Gillebrìde Macmillan: Sèimh – The State of Calm

Confession: this is really not a review, for reasons that will become evident.

When I fell madly in love with Celtic music in 2016 and began to frantically search for more and more Irish and Scottish artists on streaming platforms (they are not so good for the artists but a blessing for the newly converted), I realized the massive volume of great music sung in Irish Gaeilge and Scottish Gàidhlig.

One of these artists was Gillebrìde Macmillan who, at that point, had released two albums of which Air Forladh was streaming on Spotify. I loved it immediately and, on hindsight, I guess it was one of the albums, along with certain albums by Julie Fowlis and Capercaillie, that some years later led me to try to learn Scottish Gaelic (thanks to Duolingo, I’m still at it; tha mi air a bhith a’ ionnsachadh Gàidhlig agus tha beagan Gàidhlig agam a-nis, ach tha e doirbh, ge-tà…)

I thought this would be only fair to confess since I obviously have a bit of a soft spot for his music and I’m probably way too biased… But anyway, here’s my main point: his 2018 album Freumhan Falaichte was excellent and Sèimh is decidedly at least just as good. It’s beautifully sung, the musicians are just right for these songs and the album’s title is correct: it is calm, but not weak or powerless. It vivid and it’s the kind of music that takes care of you.

I guess that sounds a bit daft (doesn’t it?) but saying something clever, or anywhere near objective, about it unusually difficult for me, for two reasons:
1) We were at Gillebrìde’s Celtic Connections gig and heard these songs performed live, which left a definite impression; I can only say that the live performance and this recording are amazingly similar
2) Only days before the gig we had been in Edinburgh where we visited the wonderful exhibition about these extraordinary women who photographed and filmed the everyday life and people in the Outer Hebrides in the 1920’s. In that exhibition we learned much about Margaret Fay Shaw and her incredible life, work and legacy in collecting and documenting the culture of the islands.

And then, just days later, we come to this gig and Gillebrìde Macmillan has this song, Thàinig i ann (She Came There), that is about Margaret Fay Shaw and the people she got to know so well on South Ùist an hundred years ago.

The synchronicity of the moment was something else.

So when I say that I find this album not only enjoyable and accomplished but also good for your spirit, please take my words with a grain of salt – for reasons explained, you should not believe me outright. So listen to the music yourself instead 😊

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