Scotland's youngest clan leader on Outlander, techno, tradition and partying with the stars

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From playing bagpipes on stage with one of Motown's biggest stars to working on an a new album that fuses the traditional sound of the Highlands with the futuristic feel of techno music, Iain MacGillivray is a very modern clan leader.

At 32, MacGillivray, from Calrossie near Tain, is Scotland's youngest clan figurehead and is working to take the ancient ways of clanship both home and overseas as well as, crucially, to a new generation.

Iain MacGillivray is Scotland's youngest leader of clan. He is pictured at Clach An Airm, or Stone of the Swords near Gask, where his clansmen met before going to the Battle of Culloden in 1746. PIC: Iain Thornber.

Iain MacGillivray is Scotland's youngest leader of clan. He is pictured at Clach An Airm, or Stone of the Swords near Gask, where his clansmen met before going to the Battle of Culloden in 1746. PIC: Iain Thornber.

MacGillivray thinks big and passionately about his role and admits that everything he now does, he does for the clan.

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Speaking from London, where is his recording his bagpipe techno fusion, he said: "I I feel really strongly about preserving an ancient cultural heritage and an ancient piece of ancestral heritage.

"I was elected in 2016 on the anniversary of Culloden. From that day in 1746, all the icons of Highland identity, the kilt, Gaelic, bagpipes and clans, they were all suppressed by the British Government.

"Today,I represent all of these things.

Iain MacGillivray is  pictured with singer Martha Reeves and her sister Louis. The clansman supported the soul singer on stage at the SSE Hydro in front of 12,000 people. PIC: Contributed.

Iain MacGillivray is pictured with singer Martha Reeves and her sister Louis. The clansman supported the soul singer on stage at the SSE Hydro in front of 12,000 people. PIC: Contributed.

"It is about turning the tables, I am trying to turn it back 270 years.

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"I am trying to take the culture back to its roots while also working on getting a new generation interested in their heritage."

The fluent Gaelic speaker, who was voted in as Commander of Clan MacGillivray in 2016 on a landslide vote, usually lives on the family farm but has recently been in London on-and-off working on his new music with producer Jason O'Bryan, who includes Moby, Sly and Robbie and Limp Bizkit among his past credits.

"I am not just trying to put a beat to a tune or a tune to a beat, but make a whole new sound. Put the sound of Scotland into a modern era and make it radio friendly," he said.

Iain MacGillivray was voted in as Commander of Clan MacGillivray on the 270th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden and said he wants to  put people in touch with true Highland culture. PIC: Peter Jolly.

Iain MacGillivray was voted in as Commander of Clan MacGillivray on the 270th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden and said he wants to put people in touch with true Highland culture. PIC: Peter Jolly.

MacGillivray, a piper like his father and grandfather before him, first picked up a chanter when he was nine-years-old with his skill developing at Lews Castle College, Benbecula; Sabhal Mor Ostaig in Skye and at the College of St Scholastic in Duluth in Minniesota where he studied business, Spanish and international relations.

He ended up playing pipes for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas on stage at the SEE Hydro in Glasgow after first being introduced to the soul legend after a gig at the Inverness Ironworks in 2016.

He said: "I ended up partying with her and her sister after the concert. It was a great night. I was playing a funeral at Bonar Bridge the next morning and then a wedding the next night. I said to Martha 'do you want to come to a Scottish wedding with me?'...and she did.

"She came to my mum's house for tea before hand so I could get ready. She had all these amazing stories about Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson and it was incredible. Martha Reeves sitting eating my mum's chicken dinner, talking about all these legends."

The clan leader, who speaks Gaelic and Spanish, says he wants to see a resurgence in interest in clan culture among Scots. PIC: Iain Thornber.

The clan leader, who speaks Gaelic and Spanish, says he wants to see a resurgence in interest in clan culture among Scots. PIC: Iain Thornber.

The clan commander said there were not many MacGillivrays left in Scotland with most clan members now scattered around the world.

The clan followed the MacDonalds, Lord of the Isles in the 14th Century and were rewarded with land in Mull and Morvern. After he lordship collapsed in 1493 they escaped into Lochaber and eventually settled in Strathnairn near Inverness.

MacGillivray said: "Of course the clan system was about representing one area, one people and one set of values, but today it is completely international. It's about different cultures and different values coming together . Clan identity is being preserved in South Africa, Canada, Australia. That is where the spirit is.

"I think there will be a revival in clan interest in Scotland. It will be exciting to see what happens with that. There is a revival definitely going on...things like Outlander and Outlaw King have generated a lot of interest."

MacGillivray can apply to become clan chief in 2021. His appointment gave the clan its first leader in 76 years and led to to travel around the world. A meeting with Outlander writer Diana Gabaldon also took place.

He went on to play the pipes in an episode of the time travelling fantasy - and took part in Clan Lands, a podcast led by Outlander actors Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish.

The first big challenge for MacGillivray as leader will be the Clan Gathering in June next year, which up to 700 people are expected to attend.

"The last time there was a gathering in 2015, 89 people attended and they were mostly from Scotland and England.

"Now we are expecting between 500 to 700. It is going to be huge and have had to hire out the Empire Theatre at Eden Court to fit everyone in. My view is we are going to make it happen and bring over as many people as possible, and make them feel welcome as possible.

"This is going to be biggest gathering of the clan since before Culloden.

"We have people coming from all over the world, from Australia, from Thailand, from Oman, from Japan, from New Zealand...I've been joking that we need to get someone to come along dressed as a penguin, so we can have Antarctica represented too."