Cuillin Sound: Distant Lands

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Pitches music alongside photography, film, even poetry, and the result is special.

Image of Cuillin Sound: Distant Lands

@ Eden Court, Inverness, on Sun 28 Feb 2016

Cuillin Sound are back at Eden Court. At first glance, it would seem odd that a woodwind trio (comprising Dana Morgan on flute, Sarah Watts on clarinets and Laurence Perkins on bassoon) would not feature in the theatre programme’s music section. At second glance though, this is not at all odd: it earns its place in the special events section because it is not just a performance by extremely competent and often excellent musicians. It pitches music alongside photography, film, even poetry, and the result is special.

There were small-scale gripes: the stage set-up did not take into account the sightlines of those at the extremities of the stalls, for example. The central screen was clearly visible from everywhere, but the musicians were positioned in such a way that full view was masked. During the first piece, the clarinettist stood in front of the other two performers, and turned her back to much of the audience as she played.

However, Sarah Watts was soon forgiven when she performed an outstanding solo on the bass clarinet, composed by herself, and interspersed with clear, melodic readings of Sorley MacLean’s poetry. The raw clarinet chords resonated alongside soaring melodies, reflecting both the beauty of the Raasay landscape as well as the horror of the Clearances and the threat of nuclear warfare. It felt as if music and spoken word, read beautifully by Laurence Perkins, each reach different parts of our psyche – and it worked.

The bassoonist also arranged the scores to accompany the post-interval part of the evening: three vintage films, depicting the harsh life Hebridean islanders lived in the 1920s and 30s. Among the images of peat-cutting and spinning, weaving, shearing, peat fires and break-neck bird-hunts, the audience almost forgot they were at a concert: the music merely transported us all to Eriskay, St Kilda and Skye.

Clearly, that’s the way Cuillin Sound would have it! A varied and enjoyable evening.

/ @scattyscribbler

Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. She now teaches Drama, but has also earned her crust as a puppeteer, relief librarian and receptionist among others. She writes short stories and novels for children. Her new historical novel, Fir For Luck is out now from Cranachan Publishing.


2 Responses to Cuillin Sound: Distant Lands

  1. Fiona MacDonald says:

    This was a dreadful evening that patronised Highland culture, first and foremost. The idea of using a Sorley MacLean poem is a good one but why use a reader that hasn’t even bothered to learn how to pronounce the poem’s title, Screapadal…SCRAPEadal?? There are some beautiful, sonorous recordings of this poem but this wasn’t one of them and it certainly didn’t sound ‘cool’ as the giggling Sarah Watts announced at the start.
    The film about the Highlands and Islands (more on Balmoral than anything Highland) was nothing more than a lot of rather poor clips stuck together that would have remained on the cutting-room floor in the 1920s and should have stayed there. There are many much better clips from that time that could have been used. The content of the Eriskay film was interesting but why Cuillin Sound felt that their music was more fitting than the London Gaelic choir beats me. It wasn’t. Essentially the films did not ‘transport’ us to these places as other films of that time have.
    The music was well played, no denying, but the whole evening felt like a hijack of a culture that did not belong to the group; they should stick to what they do best. It certainly wasn’t this and it was interesting to note that other Highlanders left early, because, as I learned later, they were equally disillusioned.

  2. C. Matheson says:

    I completely agree with Fiona MacDonald’s review.
    Werner Kissling’s film documented daily life in a community he was familiar with and he created a valuable record of crofting life in Eriskay.
    The other two films in comparison were in the worst possible taste. I cannot understand why anyone would think it would be a good idea to have a public showing of them in 2016. Still photos would have been preferable to these offensive films which lacked sensitivity and understanding. I am sorry to say I found the evening very disappointing.

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