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Shy youth of Highlands in strong voice

Rhythms of the North, the annual musical showcase for schools throughout the Highlands, drew an enthusiastic and partisan full house to the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness.

This was the 11th year of this concert, which focuses mainly on non-classical genres, and there must have been well over 200 participants. Some of the bands had clearly been together longer than others: at least one had formed only the previous week. Judged purely as a performance, the concert was not as satisfying as some of its predecessors. However, there were several high spots and the overall standard was competent.

The expressive highlight came from two pupils from Charleston Academy in Inverness, identified only as Fiona and Hannah, with a moving version of John Lennon's "Imagine", beautifully sung to an acoustic guitar accompaniment. It was spellbinding and brought a reverent hush to the auditorium.

Both girls were part of a band named 1:55, which performed a version of Peggy Lee's "Fever" as a quintet. The band took the name from the fact that they played first with five, then with two players: five to two in time terms is 1:55.

Jokey names were in evidence elsewhere too, notably from Kinlochleven High's Heather Retort, who played a tentative version of "Birdland", a famous tune by keyboard player Joe Zawinul for the jazz-rock group Weather Report.

Chnuimheagen is Gaelic for maggots, but the band's playing conjured up rather more pleasing images. The quintet, from the National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High, performed to a predictably high standard on sets of crisply executed jigs and reels. They were joined by their singer, Michael Campbell, aged 12, for a confidently delivered "Waulking Song".

Several groups opened in rather wobbly fashion, then grew in confidence as their sets progressed. Fortrose Academy can usually be relied on to throw up a no-holds-barred rock band, but Scaffweasel's psychedelic-progressive approach still lacked a little conviction. Grantown Grammar's Sherbert Lipstick were also a little tentative, although strong vocals helped to paper over any cracks.

Both Tain Royal Academy and Kingussie High fielded wind bands, the former playing a popular classical repertoire and the latter versions of pop songs, including a nicely sung version of The Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" and a slow air and reel with two fiddle soloists.

Singing was generally a strong point in the concert. Gairloch High's choir contributed in English and Gaelic. Ullapool's Blasda Mor opened proceedings with a massed band of mainly traditional instruments such as pipes, fiddle and clarsach, but their enthusiasm was greater than their polish.

The other two big groups were among the most impressive of the evening. Golspie High offered a combination of the Sutherland Schools Pipe Band with a rock group named Brogin. They clearly had given considerable thought to how the two units could interact in productive fashion and the combination was very effective.

The Lochaber High School Pipe Band closed the show with a very accomplished selection of stirring marches, jigs, a Gaelic slow air and a hornpipe.

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