concert are Scott Mitchell (piano), Angus Ramsay (violin), Michelle Dieux (violin), Stephen Shakeshaft (viola), Sarah Harrington (cello) and Ben Burnley (bass).
The Festival continues on Monday in Laphroaig when our students from the Royal Conservatoire of Music have the opportunity to showcase their talents individually and then as part of the whole ensemble.
Tuesday will see the group at Lagavulin when the programme will include Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bach (double violin concerto) and Rossini. This concert will also feature our guest artist – Tobias Ringborg. He is a renowned Swedish violinist and conductor and Cantilena are pleased to welcome him to Islay which he has never visited.
On Wednesday Tobias will feature as soloist as will Havilland Willshire. The programme includes a Frank Violin Sonata and also piano music by Chopin and Beethoven.
Viennese Evening at Ardbeg. This will be the programme for Thursday and is a new addition to Cantilena’s repertoire. Music will include waltzes and polkas with composers Strauss and Kreisler.
The Festival concludes on Friday 14 July at Bruichladdich, in the Village Hall and will feature soloists and all the players in Mendelssohn’s famous Octet and our usual ‘Classical Ceilidh’
Some general information:
Cantilena is very generously supported by distilleries across the island. Come along and enjoy the music; sample the various malt whiskies; and have the chance to chat to our professional players and students throughout the evening. All concerts start at 7.30 pm and ticket £12/£10 may be purchased at Celtic House in Bowmore or at the door on the venue on the various evenings. There is no charge for school age young people.
And that’s not all, there will also be some whisky and music:
Whisky and Music afternoon
Martine Nouet celebrated whisky expert presents a Whisky and Music afternoon on Wednesday 12 July in Islay House. Martine will guide you through several Islay malts which will match with music which Cantilena will play.
Some interesting news for avid readers on Islay over the next few weeks. I’ve been bookcrossing for many years (according to my bookcrossing profile I joined September 2007) and have released books in Swindon and Aldermaston Wharf over the years. I thought about taking some to Islay during my holidays and release them there, but for various reasons never got round to it. I think there have been a few individual releases over the years, but this year the Islay Book Festival team has decided to make Islay a bookcrossing heaven:
In April I went to Islay for the Islay walking week and more. For various reasons I haven’t got round to write about the week so far, better get my act together now. As hoped it turned out a great week, even the weather largely held up.
Not having been on Islay for a year due to my heart operation I only went on three walks this time, freeing up some time for other activities. One was taking pictures of the remaining red phone boxes on Islay before they disappear. Here’s one of them at Ardbeg:
But back to the walking: As mentioned I went on to three walks, the opening walk on the Oa, the long walk out to Bholsa and the excursion to Jura. I had considered going to Colonsay and Oronsay, but having been so many times already I changed my mind and in the event the ferry was cancelled that day anyway.
The walk on the Oa was beautiful, the weather turned out better than expected and the Sun came out for the most important part of the walk along the steep cliffs (a very heavy rain shower arrived just as we got back to the road and were arranging transport back to the cars, couldn’t have timed it much better). While it was hazy for most of the time the views were impressive. It even cleared up for a short time and we could see over to Ireland.
The walk to Bholsa in the far north of Islay was educational, as it was led by geologist and book author David Webster. He explained how the landscape had formed, where the rock formations came from and much more. Some of the rocks are of volcanic origin, were once 1,800°C hot and located in what’s Iceland today (hope I remembered that correctly).
The last day took us over the Sound of Islay to Jura for a walk north along the shore. From Carragh an t-Sruith lighthouse we looked over to the construction site of the future Ardnahoe distillery. Unfortunately some quite heavy rain set in soon after we left the lighthouse after lunch, ruining some of the best photo opportunities. I’ll have to revisit this during my next visit. Luckily the rain stopped and by the time we returned to Port Askaig the Sun had come out and we could sit out in the garden for an after walk drink and look back at a great week.
