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And the beat goes on for polished school bands;Arts

Rhythms of the North Eden Court Theatre, November 15

Rhythms of the North - the annual musical showcase for schools throughout the Highlands and Islands - drew a full house to the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness this month. While groups like the Highland Schools Orchestra provide a medium for classical music in schools, the young musicians here chose folk, jazz and rock.

The results were as varied as the genres, but the overall impression was of considerable activity in the music departments. The most impressive performance was from David Simons, of Portree High School, who performed an imaginative and technically advanced solo improvisation on Amazing Grace on five-string electric bass.

Bratach Alba from Culloden Academy provided a well-prepared opening showpiece of Celtic folk-rock tunes which incorporated dancers, a vocal choir and musicians.

The well-drilled Gizzen Briggs, a mass fiddle ensemble from Tain Royal Academy with a fine young clarsach player, closed the show in equally accomplished fashion. This well-established group clearly has an eye to the main chance, and coerced the master of ceremonies, Bryan Beattie, into plugging both a concert in Tain and its forthcoming CD.

The fiddle theme was also taken on a smaller scale in an Irish set by the Fiddle Club from Lochaber High School.

This was one of two bands from the school, both a little tentative. The other was a Jazz Group playing Stanley Clarke's evocative Quiet Afternoon.

The Ben Bhraggie Big Band from Golspie High is essentially a brass band, whose interpretations of music by Duke Ellington and Cannonball Adderley belonged in that tradition. The group struggled a little at times with technical matters, as did the Dingwall Tooters, a jazz-oriented clarinet ensemble from Dingwall Academy, but neither lacked enthusiasm or determination.

The Gairloch High School Choir opened its partof the show with a lovely Gaelic song, An Ubhal as Airde and went on to a very effective version of Queen's epic, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Four other bands turned directly to pop, rock or soul, although the recently formed David and the Dolls from Kinlochbervie High was a bit out of its depth, notably on Aretha Franklin's difficult I Never Loved A Man.

Malenky, from the new Ullapool High, performed songs by Portishead and Blur in confident fashion, with sweet vocal harmonies on the latter's heart-breakingly beautiful ballad Tender. Its lead singer was excellent, and in addition she proved herself to be a promising songwriter in her own Distant Minds.

Isotonic brought a noisy following from Charleston Academy, and turned in creditable performances on Free's All Right Now and Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama, as well as a song written by its singer.

But it was Area 51 from Fortrose Academy who stole the show in the rock department. It also turned to Lynyrd Skynyrd, this time for the equally famous Freebird, as well as demolishing Beethoven's Ode To Joy.

The band was strong all round, and profited from a passionate drummer who really ignited the music.

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