The Gathering: Part 1—traditional music’s electric return

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The Northern Meeting Park in Inverness hosted the first big traditional music festival, The Gathering, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a brilliant location, perfectly equipped to hold the large crowds the festival attracted. As a massive trad music fan, it was emotional to see fans from across the country come together to celebrate Highland culture. I was raised in Argyll and throughout my childhood trad music was a consistent soundtrack to school dances, parties and nights out.

Personally, trad music has a very important place in my heart, while shielding throughout the first six months of the pandemic, albums such as Skerryvore’s Evo and Trail West’s From the Sea to the City were played on repeat, keeping me connected to the outside world. The Gathering held true to the trad community, the crowd felt like one and the importance of the trad music and Highland culture was felt throughout the night.

The festival has previously welcomed bands such as Tide Lines and The Vatersay Boys to the stage, and this year’s line-up truly held to the festival’s impressive past, with huge bands such as The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Skerryvore and Wolfstone taking the stage. The festival also hosted smaller up-and-coming bands, such as my personal favourite Trail West, as well as Torridon and Rhythmreel.

The festival’s focus on Highland culture was a true reflection of the new found rise in Gaelic learners throughout the country, thanks to social media and the influx of resources, with the festival bringing on its own Gaelic ambassador to encourage the use of the language throughout the day. As a Gaelic speaker myself, it was incredible to see the language being promoted to a six thousand person strong crowd, giving another well needed boost to the languages audience.

Image Credit: Paul Campbell

While we unfortunately missed the first few performances, we arrived just in time to get to the front of the crowd for the Red Hot Chilli Pipers set. The band famously known for their incredible genre bending covers of popular songs with the added extra of bagpipes.

The set included some of the bands most popular tunes, including Shut Up and Dance and We Will Rock You. Chris Judge joined the band on stage to perform the set, giving an electric performance with some seriously impressive vocals. The Red Hot Chilli Pipers are a band made to perform live, with Highland dancers joining mid-set, to the choreography the pipers themselves perform, they are not a band to be missed.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers hold a lot of special memories for me, being one of the best icebreakers of Freshers 2020, introducing my English flatmate to the bagpipe cover of Fix You by Coldplay was highly entertaining and started a strong friendship, with her joining me to see them live at The Gathering (they did not play Fix You live; she was not impressed).

The only other act that we managed to see (at no fault of the festival, we just have terrible time management) was Skerryvore. Skerryvore is a strong fan favourite, and attracted the largest crowd of the night.

It was a surprisingly emotional set with the live performance of the bands latest single Together Again, a song written about the group getting back together following the pandemic. Skerryvore also performed some of the best songs from the Evo album, including At the End of the Line, which fully left me in tears. Lead singer, Alec Dalglish, gave a strong performance that had the whole crowd cheering and dancing. Overall, the band had an incredible set, with an ecstatic crowd, the community feel of live trad music was truly back in full swing.

The Gathering Festival was a symbolic return to Highland culture, bringing out an electric crowd and an unforgettable night. The perfect return to live traditional music has given the festival a bright future. Here’s to 2022!

Featured image credit: thegatheringscotland.com

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