Efforts to preserve Gaelic set for boost under remote home recording studio project

Recording equipment is being sent to the homes of Gaelic singers and trad musicians across the Highlands and Islands under a new project aimed at helping to preserve the language while nurturing new talent.

Keith Morrison has run his Wee Studio business in Stornoway since 2007.

Eleven acts scattered around the country are making new music from their homes with state-of-the-art laptops and microphones after funding was secured for a new concept billed as a major “breakthrough” in allowing artists to make new work cost-effectively in the most remote areas.

The founder of a recording studio on the Isle of Lewis won backing from Creative Scotland for his idea to send sets of equipment in flight cases around the country.

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Keith Morriso ran a competition for acts to use the free sessions after securing £26,000 for a pilot project he believes will prove that “high-quality music can be made just about anywhere”.

Graham Maclennan plays accordion with a Stornoway-based dance band.

Morrison and his team at the Wee Studio in Stornoway are using the latest video technology and recording techniques to control the equipment and guide each act to produce the best possible results.

Singers and musicians from the islands of Canna, Barra, North Uist, Skye and Lewis, as well as in Inverness, Ross-shire and Glen Shiel, in the north west Highlands, are recording music with borrowed equipment under the Clàradh san Sgòth (Cloud Recording) initiative, which was developed when musicians were unable to travel to recording studios due to lockdown restrictions.

Morrison said: “I had already started a record label, because I was coming across lots of incredibly talented musicians who after a few years of getting no rewards for their talents were drifting away from it. It was very tough for them to get any kind of funding. I felt a big responsibility to nurture the creative scene on the island as much as possible.

"When Covid came I was left working in the studio on my own as we couldn’t get anyone to come in.

Singer and musician Lisa MacNeil is based on the Isle of Barra.

“But by then we were working with acts around the country, including the band Heron Valley and their singer Abigail Pryde, who I was recording a solo album with when she had to move back in with her parents in Dunoon.

“She bought some equipment and I managed to send her some other bits of and bobs from here. I was video-calling her and telling her what to do.

"It was a bit of a nightmare and we got all the vocal parts done to finish the album, but it clicked something in my brain and I began to wonder how it could be done better, with a bit more thought and investment.

“I realised with the high speed internet we have now that high-quality equipment could be sent anywhere in a really simple flight case and I could use streaming software to take control of a laptop in someone’s home.”

Inverness-based musician and singer Liza Mulholland.

Lewis-based acts involved in the project include singers Alice Macmillan, Calum Friseal and Iona Mairead Davidson, and accordionist Graham Maclennan.

Wee Studio is now working with South Uist piper and singer Chloe Steele, Inverness musician and singer Liza Mulholland, clarsach player Grace Stewart-Skinner, from Urray in Ross-shire, Skye-based multi-instrumentalist John Phillips, Canna-based singer Fiona J Mackenzie, singer and musician Lisa MacNeil, from Barra, and Glen Shiel-accordionist Louden Mackay.

Morrison, a founder member of the Stornoway band Face the West, started the Wee Studio at the family home in Stornoway 14 years ago before securing permanent premises in the town. He launched a Wee Studio record label five years ago and has worked with the Lewis-based acts like Peat and Diesel, Astrid and The Tumbling Souls.

However acts planning to record with the Wee Studio have faced average costs of around £1000 to travel to and stay in Stornoway.

Gaelic singer Fiona J Mackenzie is based on the Isle of Canna.

Morrison hopes the remote recording concept will evolve into a new commercial wing for the studio, with at least three sets of kit in circulation around the country, but he is also offering to help similar initiatives get off the ground elsewhere in Scotland.

He added: “Obviously a lot of musicians and bands have their own equipment and can now record remotely.

"The big difference with this project is I am able to send all this equipment to people who have never been in a studio before, have never recorded anything and have never been trained to use the software before.

“They’ve all effectively been able to run a studio at home. I was very keen for this project not just to be a funnel for people into my studio. Once it’s finished, I’m planning to produce a really simple easy-to-read info sheet so all other studios can copy this, that the public money invested in the project will benefit the whole Scottish music scene.”

Friseal, singer with Gaelic rock band Balach, said: “Studio time is probably the biggest cost any new band has to bear.

“As a band formed over lockdown who haven't been able to tour or generate income yet, this will be a huge financial help, as well as provide the opportunity to showcase our material and help us build an audience before going on the road.”

Singer Alice Macmillan is based on the Isle of Lewis.

Steele said: “Travelling to record new material is something I’ve limited time to do - this project is the ideal solution and will allow me to continue my development as a musician, something I’m hugely passionate about. It’s been three years since I last recorded any Gaelic or traditional material professionally.”

Stewart-Skinner, who plays in a duo with her mother, Christina, said: “We only properly started playing together during the first lockdown.

"I come home from university and there really wasn't a lot else to do than play around with arranging songs. We soon discovered that our styles of performance are very similar and that we worked well together.”

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