This exciting quintet of young Scottish Gaels, DLÙ, are winners of the ‘Danny Kyle Open Stage 2018’, and were nominated for the MG Alba Scots Trad Award, ‘upcoming artist of the year’, in 2019. Their debut album, Moch, champions the Gaelic language and culture while blending progressive arrangements, eclectic musical influences and youthful energy. The result – face-paced traditional Scotish tunes with funk, rock and pop – a sound that is uniquely their own.
Introduction by Mary Ann Kennedy.
There’s a noble line of bands who first met at school. Radiohead, U2, Green Day – the list is long and illustrious. Add the young Scottish Gaels Dlù to the list.
Urban ‘weigie’ Gaels like myself, four of the Dlù quintet grew up in and around Glasgow. The city has a Gaelic story running through its wider narrative across six centuries and more. But while the city’s Gaelic community of the 1970s was one predominantly of emigrant Highlander and islander - of Gaelic-speaking policemen, of older generations long-established in areas such as southside Govan and west end Partick - its Gaelic world today has evolved. New generations fostered by those who have gone before - confident young people who are carving out their own identity as ‘Gàidheil Ghlaschu’, Glasgow’s Gaels.
Moilidh NicGriogair, Zach Ronan, Aidan Spiers and Andrew Grossart first met at Sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu, the city’s - and the country’s - first all-Gaelic school. Not only one of Scotland’s top-performing schools academically, the Sgoil Ghàidhlig also boasts a music department that is the envy of many. From the very beginning, it was accepted that young people being brought up and educated in Scottish Gaelic should also be given every opportunity to be immersed in the music and culture of their language. But thanks to their head of music, Frances McEachen, they were also encouraged to take a bold and all-encompassing approach to music. The result has been many young musicians and singers happy to ignore boundaries in their musicmaking. And at the heart of it all, a band called Dlù.
Originally part of a larger ensemble that emerged from the musical world of their school, as they started out on further study, the quartet soon found that their ambitions, musical adventurousness and curiosity were drawing them together to create a more tight-knit unit. This became Dlù, but there were further steps to take at the beginning of their journey.
From the very first set that the band created together - ‘Anmoch’ - the four knew that there was an instrumental piece of the Dlù jigsaw missing. Sensing the need for bass to join Andrew’s drums on backline, Aidan recruited college-mate Jack Dorrian and the five-piece instrumental line-up was complete. And with the recording of their début album, they wanted the signature of their own language writ large, with the result that another former schoolmate, Joseph McCluskey guests as vocalist on ‘Moch’.
The band drew on the very appropriate Gaelic ‘dlùth’ for a name, a word that means ‘closeness’. But the word also means the warp of woven cloth, the strong foundation threads through which the intricate weft threads wind in and out to create the pattern and texture of the final cloth. Likewise, through the sure foundations of Zach, Moilidh and Andrew’s family traditional music backgrounds, the various influences of funk, rock and pop, of classical trainings and of other progressive folk line-ups before them, the musical threads of Dlù combine to weave a sound that is uniquely their own.
The weave is reinforced by the interdisciplinary nature of their music, not unlike our diaspora Nova Scotian cousins where fiddlers are likely to be fine piano accompanists and dancers to boot. Dlù boasts a drummer who learned tunes on the box from a piper father; an accordionist who started out on drums; a fiddler who loves to sing. The inter-connectedness of understanding of the music gives a rhythmic drive to the melody and an intricate - and sometimes delicate - handling of rhythm in perfect understanding of the movement of the tune. And all of this is underpinned by the innate rhythm, cadence and melody of Gaelic, whether in song, or woven through the threads of the instrumental music they make sing.
For young Gaels of my generation, being a young person speaking Gaelic as a mother tongue was an often lonely experience. As the great Glenuig piper Allan MacDonald said to the first students of Scottish traditional music at the RSAMD (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), the greatest thing that the students had been given as musicians in a minority culture was to be a cohort. A family. A mutual support, friendship and encouragement that let them and their music make their mark on a world stage. The same can be said of Dlù, a friendship brought together within a community of language, of music, of people. A family - going back to Zach and Andrew meeting for the first time in the cròileagan, the nursery.
“For us, Gaelic is a huge part of our identity and heritage. It’s about who we are and where we come from, and we would hate to see it lost, because when you lose a language, you lose everything that goes with it: knowledge and culture and history. To lose this music would be catastrophic.” Moilidh in 2019, when the Royal National Mòd, Gaeldom’s premier festival, came to their city for the first time in thirty years. When she, Zach and Aidan returned to Berkeley Street and the Sgoil Ghàidhlig to curate and inspire a young Gaels’ night at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. A week when the corridors of the concert hall and the streets around became, just for a little while, a Gaelic village in the city, where Gaelic-speaking voices were to be heard talking between friends, between colleagues, between families.
This album is ‘Moch’, the start of things, a dawning. It’s truly exciting to be able to watch something new grow and blossom. It grows in fertile ground nurtured by the love and dedication of previous generations who fought – and continue to fight - against ignorance, antipathy and neglect of language and culture. The greatest reward for those mostly unsung champions of Gaelic language, music and culture is that bands like Dlù are in the world today.
It’s an oft-quoted proverb in Gaelic, but it’s worth saying again: “Thig crìoch air saoghal ach mairidh gaol is ceòl” – the world may end but love and music will endure. Dallaibh oirbh, a chàirdean – guma fada beò sibh is ceòl às ur taigh!