Gig review: Angus Nicolson Trio/FÈis Rois, Balintore

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While it may have been a disappointingly small turnout for the opening night of Blas 2013 in Balintore, on the north-east coast near the confluence of the Moray, Dornoch and Cromarty Firths, those who weren’t there missed a cracking night’s music, vibrantly though unobtrusively rooted in the past and present Gaelic culture that’s the festival’s primary raison d’être.

Seaboard Memorial Hall


The Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trails, three summer-long touring showcases featuring the best senior students from the Ross-shire-wide youth music project, are justly well established as a seedbed for tomorrow’s traditional stars, and the line-up here of Jessica Hussey-Bates (piano), Kaitlin Ross (guitar/vocals), Megan MacDonald (accordion), Scott Duncan (bagpipes/whistles), Molly Nolan and Nicola Hyslop (fiddles) proved themselves no exception. The ambition and imagination on display in both the Ceilidh Trailers’ choice of material and their richly layered arrangements grows year on year, while a few duo spots among the full-band numbers especially highlighted Ross’s ardently poignant, beautifully poised Gaelic singing and MacDonald’s quicksilver touch on the box.

Having had the slightly surreal experience of doubling as Fear an Taigh, or MC for the evening, and thus welcoming himself onstage (“I’ve known the next act all my life. . .”), the young Skye piper and whistle player Angus Nicolson once again showed his trio – with percussionist Andrew MacPherson and guitarist Murdo Cameron – to be a model of concentrated firepower and musicality.

For such a compact line-up, the tonal, dynamic and rhythmic variety their sound encompasses is seriously impressive, matching spring-loaded force with superb ensemble synergy.