Great news that A Little Bird Blown off Course, a new piece of music–theatre by Gaelic singer Fiona Mackenzie celebrating the life and Gaelic song collection of Margaret Fay Shaw, is to be performed in the islands and Highlands as part of the Blas Festival next month.
There are hopes that it may also be staged in other parts of Scotland next year.
The piece was commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland, which now owns Margaret’s archive of songs and photographs stored in Canna House.
Fiona Mackenzie, the BBC Scotland Traditional Music Personality of the Year (2004) and winner of the Burnsong International Songwriting Competition in 2009, has been a frequent visitor to Canna, conducting workshops in Gaelic song, as well as researching in the archive for her composition.
The title comes from Margaret’s own encapsulation of her life to her friend Ann Berthoff, who helped her with her autobiography From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides. I used it as the heading for my chapter introducing Margaret in The Man Who Gave Away His Island.
Margaret’s contribution to the collection and preservation of Gaelic song and folklore is sometimes overshadowed by the reputation of John Lorne Campbell, but alone and in partnership with her husband she played a vital role and her seminal book, Folk-songs and Folklore of South Uist is a delight to read, even for non-Gaelic speakers. It has been republished many times since it first appeared in 1955, but seems currently out of print.
Her work was most eloquently recognised by her friend Fred Gillies, poet and shopkeeper in Lochboisdale:
an eibhleag anns an gann bha ’n deo
Sheid i oirre, ’s thug i beo a rithist
[‘an ember was dying; she blew on it and brought it to life again’]
Lifting extracts from Margaret’s autobiography, letters, personal photography and previously unseen film footage of island life, A Little Bird Blown off Course will cast fresh light on the importance of this collection to Gaelic culture past and present, and examine the role new Gaelic speakers play in reinvigorating the language. The production will feature live music and song, including extracts from the Gaelic song collection that Margaret and John created and preserved and that form the rich legacy they have bequeathed to Scotland.