The Scotsman Sessions #308: Dlú

Welcome to Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts world still impacted by the pandemic, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, fiddler Moilidh NicGriogair and accordionist Zach Ronan of Scottish folk group Dlú perform Donalda’s – a tribute to Dr Donalda McComb, former head teacher of the Glasgow Gaelic School, where they were both students

Although young Scottish folk group Dlú’s sets are usually written first and then given a name which matches the mood, Donalda’s, the tune which fiddler Moilidh NicGriogair and accordionist Zach Ronan have performed a stripped-back version of as their Scotsman Session, was created with a special purpose in mind.

“It was for Donalda McComb, the head teacher of the Glasgow Gaelic School from when it was first founded in 1999,” says NicGriogair. “In 2020 Donalda was retiring, and she was the head teacher during our entire time there, since we were in nursery all the way to the end. So it felt like the best way to commemorate it, to give something back to her, was to write a tune.” On McComb’s last day, Nic Griogair and Ronan went in to perform the song for her, which is how the two-part arrangement heard here came about. “The arrangement on the album is for the full band, so it's got a different feel, but it’s the same tune.”

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Of the six members of Dlú, five went through GME (Gaelic Medium Education) at Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu, the Gaeic secondary in Glasgow, and the experience was musically and culturally formative for them. Afterwards, both NicGriogair and Ronan went to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, while their old classmate and guitarist Aidan Spiers went to college elsewhere, where he met bassist Jack Dorrian. Another GME classmate with no formal training, Andrew Grossart, plays drums, and schoolfriend Joseph McCluskey performs guest vocals on the band’s mostly-instrumental debut album Moch.

Moilidh NicGriogair and Zach Ronan of Dlú

This young group of players are evidence of what GME in Glasgow has fostered – a community of "Glasgow Gaels” who speak the language, but without a direct upbringing in the Highlands or the Hebrides. NicGriogair’s gran on her dad's side is from North Uist and Grossart’s mother is from Harris, but Spiers and McCluskey are from East Kilbride. “I was born in Glasgow, but my mum is from Singapore and my dad is from Newcastle,” says Ronan. “But he spent time growing up in Ireland, so he learnt Irish as a teenager and could help me with Gaelic when I was in school.

“We started off as a bigger group in the music department, and it became obvious that lots of us had a passion for traditional music, even though we had our own tastes. Moilidh and I both studied classical music and Aidan was into his rock and indie music, but what was really nice about the Gaelic school was, the culture of traditional music was very prominent, so it was a middle ground. It also gave us a passion for the language, which we maybe didn't appreciate when we were in GME. As with lots of people, when you leave, you realise Gaelic’s actually something you feel very passionately about, and you want to keep it alive and pass it on to the next generation.”

Scots Gaelic culture in folk music is already strong, but Dlú represent a new generation. “I grew up listening to Julie Fowlis,” says NicGriogair, “and with the uptake of people learning Gaelic through Duolingo and things like that, you see a lot more support for it. It’s alive, and we're using it in this way through our art to keep it alive as well. A language is never just by itself, there’s everything around it as well.”

Dlú’s debut album Moch is out now on Arc Music. More information and upcoming dates https://www.facebook.com/dluband/

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