Skipinnish and Caledonian MacBrayne riding an emotional wave

Three years ago Caledonian MacBrayne teamed up with Skipinnish, one of Scotland’s leading traditional music bands, to write a song that summed up the ferry company’s relationship with the communities of Scotland’s west coast.

Scotland Correspondent

The result was ‘Home on the sea’, a heart-tugging piece of contemporary Celtic music which, combined with a highly creative video, evoked images of romantic islands, scenic sea journeys and a sense of longing for the Highlands and islands.

Now there is a new version – this time in Gaelic as Skipinnish has re-recorded the hauntingly beautiful song for their latest album ‘Steer by the Stars’.

As they celebrate their 20th anniversary Skipinnish is riding an ever-growing wave of popularity. The last two years have been the biggest for the band since they began in 1999 when co-founders Andrew Stevenson and Angus MacPhail joined forces.

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Hit after hit of self-penned songs and a strong mix of powerful bagpipe, fiddle and accordion led tune sets has attracted a growing fan base as the band regularly sell out some of the biggest venues in the country.

“Re-writing and re-recording a version of Home on the Sea in Gaelic was a natural progression for this song. Gaelic is at the heart of the Hebrides where the Calmac ferries ply and it is fitting to sing of this historic company and its vessels in the language of the areas they serve and of many of their Captains, crews and shore staff,” said Angus MacPhail.

The lyrics to the new version were written by Flora MacPhail. They are not a direct translation but instead create a new version of the song that fits the idioms of the language. Flora is the mother of Skipinnish co-founder, Angus MacPhail who co-wrote the original song with Robert Robertson.

The accompanying video for the new song is the same one used in the English version and was done in partnership with Double Take Projections and Frame who helped project the lyrics onto the landmarks and landscapes of the network the ferry operator serves.

For more than 160 years CalMac, as it is affectionately known, has provided a vital life line for local and visitors alike to around numerous destinations from Arran to the Uists. It’s almost as part of the scenery as the rugged landscape, beautiful beaches and amazing wildlife.

Release of the new song comes in the wake of a record breaking time for the ferry company as visitors flock to island destinations.

During Easter passenger numbers were up 62 per cent on last year’s holiday break from 69,549 to 112,616. This was also 24 per cent up on the previous record set in 2017.

Largs to Cumbrae recorded the biggest year on year increase of over 200 per cent, with total visitors to the island over the four-day period reaching over 29,000 or 20 visitors for every local resident.

The Isle of Gigha experienced a 100 per cent increase in traffic with more than 1500 visiting over the weekend dwarfing the local population of just 140, while visitors to Arran almost doubled last year’s numbers.

Robbie Drummond, CalMac Managing Director, said the increased passenger traffic was proof of the growing popularity of Scotland’s island destinations and great news for local economies.

“Tourism is the lifeblood of many of our communities and we are now sailing more frequently than ever before to bring valuable visitors’ pounds to our islands,” he said.

CalMac is now the UK’s largest ferry company. Last year it carried more than 5.2 million passengers on its fleet of 33 vessels across 27 routes.