Bagpipe playing was one of the casualties of the pandemic, yet it is not the first time playing the instrument has been banned. Back in 1745, after the Jacobite uprising, they were considered an instrument of war; as a result, being caught playing the pipes was punishable by death. Thankfully, those days are over, and Dàimh remind the audience of just how wonderful it is to be back on a stage in 2021, while also combining the magic of bagpipe playing with Gaelic song in the face of the instrument’s tumultuous history.
The joy of these live concerts at this year’s International Festival are not lost on audiences after such a lengthy time away. As the skirl of the pipes begins, it is not long before people are clapping and tapping their feet in time to the vibrant rhythms which fill the domed venue – only one step away from abandoning all rules and dancing along.
Between blending melodic Gaelic laments with lively folk tunes, the band have an effortless humour with the audience as they share tales of pandemic life and the backstories of some of their numbers. It is easy to see why they won Scottish Folk Band of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in both 2015 and 2018.
The big impact tunes come from the instrumental combination of Angus MacKenzie’s bagpipes, the lightning fast fiddle of Gabe McVarish, Ross Martin on guitar, and the interesting addition of the mandola from Murdo ‘Yogi’ Cameron, who also plays the accordion. The band also have a strong tradition of bringing some of the finest voices in Gaelic singing into the mix; their current vocalist, Ellen MacDonald, sings a beautiful range of puirt à beul and old Gaelic songs, which serve to change the tempo of the concert while also adding something new to the ‘Dàimh sound’.
The connection this band share – particularly as they revel in their traditional-meets-contemporary style – shows how befitting the name Dàimh (meaning ‘kinship’) is for this group. It’s a real treat to see them return to the stage.