THIS year the Blas Festival will be bringing ceilidh culture home — by staging concerts in homes across the Highlands.
The annual celebration of Highland culture returns for its eighth year in September, and this year Blas will be turning the clock back with ceilidhs in the original sense of the term — social gatherings in people’s homes with music and chat in the Highlands’ mother tongue, Gaelic.
Homes and other venues throughout the region will open their doors to allow visitors to talk in Gaelic, about Gaelic and share a song or two during the festival, which runs from Friday 7th to Saturday 15th September.
Details of where and when and how to book will be released on the Blas website.
Festival director Donna Macrae is particularly looking forward to this strand of the festival as giving visitors an insight to the traditional ceilidh experience.
However, the organisers have not forgotten that we are now in a digital age and this year, in collaboration with Eden Court Theatre, MG Alba and the Screen Machine mobile cinema, will be introducing a new film strand.
"We hope this will continue and grow," Macrae added.
"It always amazes me the number of people who don’t have Gaelic who watch BBC Alba, just because of the quality of the programmes.
"That’s all part of trying to take the theme of ‘Blas’ — which means ‘taste’ — and offer people a taste of what is good about the Highlands."
The festival will cover food, literature and outdoors events, the latter with the help of Highland Council’s countryside rangers team, though as always music will be to the fore with concerts taking place throughout the Highland Council area.
"We are delighted that Blas will once again feature a range of great quality events across the Highlands and, in addition to the main festival concerts, we have been working with partners to expand the schools and community programme to include Gaelic films, Gaelic conversation circles, forest walks, traditional house cèilidhs, school performances and a variety of other attractions," Macrae said.
Musical highlights include a new commission from Nairn-based Gaelic singer Margaret Stewart, a tribute to the late Calum Kennedy led by his daughter Fiona at Strathpeffer Pavilion, a celebration of fiddle fury with Blazin’ Fiddles and Irish trio Fidil, a concert celebrating the voice with Dual — featuring Uisit singer Julie Fowlis, soon to be heard in Disney film "Brave", Coisir-G, singer Maeve MacKinnon and Senegalese singer Samba Sene.
Breabach, Battlefield Band, Kirstan Harvey and the Sanna, Linda Macleod and Vamm, the new trio led by former Blazin’ Fiddler Catriona Macdonald will also by heard as part of this year’s Blas.
This year the festival also has new sponsorship from the Bank of Scotland (RBS), along with continued support from Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Business Gateway, Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Creative Scotland.
"We are delighted that RBS has come on board to support Blas, which takes place in many small Highland communities where they already have a presence and a track record in providing banking services," Arthur Cormack, chief executive of Blas organisers, Fèisean nan Gàidheal, said.
"Business Gateway is also supporting us again and we are very happy to have their support for the festival and to help raise the profile of young musicians getting into self-employment, which is a key benefit of the Fèis movement in Scotland."
In turn Simon Watson, head of group community affairs at RBS, said the company was looking forward to being part of Blas 2012.
"The Blas Festival is a great celebration of Gaelic culture reaching many communities across the Highlands and RBS is proud to be supporting this year’s exciting programme of events," he said.
Highland Council leader Drew Hendry also welcomed the launch of the Blas 2012 programme.
"Our partnership with Fèisean nan Gàidheal and others has grown from strength to strength over recent years, producing the excellent Highland-wide Blas festival which celebrates our language, music and culture," he said.
"Blas not only fills the growing demand for live, indigenous music but it also acts as a major economic force in our tourism sector."
This year’s comminssion by Lewis-born Margaret Stewart has been chosen to explore the theme of "The Highland Wedding", through the ages.
Stewart, who is currently the Gaelic ringer in residence at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye and a Gaelic song specialist for the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o’ Riches project, will draw on her knowledge of the genre and include songs and music of love, loss and disappointment, flirtation, wooing, night-visiting, humour and dance.
For more information about the full programme of events and for the chance to buy earlybird tickets with significant savings up to 31 July, visit www.blas-festival.com