On my non-walking days I was busy with a variety of other activities, including catching up with friends, visiting Bruichladdich and Laphroaig distilleries, visiting Islay Ales brewery, trying out the new Peatzeria pizzeria, walking on the beach in Machir Bay as well as Saligo Bay and birdwatching at Gruinart.
In summary, a great week! Looking forward to both my next Islay visit in June as well as the Islay walking week 2018.
Two years ago Fraser Shaw passed away, but his memory and his music live on, in particular through the Islay Sessions and the Fraser Shaw Trust. In the Fraser Shaw Trust Fraser’s family and friends have worked to finish a song book of Fraser’s compositions and record them. Both will be published this year, the proceeds will be used to support Multiple Sclerosis help organisations and activities in Argyll.
I don’t know if these were his own tunes or someone else’s, here are some memories of Fraser playing together with other musicians at the Port Charlotte Hotel during the Islay Sessions 2012:
But back to the future, in particular the upcoming CD launch. Three events are coming up over the next few weeks and months:
Back in 2008 Becky walked (in stages) all the way around the coast of Islay. Today I came across a similar challenge two men are planning, although slightly wetter. About a decade ago the Islay Masters Swimming club swam across Loch Indaal from Bowmore to Bruichladdich (or was it the other way around? Not entirely sure), crossed the Sound of Islay and even tackled the famous Corryvreckan. Justin Fornal and Chad Anderson are planning an even bigger, more ambitious swim:
The Great Islay Swim. In a week in July 2017 they plan to swim all around Islay. Starting from Ardbeg they will swim clockwise around Islay in seven days. Swimming between 4-8 hours a day and covering around 15-20 kilometres per day. Pulling a whisky cask they are planning to fill with whisky from all the distilleries (similar to the Islay Pillage a number of years ago), which will later be bottled and sold. And they’re fundraising for the RNLI.
I’m getting a bit nervous now. Soon I’ll be leaving for my first Islay visit in a year, the longest gap between visits for over a decade. The reason for the long gap was the heart surgery I had in October 2016, the run-up to it as well as the following (and to an extent still ongoing) recovery. This visit is of course for the Walk Islay walking week, a goal I’ve been building up to over the last few months. When I started with a rehabilitation class in December I had a review with the nurse and she asked me about fitness goals I had. My first one was to start with some light jogging in January (which I did and have since increased), the second one was participation in the walking week (now coming up).
The Walk Islay event started in April 2003, kind of a chance encounter for me as I only found out about it while I was on Islay for a long Easter weekend. I joined one of the walks (walking north from Saligo Bay, a walk I’ve since repeated several times, on my own, with my late mother as well as most recently with my sister) and very much enjoyed it. So I returned the following year for the full week (taking my mother with me as well). Since then I’ve participated in every single walking week, as far as I know by now I’m the only person who has completed at least one walk in every single walking week. Which was obviously further motivation to return this year in order not to break the chain.
I don’t know yet how many of the walks I will participate in this week, some of it I’ll decide on short notice depending on weather and how I feel. Starting point will be the walk on the Oa on Sunday, a walk I’m planning to complete. After that I might take a break on Monday, depends on how tired I’ll be. I’d like to go on to the walk to Bholsa on Tuesday, I’ll probably make that dependent on how the weather looks. Wednesday is Colonsay day, after not having been for a while I’m currently thinking of going. Thursday would be Beinn Bheigier, normally I’d go, this year I’m probably only going to go if the weather is fantastic. Not sure yet if I’ll have enough energy to go on a bad day. Friday is Jura day, I’m planning to join that walk fitness permitting.
Of course I also need to visit some of the beaches, drop in at some of the distilleries and hopefully meet as many old and new friends as possible. If you’re around please get in touch and I’ll see what I can do. If you’re thinking of joining one of the walks check the the Walk Islay walking week website, all the details are there.