Duncan Chisholm, the mastermind behind the ‘Covid Ceilidh’ (#covidceilidh), takes to the stage on opening night of the Edinburgh International Festival and is as excited as his audience as he declares: ‘a gig!’ It has been nearly 18 months since the last ‘gigs’ were played out in Scotland, and so there is a feeling of trepidation from both sides of the stage tonight as the fiddle player picks up his instrument and plays the first few notes.
Underneath the quite spectacular dome created by the festival organisers, in the breathtaking surroundings of the Old College Quad at the University of Edinburgh, Duncan Chisholm reflects on the times we are living in, the places he visits which ground him, and the people he has met who inspire him. There are nods to nature, poetry, and family during this wonderful set.
Chisholm fuses slow airs with toe-tapping traditional sounds and speaks with such solemnity and passion about what he plays, and the mere act of playing, that the audience cannot help but be drawn in to the reflective quality of the music and subsequently get lost in it.
He is joined on stage by the wonderful Jarlath Henderson on uilleann pipes and whistles, Innes Watson on guitar, James Mackintosh on percussion, and Mike Higgins on piano. Together the group build through tunes taken from his most recent album, Sandwood – inspired by a bay of the same name in north-east Scotland – to new songs yet to be released, all building to a marvellous crescendo of lively traditional music.
Chisholm is also joined on stage by the poet Jim Mackintosh, who helps to both open and close the performance with words from the late, great Norman MacCaig, which have such poignancy at a time when it has been so long since performances such as these have been able to take place: ‘The light comes back./ The light always comes back.’ And so tonight, Duncan Chisholm, has brought the light back for many who have missed the music.