Home to Argyll with Ethel MacCallum
Aside from being one of the most popular presenters on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal, Mòrag MacDonald plays more than a key role in this project, for it was one of her now famous Mòd ceilidhs that sparked off this collaboration. In true Highland fashion, Mòrag had invited Gaels from everywhere, brought us all together in a big hotel lounge and made us all forget we were ‘on air’ as she seamlessly wove a ceilidh out of a radio audience. It went out ‘live’ and I will always be grateful to Mòrag for including me in that packed audience of singers.
“Nise, tha Ethel NicCaluim an seo…” thuirt Mòrag…
“Now, we have Ethel MacCallum here…” said Mòrag, carrying on her lively chat, eyes dancing, as she nodded and gesticulated to someone I’d never heard or seen before. The audience hushed as this lady with silvering hair reached the microphone, closed her eyes, paused a moment and began to sing. There was something about her that singled her out from this assembly of seasoned singers that included Mòd medallists of every era, well-known recording artists and fresh, young prize-winners. That ‘something’ was not just that I knew nothing about her and wondered if she had been a Mòd favourite ‘before my time’.
What is it about a singer that not only touches the heart but also seems to reach your very soul? A stunningly striking voice is not quite enough—it’s something much more than that. And whatever it was on that day, I was compelled to squeeze through the crowd to find this Ethel MacCallum and tell her. I didn’t mean to begin by asking her “Who are you and why haven’t I heard you before?” but that’s more or less how it all began.
Since that meeting Ethel has shared her life of song with me. Now in her early seventies, as she reflects on the people and places that have inspired her over the years, Ethel appreciates the fact that most of them have a connection with Argyll. Yet Ethel herself did not begin life there. She arrived as a six year-old, cold and frightened, having been hastily bundled on to a train in Glasgow with a group of other children. The year was 1943, and bombs were still falling on the city two years after the Clydebank Blitz that left over 50,000 homeless. When one hit a Glasgow orphanage, Ethel was among the children evacuated, carrying all her worldly possessions in a tiny brown suitcase. First stop Crianlarich, second stop Oban, then all aboard a steamer with a crew that didn’t speak English even when one of them carried her down the gangway and set her down on the pier. For this little girl, however, it was the beginning of a new life with a family who loved and nurtured her, gave her the gift of the language she loves and a place to call her home—the Island of Tiree. Ethel never looked back but took to her heart the songs, music and culture of the Gael, becoming ‘one of their own’ from an early age.
As Ethel shares her compositions in this project it is our hope that singers and musicians, young and old, may also discover and enjoy the enrichment of the language, songs, music and culture of Gaelic Scotland.
Singer and musicians: Ethel MacCallum with Margaret Bennett, Paul McCallum, Sheena Walker,Gillebride MacMhaolain, Daniel Thorpe, Alec MacDonald, Gordon Shaw, Heather Downie, Eilidh Keith, Will Lamb, Kenneth Graham, David Morton, Douglas Craik, Jennifer Speirs, Joan Bower,Linda Dewar and Rena Gertz
Home to Argyll with Ethel MacCallum
1. Tìr Ìosal Mo Ghaoil (3:27)
2. Remembering the Great War (1:05)
3. Cogadh Mòr Na Roinn Eorpa (2:11)
4. Eilean Ì (4:31)
5. Our Broken Dreams (3:16)
6. Goirtean Dòmhnaill (3:38)
7. Banrighinn a’ Chuain (5:07)
8. Stàball Bhetlèheam (3:37)
9. Leaving Shira Glen (3:19)
10. Ethel Introduces Catrìona Òg (1:26)
11. Catrìona òg an òr Fhuilt Bhuidhe (4:04)
12. Seòl An Iùbhrach (4:35)
13. Colorado Wedding (2:30)
14. Gus am Bris an Là (5:13)
15. My Highland Home (1:54)
16. Catherine Anne MacCallum’s Wedding March (2:23)
17. Air madainn Diardaoin (3:38)
Tha mise eòlach air Ethel NicCaluim bhon a bha mi nam bhalach, agus tha e daonnan na thoileachadh mòr dhomh, mar Thirisdeach agus mar charaid, a bhith ag èisdeachd rithe a’ seinn agus a’ bruidhinn. Tha a tàlantan mar sheinneadair agus mar neach-ciùil follaiseach anns a’ chlàr ghrinn seo, ’s i a’ cur an cèill, le cridhe blàth agus guth binn, maise Thiriodh agus iomadh nì eile a tha prìseil dhi na beatha.
Dòmhnall Eachann Meek