Tuesday night was the gig at Dunkeld Catherdral, an incredible 13th century church that was razed during the reformation in the 16th Century. The quire/presbytery and the main tower were rebuilt a little bit later (I was told that the church wasn’t really supposed to be burned, just have all its iconography stripped, so it sounds like a few people had had a bit too much to drink). So the quire is this incredble room, basically like a nave, with stunning high wooden ceilings, stained glass and a pretty cold stone floor. The cathedral sits right on the banks of the Tay, which is a the fastest-flowing river in Europe, and certainly looks it. The waters are contantly boiling past at the rate of a rapid jog. When we arrived, the rains were just clearing and the sun was streaming though the huge larches and Douglas firs in the grounds.
The sound guys had already been in and rigged the place out, but I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on the soundchecks. When Mike McGoldrick blew that first stream of flawless notes on his Bb flute, it was just sublime. John Joe Kelly and Ed Boyd (so essentially, it was Flook without Brian and Sarah -Mike McGoldrick was in the original line-up) fire up, and the empty cathedral was washed in this incredible music. It was a stunning moment.
It was a great show. Dougie played acoustically with Ali on second guitar and Chris on brilliant 5-string bass, and the highlight of his set was probably the cathedral --which by this point was filled with about 200 people-- singing along with a very nicely augmented version of Caledonia. I still don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone play to an audience the way Dougie does. All he needs to do is walk on and smile, and the night is his. We even managed to get Helen and Lyn a couple of last-minute tickets.
The McGoldrick Trio played a fairly laid-back set, including a beautiful Pierre Bensusan arrangement that just silenced the audience. Of course, the set couldn’t last long enough for us, and not seeing John Joe utterly tear up the bodhran was dissappointing, but only in a very minor way. Because we’re working behind the scenes, usually it’s our job to take care of the performers, and we’re all happy to say that they’ve all been absolutely wonderful. The trio were humble, happy and very funny, and most importantly they love what they do with a passion that is just inspiring.
A full moon rose out over the mountains behind the ruin of the cathedral, and later on in the evening, as the temperature dropped, mist crept across the fields. It really wasn’t too hard to imagine the Scottish warriors running through the fog, carrying the baby Mary, future Queen of Scots through Dunkeld to safety.
After the gig, we drove back through the mist to Atholl Palace, where there was a fire in the grate (it was 1c by now), whisky 80 shilling ale and most imporatnly, tunes. I wasn’t like a normal session. Everyone was continually swapping instruments (I played John Joe’s bodhran -which has me thinking about a new one-- Mike McGoldrick’s bouzouki, and Eliza’s 5-string banjo. All badly when compared to their relative owners, but it was great fun. The night ended at about 5am, but not before Sarah had picked Mike’s hard drive clean of tunes!
Pulled up ok the next day, surprisingly, but luckily it was a smaller show in the truly wonderful Edradour distillery, the smallest distillery in Scotland. I’ve been drinking a fair bit of it this trip, and along with Talisker, it’s become something of a favourite. The show was an odd one; the Fiddle show, with just Dougie playing his fiddle tunes with John Moran, a wonderful DADGAD guitarist. It was a beautful hour of great tunes, including The Gael, Mr & Mrs MacLean from Snaigow and some of the ones from the Perthshire Amber album. The distillery is in a tiny hidden glen, in the hills behind Pitlochry, and it’s really something. Only just big enough to be a commercial distiller, it makes some of the smoothest most delicious whisky I’ve ever tried, and Andrew, the owner is always quick to offer up a dram for us helpers (and the whisky cake is just criminally good). Hopefully I’ll have enough weight allowance to bring some back!
It’s Thursday now, and I’m sitting in an old chair at the Pitlochry Theatre writing this. Some of the others are off at Blair Castle, setting up for tonight. I pulled guitar duites, (which basically means I have to make sure Dougie remembers them) so I’ve got a bit of time to kill. We’re just been told we’re doing a spot tonight on Cabaret Amber, which is here in the theatre. We’re thinking of bending the rules a bit and doing Ready for the Storm and the Gael. Dougie will be here listening so that might be fun! Then the four of us have to manhandle Dougie away from the bar, into the Jaguar and whisk him off to Blair Castle for the show. Tonight it’s Heidi Talbot and her band (John McCusker and Boo Hewerdine!), Ross Ainslie (who is an incredible piper/whistler/zouk prodigy) and Jarleth Henderson. Should be a incredible show in a unique venue. Then of course, it’l be back to Atholl for another hopefully very late night of tunes. Wish you could be here!