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Young Highlanders shine

Young at Heart Eden Court Theatre, Inverness. Highland Festival

The Young at Heart concert at Eden Court in Inverness was the first of two marking Phil Cunningham's 25th year as a professional musician, composer and producer. The second focused on musicians who have reached the top of their profession, including Aly Bain and members of Capercaillie and Blazin' Fiddles.

Those musicians have acted as catalysts for the next generation represented in Young at Heart. The concert last Friday featured 82 youngsters, from solo piper Alex Urquart-Taylor of Poolewe, who opened proceedings in an assured fashion that would be a hallmark of much to come, through to Gizzenbriggs from Tain, the biggest of the ensembles.

The rise of the F isean movement and the good work being carried out by music teachers in the Highlands was evident in this impressive concert. It is ironic that Cunningham's formal music education at school in Edinburgh ground to a halt when he was not permitted to sit O-grade music on accordion rather than violin.

Things have improved in the last quarter-century. Young at Heart revealed several hot-spots of musical activity, taking in schools in Fortrose, Tain and Alness in one cluster, Grantown and Kingussie in another, and Gairloch, Ullapool and Portree in the west. The Feisean movement added two groups, Feis Lochaber from Fort William and Gadelica, from Feis an Earraich on Skye.

Performers ranged in age from 12 to 18 and in ability from competent to highly accomplished. Watc out in future for Sarah Naylor, a fiddler from Uig in Skye, and Anna Massie, another excellent fiddler from Fortrose who plays a wide variety of instruments. She proved the point by standing in on electric bass with two other groups. Both players are going on to university-level music courses after the summer.

If they represented the very best of the Highland youngsters on show, there was much to admire across the board. Fiddles were the dominant instruments, but there were promising exponents of clarsach and pipes, and some fine singing in Gaelic and English, while several groups successfully integrated electric guitar and keyboards into their music.

The programme featured The Kiltearn Fiddlers (Evanton), Guitar Extravaganza (Gairloch), the oddly named Ghandi's Hairdryer (Grantown), One Last Time (Alness), Reultan (Ullapool), and Damhan-Allaidh (Kingussie).

The performers' confidence was striking, especially in the solos and duets. These included another fine fiddle duo, Rhona Amos and Lauren MacColl (Fortrose), pianist Catherine Brown (also Fortrose) and three solo clarsach players, Gemma MacLean (Nairn), Sarah Hughes (Fort William) and Mairead MacDonald (Portree), who also played with her brother, Allan.

Cunningham accompanied some of them on piano and whistle and joined the massed ensemble for a finale which he and pianist Andy Thorburn had arranged. It was a taster for a project Cunningham has in mind - the establishment of a Highland Traditional Music Youth Orchestra.

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