After the excitement of the Isle of Mull Rally, a lull descends on the Island, the main tourist season is coming to an end, the English school holidays are providing the last rush of visitors to these beautiful islands.
At the end of October, the Islands seem to take a collective deep breath and start to settle down for winter. People on Mull and Iona who have spent the last seven or eight months working 24/7 are suddenly able to take time off, and guest houses and hotels are quieter. The little roads that wind their way through beautiful glens, see only a few cars per day, and the endless cycle of repairing and renewing the fabric of the islands businesses starts afresh.
As the winter storms arrive, boats that have carried excited visitors through Mull and Iona’s beautiful waters to see amazing creatures are put in to dry dock for repainting and cleaning hulls and the ferries become less frequent.
There is another side of Mull and Iona, a time for reflection and a time for the astonishing array of arts and crafts and music and poetry.
Mull and Iona have always drawn people from the Arts and Music. Such luminaries as Felix Mendelssohn and Pink Floyd often visited the Islands. Mendelssohn was so taken by the islands that he wrote The Hebridean overture known the world over as Fingal’s Cave. He remains a focal point in the musical life of the islands to this day.
If you love music, wild landscapes and spectacular venues, then the Mendelssohn on Mull Festival is for you. This critically acclaimed Scottish Chamber Music Festival brings together promising young musicians with professional mentors for a week of musical exploration and performance on the beautiful Hebridean island of Mull.
The inspiration for the Mendelssohn on Mull Festival comes from the wild beauty that drew composer Felix Mendelssohn to this region of Argyll and inspired his music. Mendelssohn visited Mull, Iona and Staffa in 1829.
Staffa, an uninhabited island near Mull, is best known for its spectacular sea caves. The most famous is Fingal’s Cave, also known as An Uamh Binn (Cave of Melody), immortalised by Mendelssohn in his renowned Hebrides Overture. It’s this link between music and nature, and the inspiration that can be found in the landscape, that is at the heart of Mendelssohn on Mull.
The festival was founded by the violinist Leonard Friedman in 1988. He had been working with some of Scotland’s most accomplished young musicians and took a small group to Mull to work intensively with professionals in stunning natural surroundings. The idea stuck and the festival was born. It’s a simple, but transformational concept. The musicians work together intensively, far from the stresses of day-to-day life, and then perform a series of free concerts in venues across Mull and Iona.
Over the years, the Mendelssohn on Mull Festival has become a truly international meeting place for the most brilliant young musicians from across the world. Talent from Norway, Greece, Denmark, Armenia, Turkey, USA, Estonia, Sweden and Holland have come to Mull to take part in this unique event alongside their British peers.
The concert venues are a big part of the festival’s magic. Scattered across Mull and Iona, they include the beautiful Iona Abbey, Duart Castle’s stunning Great Hall and the tiny Creich Church which is set beside a windswept loch. Creich seats perhaps 50 people at most, and the performances here are wonderfully intimate. You are so close you can almost touch the performers! Duart Castle, meanwhile, has a unique setting. This impossibly romantic Scottish castle stands on a cliff top guarding the Sound of Mull. And a concert in the Iona Abbey, one of Scotland’s most sacred sites, is an unforgettable experience.
Many people find the atmosphere at the concerts deeply moving. Natalie Wheen, a Classic FM broadcaster, said: ‘I have never been part of an audience so undone by music. Nor seen players so affected.’ Many of the musicians have never met before, and they rehearse together all day in church halls and guest houses for the performance at night. The atmosphere is intimate and intense, but relaxed and inclusive. As a member of the audience, you’ll feel part of the musical alchemy that’s being created. The festival also includes a children’s concert.
Over 40 local kids attend monthly workshops throughout the year where they’re taught by visiting tutors, culminating in this annual concert showcasing their work.
If you are a fan of traditional Scottish Music, especially fiddle and accordion, then the Mull Music Festival is a must for you.
Tobermory in the centre of activities, especially the Mishnish pub, which was made famous by Bobby McLeod in the 60s and 70s where he was considered as influential a composer and accordion player as the late great Jimmy Shand.
Venues in Craignure and Dervaig and Salen also take part and the Sunday Jam sessions in Dervaig are legendary. Known to the locals as the Whisky Olympics, the Mull Music festival is a long-standing tradition for the young people of Mull and Iona and further afield familiarise themselves with what used to be thought of as the music of their parents and grandparents.
The local Mod ‘Gaelic music festival’, with venues held literally in every village hall, beach, pavement or castle becomes a venue for this celebration of Gaelic music and voice. Choir is music is especially popular and Mull and Iona have a well establish and respected choir.
Mull and Iona have also played their part in the development of modern piping and fiddle music sometimes referred to as Celtic rock.
One of my fondest musical memories is of the late Martyn Bennett, one of the founders of Celtic Fusion and a piping genius who was sadly taken from us at the age of 34, playing in Iona village hall and then on the beach at the back of the ocean to celebrate a wedding. Martyn was one of the most influential traditional musicians and is credited with changing the way pipe music evolved. Bands like Runrig, Capercaillie and Blue Nile have credited Martyn as an influence.
Mull and Iona has also produced its own current music champions. In 2002 Tobermory’s Colin McIntyre and his band The Mull Historical Society broke through in to the big time, culminating with performances at T in the Park in 2007 and 2012. Colin MacIntyre is successfully touring, and still enjoys playing gigs back on Mull.
There is something unique about listening to Music on Mull and Iona. Whether it is the spirituality of Iona Abbey, the ancient interior of Duart Castle, or a cosy pub or restaurant the lure of live music is magnetic and it matters little if you are listening to Mendelssohn, McLeod or MacIntyre, just come and enjoy the music of Mull and Iona.