The Islay Sessions 2016: music, memories & craic

Fraser Shaw played an integral role in the founding of this festival five years ago. A fine musician himself, he loved nothing more then to bring musicians from Glasgow, and all over Scotland to his home place. Here, he showed the musicians great hospitality, endless fun and music – the spirit of Islay. On Frasers passing we decided to keep this Festival going not just to remember him, but continue to build a legacy of tunes, music, and funding for the Fraser Shaw Trust.

This year’s festival entailed a weekend of concerts, sessions and workshops in Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich, and a whisky tour of a few Islay distilleries. The first event was a “Concert in the Conservatory”, with Laura-Beth Salter & Friends, taking place in Port Charlotte Hotel. Laura-Beth is a mandolin player and singer based in Glasgow, specialising in folk, bluegrass and americana music. It was a fantastic start to the festival and Laura-Beth played an eclectic mix of songs and tunes from her solo album “Breathe”, along with some new material. On the night she was joined by Calum MacCrimmon on bouzouki, James Lindsay on Bass, Rachel Lightbody on backing vocals and Kevin Garrity on trombone. It was a beautiful blend of instruments and the show went down a real treat. After the conservatory concert, there were tunes in the hotel bar, with a number of the festival musicians which went on well into the night!

The next morning, members of The Routes Quartet hosted a workshop in the Port Charlotte Hotel conservatory. The afternoon saw a slow session kicking off in the bar, led by Laura-Beth and Libby.  The session was a great success and went on all afternoon in the bar.

Saturday night was the big concert at Bruichladdich hall with The Routes Quartet, Talisk and Breabach. Routes, a string quartet ensemble playing folk and contemporary music, opened the night with a few numbers. At the end of their set, they were joined by some of their earlier workshop students, to showcase the music learned that morning. Next up were Talisk, playing a fantastic selection of traditional and modern fast paced tunes. Last up on the night were Breabach, who played an absolute stormer, with Scottish tunes and songs on pipes, fiddle, flute, whistle and guitar. The night finished off on a poignant but upbeat note, with all musicians joining Breabach on stage for a tune called “Frien’ship Brings Us Here the Night”. Composed by Hamish Napier, the tune was commissioned by the Fraser Shaw Trust for this year’s Shawfest auction. The title comes from a classic Scots song ‘Happy We Are A’ Thegither’ which very much echoes the great priority Fraser put on friendships and social gatherings during his life.

Apart from the abundance of music over the weekend there was the whisky tour. On Saturday afternoon the group were taken to Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich distilleries where they enjoyed being shown round the building and given a fair few drams! The second half of the tour took place on Sunday at Kilchoman distillery. Bryony gave us a great insight into how the whisky was made and matured, and it was interesting to hear about the formation of this relatively new distillery.

On Sunday evening there was another “Concert in the Conservatory” with Sarah Hayes. Sarah is an astounding singer, piano and flute player from Northumberland based in Glasgow. Her hour long performance consisted of self-penned and contemporary songs backed by herself on piano, along with a couple of sets of tunes played on flute. It was a beautiful concert and a really wonderful end to a fantastic weekend. Afterwards, there were some tunes in the hotel bar to finish of the weekend nicely.

Gráinne Brady