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“An Lanntair has been a source of immense pride and inspiration to us over the years.
It’s truly hard to believe that it’s 25 years since the three of us shared the stage to together at the opening in the Town Hall. But if the 25 years has taught me anything, it’s that the only one constant in life is change.
Indeed, it was the need for change that brought us together and crystalised the idea of the Gallery. As artists, we wanted the opportunity to exhibit and perform our art. But equally we wanted to bring new and inspiring ideas to the Islands.
We wanted to make a space where wonder, debate, controversy, beauty, excellence and passion were the norm.
What we envisaged is encapsulated in the logo, which was designed by the much missed Robby Neish. There was plenty of debate and passion around what it should look like, but Robbie’s idea of the lighthouse was inspired and beautifully executed.
A beam of light announcing a presence. But also a beacon that guides and welcomes. It is the embodiment of enlightenment.
Of course as you’d expect, there are far too many stories to tell. But if I had to pick one story that summed up what we set out to do it is this….
In 1985, a musician from Mali turned up in Ullapool with Robbie the Pict from Skye.
Ali, a religious man, had no idea getting to Stornoway involved a boat journey. Mali is a landlocked country and they banish all their demons into the sea. He told Robbie that he couldn’t possibly get on the ferry.
Robbie, not a religious man – but a desperate one – said, ‘In this country our men work on the sea and our gods protect them’. And so, to help combat Ali’s terror, they agreed to pray on their knees non-stop for four hours on the back deck of the car ferry (the Suliven) till they passed the light house at Arnish.
That night, 150 people crammed into the old Gallery space to listen to a man who had literally defeated his demons. It was the most extraordinary performance I have ever witnessed.
I shot a video with him in Paris eight years later and Ali still talked about that night in Stornoway as one of his most memorable performances. This from a man who filled stadiums around the world.
To all of the staff, members, board members, artists, performers, volunteers and visitors who have taken on the idea from the glimmer it was 26 years ago to the shining beacon for change it is now…we thank you.”
Apart from the gang of three, the real headliner was Peter Capaldi. A little known fact about Oscar winning Peter Capaldi was that he was in a band called the Dream Boys. This band was made up of actor Peter, CBS talkshow host Craig Ferguson, George Lucas’ visualiser (apologies, didn’t catch his name and Google wasn’t helping), and Roddy Murray, long time director of An Lanntair. Roddy took a trip down memory lane with a shoebox of memories, bad hairstyles and tales of a transit van. All credit to Peter for retaining his cool.
On a cold winter’s night in Stornoway, I waited outside the Caberfeidh Hotel, wondering what to do. I was working for the Stornoway Gazette, the ‘Only Newspaper Printed in the Outer Hebrides‘ according to its masthead, and I was the Island’s soul dedicated newspaper photographer. What’s more I was onto a scoop. I’d had a tip-off from the Manager of the hotel, that a, ‘big band from the south’ was staying with them.
He’d told me the band’s name as if it really should mean something to me. Oh ‘Ultravox‘ I said knowledgeably when he called with his hot scoop, wow. I think I’d heard of them, just, but I around that time I was a little in the musical wilderness. Anyway, I went into the bar to scope the place out and got into conversation with a cool looking leather jacketed Glaswegian. A few pints later, I confided my mission to him and asked if he knew the band?
I suppose I’d been expecting someone fairly outlandish and aloof to be the leader of this big band from ‘the south’ but when my new drinking buddy told me he thought I might be looking for him, I was chuffed. This was Midge Ure. I was even even more delighted when Midge asked us on the band’s video shoot the following day.
These pictures were taken at Callanish Stones the day after my meeting with the band. I can’t remember the date exactly but it was mid winter ’84 and bitterly cold. The band recorded the video for ‘One Small Day’ which was a single released from the album ‘Lament’.
The stones are called Tursachan Chalanais in their Gaelic name and are an ancient Megalithic site built around 3000 years BC. They lie on the west coast of the island of Lewis.
The Feis movement was founded in the early eighties in response to a resurgence of interest in traditional music. At that time I worked as a freelance photographer and film maker in the Highlands and Islands. Then it was impossible not to be drawn to what was happening at the various Feisean that were springing up all over Scotland.
The first Feis I went to was in Barra in the summer of 1988. As I wandered from class to class in Castlebay school, it was clear that there was something fundamental happening to traditional music. Fiddles screeched, drums beat, children danced – an energy I’d never witnessed before was being unleashed.
It wasn’t just at the children’s Feis, but all around, amongst the tutors and those attending adult Feisean and events: there was a real feeling of optimism.
Over the years since then, a hard core of dedicated enthusiasts from all walks of life around Scotland have ensured that many of the wee ones of the Feis movement have become the big names of the traditional music scene in Scotland and much further afield. The Feis movement is a shining example of people working togther in communities to produce something far larger than the sum of the parts.
Should the boy,
visit the wonder factory,
hug you in the glass and sun,
hold your hand,
walk past the pelicans,
smile through your eyes,
my world is you.
Of all the projects I’ve developed, An Sgoth probably gives me more satisfaction than any.
In the early 90s I asked Hebridean boat builder, John Murdo Macleod if he’d build a Sgoth Mor (Big Boat) for a documentary I wanted to make for the BBC. John Murdo was the last in a long line of builders of these amazing traditional sailing crafts.
Fishing boats grow in size depending on how plentiful the fishing stocks are. The ling fishery off the north of the Hebrides had reached its zenith around the turn of the last century and was in decline when John Murdo’s grandfather built the last ‘Sgoth Mor’ in 1918. It seemed such a tragedy to let all the cumulative knowledge held in John Murdo’s hands and head go unrecorded on film. So after years of fundraising we finally got all the pieces together.
John Murdo spent a year with apprentice Angus Smith building ‘An Sulaire‘. I filmed the pair as they cut down the trees in January and launched this amazing thirty three foot craft the following December.
The community in the Hebrides really came together around the project. After the launch, An Sulaire became the focus of a revival in traditional sailing in the Hebrides.
A year ago last Christmas I sailed out into the cold December waters of the North Minch in An Sulaire. At the helm was writer and poet, Ian Stephen, an old friend and co-collaborator. I hadn’t been on the boat for more than 10 years. We had young and enthusiastic crew and despite being a liability when it came to dipping the massive lug sail, I felt immense satisfaction at having helped to make something come alive that has had such a positive effect.
I spent years – probably literally – at the Calanish Stones in Lewis. I’ve photographed them and the people drawn to them hundreds of times. People react to the stones in the most extraordinary, bizarre and liberated ways.
This is one of the very few times when I appear in my pictures of Calanish performers. I went last year with my 88-year-old Dad on a tour of our old Highlands haunts.
It was my Dad who got me interested in photography. His pictures are very different to mine. He wants to get the people out of the picture, I always want to put them in.
Crofting is a a method of small-hold farming. Its a precarious living so its likely that a crofter will have another source of income besides what can be earned from their croft.
Sheep lie at the heart of the crofting economy. European Union Agricultural reform, food hygiene regulations and changing diet are damaging sheep farming. Consequently there is less money coming into these already fragile communities.
She then wove it into a rich tweed on a rickety wooden loom. Her cloth was so popular around the world that she could never statisfy demand.
Many of the oil yards in now lie empty. There is talk of new birth now, as the oil companies start to drill deeper still, exploiting the oil fields to the north and west of the Hebrides.
Although many in the islands would welcome the oil dollar again, there is a growing awareness that the energy potential in the Hebrides might not lie in its fossil fuel reserves, but in the renewable energy from wind and water.