Mac Ìle CD with Fraser Shaw’s Islay tunes

Islay MusicAs I’m writing this The Islay Sessioners will be playing some beautiful tunes at Bruichladdich Hall on Islay, for today is the Fraser Shaw Islay tunes CD launch I mentioned back in May. Sadly I can’t be there myself as my recent holiday didn’t last long enough, so I’m doing the next best thing, listening to the CD.

Picture of the outside of Mac Ìle – The Music of Fraser Shaw
The outside of Mac Ìle – The Music of Fraser Shaw

I picked up my copy from the Ardnahoe distillery shop in Islay House Square last week, it will also be available at Bruichladdich distillery and I assume at the Port Charlotte Hotel, a big supporter. Probably also other places on Islay. And if you can’t get to Islay to get your copy you can of course order it online from The Fraser Shaw Trust website.

I can’t share any tunes here, so for now the beautifully designed CD (artwork by Somhairle MacDonald) is all I can give you.

Picture of the inside of Mac Ìle – The Music of Fraser Shaw
The inside of Mac Ìle – The Music of Fraser Shaw

But of course the music is the most important part. Of course I’m not a music critic, my knowledge of music extends to ‘I love it’, ‘I like it’ and ‘No, thanks, that’s not for me’. This CD is firmly in the first category, I love it. My favourites are the Pipe Set (#5) and Cairn’s Set (#9), I’m going to quote Ciara MacTaggart from her review in The Ileach:

There is a pipe set on track 5 that is powerful and toe-tapping with harmonious piping riffs. The type of tunes that fill you with energy and tunes as a musician you want to learn immediately. Track 9 Cairn’s Set does something similar. It has the power to turn stressful worries into a positive, lifting your mood immediately. In fact, the entire album has this contagious air about it.

It should be obvious that I highly recommend it. A fantastic job by all the musicians and everyone else involved in this project. I had the pleasure to see many of them during the Islay Sessions over the last few years and hope to see and hear them again in November.

Bookcrossing on Islay

Islay NewsSome 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:

Sounds good to me, hopefully there will be many Islay based bookcrossers soon (of course visitors can also join in), sending books on journeys from various locations on Islay!

Fraser Shaw Islay tunes CD launch

Islay MusicTwo 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:

For further updates follow the Fraser Shaw Trust on Twitter or visit the Fraser Shaw Trust Facebook page.

Swimming around Islay (for science and charity)

Islay NewsBack 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.

(via John Lenker on Twitter)

Islay’s most famous wreck (the Wyre Majestic) from above

Islay on VideoYesterday I posted one of my oldest Islay pictures on my photoblog, a view of the wreck of the Wyre Majestic in 1998. Today I followed that up with a post of what remains of the wreck in April 2017. Leon (who also shared the video of the ruin of Kilchoman Church) now added to it by uploading a video of it shot from a drone in September 2016:

Very interesting to see it from this angle, especially as I thought only parts of the stern remain now. I might be wrong, but it looks to me as if there might be something left of the bow hiding below the water (visible towards the end of the video when he’s flying above it looking down)? What do you think?

Haggis Farm to be built on Islay

Islay NewsIslay farmers are well known for their excellent beef, pork and lamb. The fresh sea air and salty grass certainly helping with the nice taste of the meat. Soon there will be a fourth variety of meat coming directly from Islay: Haggis. A Haggis farm is to open on Islay today.

The farm will start with 100 Haggis, but expansion plans have already been approved to grow this to 1,000 Haggis. Being located on Islay the expectation is the Haggis meat will have a salty and peaty taste influence. Especially over the winter (and therefore in the prime season just before Burns Night) the grass will be complemented with draff from the whisky distilleries, meaning the Haggis will go even better with a good Islay whisky.

The location of the new farm is on the Rhinns of Islay, between Port Charlotte and Kilchiaran:

Picture of some rugged uncultivated rugged land
The location for Islay’s first Haggis farm

It is expected that the Haggis will thrive on this rugged land, finding plenty of food (as already mentioned supplemented with the draff from the distilleries during the harsh winter months) and growing and fattening quickly. The uneven and hilly landscape is their natural habitat, so they will feel right at home.

Initially most of the sales are expected to be local on Islay, but as its fame spreads the owners expect to export to the mainland and even internationally. First enquiries by international importers have already been received even before the farm started operating.

Good and bad Islay whisky news

Islay Whisky News & LinksTwo Islay whisky news links this evening, one I consider to be a good news, the other is more bad news. Pour yourself a wee dram of a good Islay single malt whisky and read on:

Let me start with the not so good news: The Times (£ or registration required to read full article, sorry) reports Business Rates – Rises pour misery on island distilleries. For the big distilleries while not nice I should think they will be able to manage. For the smaller independent ones I think a 40% increase will be quite a bit tougher.

