What a fortnight of mixed fortunes! The Presidential inauguration went smoothly, with peace restored, but covid continues rampant, albeit against a backdrop of speedy vaccine roll-out.
For musicians and music lovers, news that Glastonbury is cancelled has brought concerns about our own Highland summer festivals. With Inverness’s Gathering already wisely moved from May to September, fingers are crossed that coming months bring hope for live music.
Meanwhile, a source of delight is Celtic Connections online and tuning into many terrific concerts. A top highlight - Elephant Sessions’ Lockdown Special - is being screened on Saturday 30th and I took the opportunity to catch up, virtually, with old friend Alasdair Taylor, the band’s mandolinist.
I’ve been fortunate to work with Alasdair on several projects but first met him when he and fiddler Euan Smillie used to come to our Sunday afternoon folk sessions at Bogbain Farm. The teenagers had already been playing music together for some years and both were immensely talented.
With most of the award-winning Elephant Sessions hailing from Inverness and Ross-shire, the massive following for their critically acclaimed fusion of trad, funk, and electronica, makes them one of the Highlands’ most successful bands. I asked Alasdair how he found going from playing one hundred concerts a year, almost non-stop touring around the world, to zero gigs.
‘We’ve really missed being out on the road touring and just actually playing music together. I think at first we were quite glad to have a break but that feeling went very quickly.’
‘The positives have been hard to come by, though we have been getting out and exercising more with all this new-found time, so that’s something. If you’d said to me a year ago that we’d be putting in the miles we’ve all been doing on the bikes this year, I’d have just laughed!’
Like most bands, the last time the lads played together was back in March, in Shetland, but have used the intervening period productively.
‘During the pandemic we’ve made new merchandise, posted a series of old photos and live videos on socials, and done fan Q&As to keep connected.’
Alasdair admitted that staying creative has not been easy. ‘For the first six months I couldn’t come up with anything. More recently I’ve sort of had a new lease of life with music again and started writing, and so have the other guys; ideas have started flowing and taking shape. A new album is in the pipeline and we’re going to have the luxury of time to work on it, so we’re viewing that as a positive.’
The concert for Celtic Connections was filmed across two days in Inverness’s Ironworks and Alasdair’s enthusiasm is palpable.
‘It was the first time we’d seen each other and to play music with my pals again was class! This online concert will be our first since March, so we’re very excited about that!’
Believe me, these guys are true class so get your tickets at www.elephantsessions.com.
(First published by Highland News & Media 29th January 2021)