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ARTYNESS: Here’s to better days ahead – again!

By John Davidson

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Highland musician Liza Mulholland looks back on what she says felt like a "groundhog year".

Under Canvas returned to Eden Court this summer.
Under Canvas returned to Eden Court this summer.

Who could possibly have imagined we would be back this New Year with the same restricted gatherings, table service and cancelled events as last winter?

Although not actual lockdown, and clearly in a better place with vaccines than last Hogmanay, lives and work are once again curbed for many.

Don’t get me wrong, public health must come first in a pandemic, and I’m so thankful we’ve had clarity of message from the Scottish Government throughout, whose clear-sighted leadership has always been guided by scientific advice.

As a musician, it’s been very much a stop-start year, with months of cancelled gigs and, on the teaching side, delivering music online. Only in the summer did things open again, and fantastic events like Under Canvas at Eden Court get under way.

Many festivals were pulled, however, with some offering scaled-down online versions. Our band, Dorec-a-belle, livestreamed a garden party gig, which was great fun – but how we missed the company of an audience!

By autumn, music tutors were allowed back into schools, and it has been wonderful to again do in-person sessions with children. Some musicians even managed to get back on tour.

For myself, gig bookings were back in the diary and over recent months I’ve done several solo jobs, with more in the pipeline. Sadly, that’s all now changed.

Dorec-a-belle’s first live gig on December 30, which we were so excited for, was cancelled, along with those of many musician friends over the next month or so. Once again, we don’t quite know how things will pan out for live music, whether in pubs, clubs or theatres, but must in the meantime go with the flow.

In these circumstances, the chance to play piano recently in Inverness Airport was delightful. The Liam Colgan Music Fund arranged for a piano – courtesy of Loch Ness Pianos – to be installed in the departure lounge, where a rota of local pianists entertain passengers waiting for flights.

Set up in memory of Inverness musician and songwriter Liam, who tragically died in 2018, the fund helps aspiring Highland youngsters keen to pursue music.

The airport entertainment promotes the fund, while also raising money through donations to further its work. It was lovely to meet so many generous folk on their travels during my stints at the keys.

Happily, many musicians used this year’s downtime to compose and record new work, with terrific folk albums released throughout 2021. One of my favourites is Spell Songs II: Let The Light In, a collection of nature songs by top performers, bringing the spirit of writer Robert Macfarlane’s words, and art of Jackie Morris, to musical life.

These beautiful evocative songs are utterly joyous – if ever we needed to ‘let the light in’, it is surely now.

Wishing readers all the very best for 2022. Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuibh!

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