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Reelin' from traditional rhythms and rock

The 12th annual showcase of non-classical music-making in Highland schools brought a diversity of groups to the Eden Court Theatre last week.

The Rhythms of the North concert, which represents a big commitment from the organisers, music teachers and pupils, not to mention supporters, is run by Sonia Rose, the theatre's education officer, and Bert Richardson, music adviser for Highland.

A rough head count suggested 120 musicians took part in the 12 groups, in combinations ranging from three-piece rock bands to a large string ensemble. The number of participants was down a little this year simply because there was no pipe band or choir.

Inevitably, the standards of performance vary from year to year and from group to group, but the overall results remain highly impressive. Many of the groups are the initiatives of the pupils themselves, in conjunction with their teachers. If the participants felt any nerves at being thrust on to the huge stage in front of a full house, they betrayed little evidence of it.

Traditional music seemed more dominant this year, reflecting not only work going on in schools but also the pervasive influence of the F isean movement.

Several groups stood out, including the well established large string ensemble Gizzen Briggs from Tain Royal Academy, the excellent Broslum from Lochaber High and Scree from Kingussie High. The last two have benefited from several years of playing together.

Leam Leat, the group representing the National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High, were predictably strong. Suilven Spring from Ullapool High performed a section of a larger project which was written as well as played by the pupils. And Ardnamurchan High was represented for the first time by another accomplished traditional group, Dorlach, whose ambition is to open for heavy-rock parodists The Darkness, which seems an unlikely combination.

Moving more towards rock, Inverness High returned after a long absence with Rock 'n' Reelin', a large group combining rock and folk, and for good measure threw in one of several step dance performances.

The most impressive rock bands were Jesleppi from Glenurqhuart High and Engine of Faith from Culloden Academy. Both are trios, although Jesleppi features two guitars and drums instead of the customary bass and it had the most dramatic lighting of the evening.

Fortrose Academy was represented by two bands, Binbag, which had the unusual distinction of being fronted by a piper, and Boxset, which has four members but their guitarist had broken his arm. They coped well as a trio.

All four of these bands performed their own songs.

Reservoir Dogs from Kinlochleven High took an alternative route, performing slightly manic versions of songs by David Bowie, Arlo Guthrie and Talking Heads.

A new classical ensemble in the Rhythms of the North programme was the recently formed Thurso Schools Orchestra, playing "That's Dunnett!", composed by Bruce Gordon.

They were conducted by his wife, Katrina Gordon, the cultural co-ordinator for Caithness, who rewrote the music to make it more playable for the children. The orchestra's cellist was unwell so the cello player from Gizzen Briggs's string ensemble stepped in and sight-read the unfamiliar music. The orchestra did struggle, especially in the first movement, but grew more confident as the piece progressed.

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