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Scotia Review - 'CATIABHS CASTLES CELTS - 4 Caithness Skalds'

11th September 2007

Photograph of Scotia Review - 'CATIABHS CASTLES CELTS - 4 Caithness Skalds'

St Fergus Gallery, Wick
Wed. 19th September 200 - 7.30pm

Part of Caithness Arts Festival 2007

As Caithness Arts Festival 2007 nears its second week, Scotia Review prepares for its third event during the cultural whirl. The St. Fergus Gallery in Wick is the venue for the intriguingly titled 'CATIABHS CASTLES CELTS - 4 Caithness Skalds' next Wednesday, 19th September.

Following the Norse theme of Scotia's other events, the Writing and Reading 'Althings', the 'skalds' here are three writers and one artist/musician, all Caithness-based, all reading and playing original work of their own, much of it inspired by the landscape and culture of Caithness itself. Donald Mackay, George Gunn, Donald McKinney and Pete Hodgson are the 21st-century skalds in question.

Key figures in Icelandic and Scandanavian court life during the height of Viking power from the 9th to the 13th centuries, 'skalds' were poets and musicians - often in the shape of one celebrated bardic individual - who were feted and prestigious commentators on local politics, courtly love-affairs, warrior rivalry and the many battles fought by the Viking earls.

The convention gave rise to the many Icelandic 'sagas' still read today as a mix of historical record and social commentary, with a little bit of ego thrown in for good measure. 'The Orkneyinga Saga' contains as much history and gossip about Caithness as about Orkney, and is an important element in our shared heritage. This event is an attempt to give four contemporary Caithness artists their rightful place in that cultural continuum.

Donald Mackay and Pete Hodgson will be performing work they wrote together in a creative collaboration inspired by a weekend spent almost two years ago with other local artists at Freswick Castle, owned by writer and film producer Murray Watts. (This is where the 'castles' of the event title comes in.) Those who know Donald's poetry already might be surprised at this new departure. The tone and themes are familiar, but the music Pete Hodgson has written to accompany it - while lyrical and sensitive in its own way - gives the words a more raw, edgey quality that highlights the sense of the words beautifully. Pete Hodgson, of course, is better-known as a visual artist. His multiple talents put him very much in the tradition of the skalds of yore.

George Gunn needs little introduction to readers of the 'Groat', fans of Grey Coast Theatre Company, or readers of his published poetry. His published works, 'Sting', 'Whins' and 'Winter Barley' are about to be joined by a fourth volume, 'Atlantic Forest', which is to be published this winter by the Ullapool-based Two Ravens Press. Scotia has a special interest in this book, as its title poem was the inspiration for a music commission it was awarded last year for Gordon Gunn to write fiddle music to accompany it. The poem and music were performed together at last year's Caithness Arts Festival at a production by Scotia Review, including children from Crossroads Primary School. Again this twinning of words and music.

Donald Mackay is also about to have a volume of poetry published in October. Together, as poets with good Sutherland names, Donald and George comprise the 'cataibhs' of the event title.

Donald Mckinney is Thurso-born. Although currently based part-time in Dunbar, East Lothian, where he runs a business called Body and Soul, he is in the process of organising a permanent return to Caithness. Convenor of an organisation called 'The Celtic Circle', Donald is also a former lecture in Spanish history and politics. Author of 'Walking the Mist: A Practical Guide to Celtic Spirituality', and 'Celtic Angels: Angelic Guidance for Your Path Through Life', it is not hard to intuit that Donald's interests inspired the 'Celts' dimension to the event title.

Donald has been a member of the Scotia Review Writing Group for some time, as well as being a member of a similar group in Dunbar. His fiction lends itself well to public reading, with a strong element of the traditional storyteller's story about much of his work: seductive in tone and narrative style, but often with a quirky twist or sting in the tail - or should that be 'tale'?

It's always a gamble putting on Writing events in Caithness. Audiences can be hard to attract. Scotia Review is confident those who don't come to hear this rich mixture of skaldic bardology will be missing a real gem.

This event is supported by funding from Caithness Arts, Highland 2007 and Caithness & Sutherland Enterprise.

'CATIABHS CASTLES CELTS - 4 Caithness Skalds'

St Fergus Gallery, Wick
Wed. 19th September, 7.30pm
Admission 3/1.50 at the door - or Tel. 07918191347 / editor[AT]

Part of Caithness Arts Festival 2007

For more about Scotia Review see
For Caithness Arts Festival programme see
For Donald Mckinney see


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