I’m heading home… to perform! 17th & 18th July 2015
By News Editor
– May 28, 2015
Home for singer Alyth McCormack is two distinct places. There’s Lewis, where she was born and raised, and there’s County Wexford in Ireland, where she has lived with her husband, the musician Noel Eccles, for the last three years.
Despite having moved to Ireland eight years ago, it’s only since settling in the countryside, an hour from Dublin, that her native island has had a rival for what she regards as ‘home’.
This development in her life was the inspiration for a new solo album, Homelands, which will be launched on 17 July during one of Alyth’s regular pilgrimages to Lewis to perform at this year’s 20th anniversary Hebridean Celtic Festival.
“I don’t think at any point during my life, until I met my husband, did I ever think I would not live in Scotland. It had never occurred to me”, she said. “What I do is so very Scottish. I had worked for many years building up the network of musicians and friends I perform with, then, on meeting my husband, things changed.
“Dublin was our first home and it is a great city but it never really felt home to me. Lewis has always been home, and despite the fact I lived for many years in Edinburgh and Glasgow too, I still always refer going back to Lewis as going ‘home’ or ‘home home’.
“But three years ago my husband and I moved to Co. Wexford and now I have found where ‘home’ is in Ireland. It’s in a house in the countryside in the middle of nowhere. It’s in the peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle and constant moving of tour life. It’s when I turn the corner at the bottom of our lane and my shoulders drop and I relax.
“But with all this, and the comfort that brings me, Lewis is still ‘home’ too. When I come back to Lewis I feel fully myself as if a little part of me is always left there. I can’t really explain it, it is a feeling I have, and I am sure I am not alone. So many of us travel now for work, so many of us are emigrants and immigrants.
“This is where ‘Homelands’ grew from. It’s the feeling of being between two places, having two homes.”
A gifted traditional performer from a young age, Alyth studied classical singing and drama at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She now travels the world as a sought-after soloist and member of a variety of groups, including The Chieftains with whom she has been singing for eight years.
The same month she moved to Ireland, she was performing at the Beo Festival at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Her husband was also performing with his band Moving Hearts and all were asked to attend a photo session at the concert hall with The Chieftains’ Paddy Moloney.
“We got chatting, he asked to hear my CD and as they say ‘the rest is history’. Initially I was invited to join them for one four-week tour in the USA in 2008, I brought Scottish musicians, my good friends Brian Mcalpine and Jonny Hardie, with me, and I guess I must have been doing something right as I have sung with The Chieftains ever since.
“In my work with them I sing Scots Gaelic songs. It’s the reason that Paddy wanted me on board, as he has a great love for the language of Scotland and its culture having worked with Hamish Henderson and Sorley MacLean. Over the years Paddy has asked me to sing other songs that are in The Chieftains repertoire. This is also Homelands, one foot in Scotland, one foot in my new home in Ireland.”
In recent years, Alyth has collaborated with Nashville Country Star Trace Adkins; has played lead roles in musicals such as ‘On Eagle’s Wing’ and ‘Whisky Kisses’ and the highly acclaimed ‘St Kilda Opera’. She has performed with the cutting-edge Irish touring project Dán; and sung with The StepCrew which brings together three dance forms, Ottawa Valley stepdance, Irish stepdance, and tap.
She has also taught and performed summer courses in Tuscany and Catalonia for the Global Music Foundation, a non-profit organisation aiming to encourage people to enjoy and learn about music and the arts.
Her appearance at HebCelt – her fifth at the festival – will be with vocal and harp group Shine which she helped form in 1998. Shine combines the distinctive voices of Alyth, Corrina Hewat and Mary Macmaster with two electro-harps. After successful tours in Scotland and England, Ireland, Greece and Italy, the group took a break of about ten years but reformed recently and played at this year’s Celtic Connections.
“Shine is all about singing, harmony and experimenting. We have a very definite sound and approach that is all our own, and that is the biggest draw for me. At times I wouldn’t be able to explain where an arrangement came from; it’s just what happens when Mary, Corrina and I get in a room together, normally Mary’s front room.
“I love being in the centre of the harmonic patterns and journeys we take and feeling the support of the voices, it’s a beautiful sound that can only happen when the three of us are there, augmented by the big round warm sound of the harps.”
Shine have a tour lined up in December for the launch of their ‘Fire and Frost’ CD and will also tour next May with their first album of all new material.
Their HebCelt show will be held at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway as part of a programme of events during the festival: “Big concert venues are, of course, exciting or prestigious to play, but in a smaller arts centre you are closer to the audience”, she said. “It’s more intimate and in Lewis I’ll be tested to my all as it’s my hometown and there are bound to be folk I know in the audience. Nothing makes you feel quite as alive as performing for the folk you know.
“Without any bias, HebCelt is one of the best festivals in the Celtic calendar. It’s the combination of the quality of acts performing, the way you are looked after by the festival team and all their volunteers, the fact the whole island is buzzing with tourists, and musicians and islanders some of whom come home specifically for the festival.
“When I was younger, before the festival started, everyone who’d had to leave home used to come back for New Year, now it’s for HebCelt.”
This year’s HebCelt, which runs from 15-18 July, will also feature acts including Idlewild, Afro Celt Sound System, Treacherous Orchestra, the Karen Matheson Band, Shooglenifty, Chastity Brown, Le Vent du Nord, Raghu Dixit and Salsa Celtica.
Tickets for all events during the festival can be bought at www.hebceltfest.com/booking