Christmas done and dusted. Next it’s Bliadhna Mhath Ur!

Everybody still standing, now we’re on the other side of Christmas and storms Barbara and Conor?

Personally, I like Boxing Day. The madness of Christmas is behind you and everybody can chill out, enjoying a proper public holiday without the pressure.

Come tomorrow, though, and folk will be starting to gear up again, with thoughts turning to New Year. We’ll be staying in, having a quiet one, but that’s because we have small children and the festive season is completely geared around them.

Christmas with kids is, of course, very special. Mine are small enough to believe in Santa, although I do take precautions such as using different wrapping paper in case the smarty pants six-year-old puts two and two together.

The wee faces when they go into the sitting room and see that ‘Santa’s been’ is great. Yes, it’s always an early start but they were very good this year, to be fair, with minimum fighting and minimum chocolate, which is always a good thing.

STRIVING

It is always a relief, though, to get dinner over and done with, get them off to bed and settle down for some downtime in front of the telly. In my case, it was Call the Midwife (which pulled my heartstrings good and proper, much as I hate that).

Boxing Day is always nice and easy too. It’s still a proper holiday – nobody should really be working — but we’re no longer striving for perfection.

New Year doesn’t have quite the same angst level, happily, and we’ll be welcoming it in while tucked up on the sofa watching Jools Holland, dram in hand.

Straight after the bells, I will be upstairs to kiss Michael and James — sleeping angels at night no matter how naughty they’ve been the day before — and silently wish them the biggest Happy New Year of all.

If we weren’t staying home, though, I know where I’d be… An Lanntair for their Bliadhna Mhath Ur gig with Willie Campbell and friends.

It’s three hours of music from a fantastic line-up and is now in its fourth year. Every year, I’ve thought, ‘that’ll be really good’ – and I’m not the only one as it sells out every time.

You get a wee bit of a flavour of it here from the YouTube clips and this one of Wagon Wheel is such a sound of Stornoway, to me.

It takes me right back to being (clichèd but true) young, free and single when we would go out at weekends and drink, sing and dance as if our lives depended on it. We’ve fairly slowed down now but as youngsters we were invincible.

The jinks were particularly high when I was out on the town with my Gazette pal Shona. We made the absolute most of big nights out, although one particular Hogmanay didn’t turn out as planned when she sledged into the wall at the bottom of the golf course, smashing her heel and spending the night on morphine instead of the wines.

In our day — gah, that makes us sound really old – we would have been right in amongst it and would have been the first to buy our tickets for this gig.

I asked my pal Alex — An Lanntair’s Head of Performing Arts and creator of the Bliadhna Mhath Ur gig — about her concept for the show.

“The reason the event was set up in the first place was because there was no organised gig, if you like. There were various community things, I suppose, but nothing like this.

REHEARSAL

“It’s pretty unique in that we’re pulling together musicians from pop and rock, indie, jazz and traditional Gaelic, rehearsing them — because a show like this needs a lot of rehearsal — and putting it on for the community.

“We don’t need to promote this in any way because it always sells out and the reason it sells out is that we’ve got such an amazing wealth of talent here, there’s not two ways about that.

“Willie is the team leader, obviously, but they all put a lot of work into it.”

The show starts at 10pm and goes on till 1am. The line-up this year includes Willie, of course, in the Jools Holland spot, plus Fiona ‘Chasm’ Macleod and Eleanor Nicolson, Alex Tearse on keyboards and guitarists Chris Martin, Calum ‘Thrash’ Macaulay, Dave ‘Doily’ Macdonald and Iain ‘Spanish’ Mackay.

DC Macmillan is on drums, Graham Maclennan is playing the box and there will also be strings and brass sections. Jane Hepburn and Rhona Johnstone are on fiddle and Neil Johnstone will be playing cello.

Lynton and Avril Allan make up the brass section, completed by Ashley Mackay on sax.

There will also be a piper, although they don’t yet know who, and Willie is also hoping to persuade his cousin Duncan Mackinnon to come along. (Sorry Duncan, he told me to put that in, to help you make up your mind!)

Apologies if I’ve missed anyone out. All in all, it’s a lot of folk to have on stage together and quite a variety of musical backgrounds, ranging from The Broken Ravens (Thrash) to the Scottish Ensemble (Neil).

That doesn’t matter though. As Alex said: “All these guys know each other and the mark of a true musician is somebody who can work across the board anyway.

HOGMANAY

“Neil Johnstone will play with The Open Day Rotation and the Scottish Ensemble. These guys can just play everything and across every genre.

“It’s also Hogmanay and the whole point of this gig is that we try and retain the spirit of Hogmanay.

“That spirit is about bringing in the New Year together with your friends — Auld Lang Syne is a song about friendship and could be sung at any time of the year — not staying in the house and saying Happy New Year to the cat and then moaning that nobody comes.

“It was also the case here to see people, to just go out for a couple of hours, and that’s what this gig is about. Bringing in the New Year together and having some music.

“Music is also a massive part of our traditions.”

One thing that does seem to have become a smaller part of our New Year ‘traditions’, over the years, is alcohol.

SMASHED

This is only an impression — no stats to back it up — but you don’t seem to see quite so many New Year supermarket trolleys piled quite so high with booze as you used to. I wonder if there are fewer people, nowadays, getting smashed for several days straight?

The An Lanntair gig certainly provides an alternative focus.

Alex said “You don’t have to drink. Why do you have to drink? Good music will make you a lot higher than alcohol. I think alcohol will take away the ability to recognise what good music is! For me, it’s a no-brainer.”

She added: “We’ve got a zero tolerance policy with alcohol. We don’t allow people to get falling down in here. Our bar staff are very sensible in the way they deal with the sale of alcohol and we’ve had a really good atmosphere in here every year.”

There will be a first footer, as is good luck, and given that Hogmanay is a Scottish celebration, there has to be pipes. However, the event — funded by Event Scotland, by the way — will be a melting pot of all styles.

Willie Campbell said: “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a nice opportunity to see a big band performing originals and some covers. I start thinking about it in September/October and want to avoid it being a glorified ceilidh dance band.

NERVOUS

“I want to make it special and that’s why we go for trickier songs and less obvious songs, stuff that you wouldn’t expect. I want to make it a fun and interesting night.”

There will be a Waterboys track, Bang on the Ear, plus some country, some classic soul — including Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher — and some originals including Willie’s own You’ve Arrived in the Hebrides.

There’s a section for people to do Scottish country dancing too and they always do a full band version of Wild Mountain Thyme and Auld Lang Syne, of course.

“I get slightly nervous that we’ve bitten off more than we can chew every year but it always seems to come together on the night,” said Willie.

“You have to expect that people are in for a bit of a party and keep it relatively upbeat and make a bit of a racket, really.”

As for the booze thing, “I think maybe the drinking culture has changed. Certainly it doesn’t seem to be as big a thing as it used to, going out and getting smashed, and I think that’s definitely reflected in New Year’s Eve in Scotland.

“If people are paying £12 for a ticket, as opposed to going out and getting smashed, then I think they are going to An Lanntair to hear something special and we hope we’re going to give them that.”

If you’re going to Bliadhna Mhath Ur at the Lanntair, I’ll be raising my glass to you. As for actually wishing you Bliadhna Mhath Ur, though — I won’t be doing that till it comes.

Sponsored content: This blog post has been supported by An Lanntair. All views and opinions are entirely my own.

Katie

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