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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.
It’s been a month since I wrote my last blog. The time has flown by in a giant jumble of family, friends, travel and DIY. However, all good things must come to an end and in this case they are being replaced a with great new challenge. As of next week I start at Raw TV as an Executive Producer. It’s big job with brilliant people and lots of scope and I’m delighted and daunted in equal measure.
Despite the precarious nature of being a freelance Series Producer, one of the benefits (especially if you have your next contract lined up) is being able to take long breaks. In all I’ve had six weeks off and it’s been utterly memorable. After returning from France in what Jen and I reckon was one of our best ever holidays, I spent just a day to in London before heading north to the Hebrides with my Dad. The Maynard and Maynard tour of the Highlands is becoming something of an annual event. My father is an astounding ninety years old in February so these are precious journeys. Last year we circumnavigated Scotland but this time we concentrated on family and friends in Lewis and Harris.
I detected a positive vibe to the islands that I hadn’t felt for many years. There are some inspiring examples of young people returning to the islands and getting on with plasterboard and projects. Nickolai and Beka Globe have made a fantastic new space for their pottery and photography at their converted Mission House Studio. And my old friend Ruraidh Beaton continues to build the legend of Am Bothan in his magical bunkhouse in Leverburgh. The advent of the long overdue Sunday Ferry and the reduction in ferry fares to the Islands through the Scottish Parliament’s revolutionary Road Equivalent Tarrif (RET) initiative have had an enormous impact on tourism. The roads were busier than I’ve ever seen them, lots of cars with surfboards on the roof and ever more dreaded camper vans in their wake. Ah well progress always comes at a price.
Talking of progress, my last day on the Island was spent at the helm of the Jubilee, sailing out of Loch Stornoway as the new Sunday ferry steamed past…bizarre. The Jubilee is fully restored 80 year old ‘Sgoth’ that I last sailed fifteen years ago. It’s another sign of renaissance in the Islands. The Jubilee, which was one of the island’s last serviceable traditional wooden sailing boats is now one of a fast growing number of this class of boat being built sailed regularly by locals and visitors alike.
Returning to London, I concentrated on getting the new kitchen installed interspersed with lots of catching up with friends in London. Amongst the highlights was the launch of Phil Stebbing’s massively ambitious ‘Lifeline’ project in Hyde Park. Phil is trying raise funds to send three teams of people around the world. Their mission is to meet others who are trying to live sustainably and build a Digital Ark filled with the secrets of sustainability. I did say it was ambitious.
Another memorable event was going to the one day England V Australia cricket match. Even to a relative newcomer to the game it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t a brilliant match, and England got soundly beaten. But nonetheless, great company, good weather and enough beer to last a lifetime more than compensated for the poor performance.
So that’s it. The holidays are over and the work begins. Bring it on.
Lifting my head and looking around me, the buzz of work has gone and I see art on every wall. Whether it’s tagging on the village streets, Picasso’s and Cezanne’s paintings or photo exhibitions galore, I’m electrified and inspired by how others see the world.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the Recontres de la Photographie d’Arles – a major photographic event by any reckoning. Many great photographers have shown their pictures here. We braved the 40°C heat long enough to view just a few of the 60 exhibitions, but three bodies of work really struck me.
Without Sanctuary is a shamefully banal series of postcards taken and published by Southern photographers of lynched African Americans. The collection is from the Centre for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and shows just what an incredible leap forward has been made with the election of Barak Obama.
Eugene Richards‘ haunting images of deserted houses in America’s Mid West were shot just before ‘the crash’ and remind me of McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. Willy Ronis, is one of France’s great humanist photographers. He’s nearly a hundred years old and his work glows with life, wisdom and dignity.
Since starting my blog, I’ve been forced to reassess why I continue to take pictures and publish them. It’s years since I earned my living as a photographer, so why bother?
Seeing these walls around me, I’m inspired by insight and commitment. Looking at my blog afresh I realise I am enthralled. Photography is still my first language and my love. For better or for worse I have an passion for people, a desire for them to understand the world the way I see it, and the need for a wall to hang my pictures on.
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.
I can’t remember the last time I was at a proper festival. I suppose it must have been the Hebridean Celtic Festival in 2000. Even then it probably doesn’t count as a proper festival experience because I could lay down in my own bed in the wee small hours.
So when I got offered the chance by Alex to go to the Secret Garden Party and show some films at the explorers’ tent along with other filmmakers like Phil Stebbing with his important and ambitious Lifeline project, it seemed like an offer that couldn’t be refused. Big thanks to Olly for setting this up. I showed Living with the Mek and got some great feedback.
Apart from the fact that I got to buy a new tent and go camping, (I Love Camping), we heard great music, met fantastic people, learned to hula-hoop and in general were thoroughly inspired. Top tip, the next sport to sweep the western world will be ‘Sock Wrestling’, you read it here first.
The Saturday night was an epic. It followed a very merry afternoon with Jamie Buchanan Dunlop that nearly put paid to the night’s entertainment, but once the evening really got going there followed a series of bizarre encounters.
By far the most unusual experience was spending the hours before dawn with a knight in shining armour. My first encounter with Forest, the trainee radiographer and Medieval Knight, lead me to think that he may have been a tipsy fancy dress wearer who had succumbed to the weight of booze and armour.
It turned out that Forrest the Knight was just resting before a historically inaccurate but none-the-less spectacularly titanic clash with Duncan the Viking. Beware, it seems that it is almost obligatory to be a tipsy fancy dress wearer at the SGP, but not thankfully, to engage in flaming combat.
While at the fireside we also met Kata, the sustainable forestry person from the Eden project and Jason an inspiring ex-city man now hedger from Exmoor. It was that kind of night, or should I say knight.
Go, but don’t tell anyone else because it’s a secret.
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.
Steve Dilworth‘s St Kilda Mailboat leaves Village Bay.
Artists are drawn to the extremes of the Hebrides. One of the best known artists is the sculptor Steve Dilworth.
To commemorate the evacuation of St Kilda (a remote group of islands lying 60 miles west of the Outer Hebrides) Steve sailed to St Kilda, where he launched a small mailboat made from whalebone and oak.
An art statement maybe, but until the islands were evacuated in 1934 this was how the islanders communicated with the outside world.