Moving on to the good news, where I think this should have never gone to court in the first place. The consumer isn’t as stupid as some lawyers seem to think. The Herald reports (I also saw it in The Sun, but I won’t link to that rag) Whisky distiller wins trademark battle with makers of McEwan’s Lager. The whisky distiller in question is of course Jim McEwan, who is back in business.

Congratulations to the Islay High FilmG winners!

Islay NewsRemember the Vote for Islay High at FilmG 2017 post from a month ago? Some excellent news this evening, as via Twitter I’ve just learned that the Islay High School / Àrd-sgoil Ìle submission has won in the Best Learners (‘The film where the Gaelic dialogue is best orated in a clear and fluid manner, from a class of Gaelic learners.’) category:

A closer look at the award:

I’m not sure at this point how they did in the People’s Choice vote, if I hear anything I’ll add an update below.

Heads up: Peatzeria to open on Islay

Islay NewsNo, I don’t know if their pizza oven will be peat fired. I don’t even know when it will open. All I know is that (hopefully soon) a new pizzeria will open on Islay. In Shore Street in Bowmore to be precise, in the building that most recently housed the Holy Coo restaurant.

To be updated about their progress you have a number of options: To start with there’s the Peatzeria – A Slice of Islay website (a holding page as of writing this). Then there’s the Peatzeria Islay Twitter account. And finally there’s the Peatzeria Facebook page. If that isn’t enough I don’t know.

As of now building work is progressing nicely:

If it’s open by the time of my next Islay visit in April I will report back with my impressions then, otherwise after another visit later in the year.

Jim McEwan returns to Islay whisky distilling at Ardnahoe

Islay Whisky News & LinksYes, it’s the first of the month. No, it’s not April. It’s February. In other words, this is not an April Fools. Some rather interesting news have come out about Islay and whisky legend (or is it whisky and Islay legend?) Jim McEwan in connection with the currently under construction Ardnahoe distillery overlooking the Sound of Islay. From the press release:

World-renowned whisky distiller Jim McEwan has been appointed Production Director of Ardnahoe Distillery on Islay – 18 months after he retired.

The Islay-born whisky industry icon, who has 53 years’ experience under his belt, has been hired by Hunter Laing & Co, the family-run Glasgow whisky company behind Ardnahoe, the first distillery to be built on Islay for more than a decade.

Ardnahoe is being built on the north-east coast of Islay and will become the ninth distillery on the island. It expects to start distilling whisky in early 2018.

As Production Director at Ardnahoe Distillery, McEwan is playing a pivotal role at the distillery for the Laing family – father Stewart and sons Andrew and Scott. From shaping its design and installing his preferred pieces of distilling equipment, to fine-tuning the production processes and selecting casks, he will influence every step of the whisky-making journey at Ardnahoe.

The distillery, which will include a visitor centre café, shop and tasting room, will produce traditional peated Islay single malt.

McEwan will also work on a number of other as-yet-secret creative projects that are sure to make waves across the spirits world.

Picture of Jim McEwan with the Laing family
l-r Stewart Laing, Jim McEwan, Andrew Laing, Scott Laing, Photo credit – Ralph Dunning

Many will of course know Jim from his roles at Bruichladdich and Bowmore in his previous lives. As Master Distiller at Bruichladdich he’s remembered for famous whiskies like the Octomore and the mysterious Black Art. Not to forget bringing gin to Islay with The Botanist. Before joining Bruichladdich he had spent 38 years at Bowmore distillery in almost every role imaginable after starting his career there in 1963 as a 15 year old apprentice cooper.

Jim is quoted as saying:

I had intended to ride off into the sunset, but I’ve known Stewart for many years and have always been impressed with Hunter Laing whisky. When the call came in, it really excited me.

It felt as though the stars were aligning; the amazing location, my history with Islay, my relationship with the Laing family, their passion for the project, the calibre of architect Iain Hepburn, plus my chance to get involved with the design of the distillery for the first time in my career, all made it feel like it was ‘meant to happen’.

Similarly Andrew Laing, Director of Hunter Laing & Co, said:

It’s hard to think of anyone better qualified than Jim McEwan to develop the character of the newest Islay malt whisky. Jim has lived and breathed Islay whisky his whole life and is bringing all of his passion and knowledge to Ardnahoe Distillery. The three of us are hugely impressed with the whiskies he’s produced in the past and can sleep easy knowing that he is in ultimate charge of whisky-making at Ardnahoe

For further news and updates you can follow @Ardnahoe distillery on Twitter, including expected announcements about their planned participation in the Islay Festival in late May.