May 2014 will see renowned Scottish fiddler and composer Mike Vass undertake a mirror voyage of writer Neil Gunn’s 1937 adventure round the west coast of Scotland, performing community concerts along the way featuring stories, music and local history.

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In 1937 Neil Gunn sold his house, quit his job and went off in an old converted lifeboat for a summer to inspire his writing; voyaging around the west coast of Scotland. He wrote about the various communities on the way, and went on to become one of Scotland’s most prolific and creative fiction writers. This May Mike Vass will sail Gunn’s route, finding inspiration for his own composing and re-visiting the communities Neil Gunn wrote about; performing celebratory concerts there. He wants to inspire communities with Gunn’s stories about them, inviting them to explore the changes that have taken place since the writer’s initial visit. The end result will be a new suite of music to be toured around Scotland.

Mike will be joined by special guest musicians along the journey (including Jennifer Port, Hamish Napier and Innes Watson) who will perform as part of the community concerts; sharing musical ideas as they sail and in on-board sessions at port.

They will perform at:

  • 2nd May, Red Roof Cafe Gallery, Isle of Skye, 8.30pm
  • 9th May, Eigg Community Hall, Isle of Eigg, 9pm
  • 10th May, Astley Hall, Arisaig, 8pm
  • 17th May, Iona Abbey, 3.30pm (entry included in admission ticket to Iona Abbey)
  • 17th May, Iona Village Hall, Iona, 8pm
  • 24th May, Duror and Kentallen Community Centre, Duror, 8pm
  • 1st June, Nairn Sailing Club, Nairn, 8pm

The project is already attracting attention, supported by Calmac Ferries, Enterprise Music Scotland, and Neil Gunn’s publishers, Colonsay-based House of Lochar. It has also received the backing of Creative Scotland’s Traditional Arts Commissioning Fund.

‘As soon as we heard of the plans to replicate Gunn’s trip,’ says Kevin Byrne of House of Lochar, ‘we contacted Dairmid Gunn, the author’s grandson and a former naval officer, and received his enthusiastic consent to support the project. House of Lochar wishes Godspeed to the latter-day “Thistle” and all who sail in her.’

Mike wants to both connect with the Scottish coastal communities he grew to know through Gunn’s words, and find inspiration for his own writing.

‘The idea for the project came from time spent in hospital last summer,’ says Vass. ‘I had suffered a life-threatening brain insult and someone gave me this non-fiction book, ‘Off in a Boat’, to read while I recovered. I found it utterly inspirational. I was so excited by Neil Gunn’s account that I immediately started planning my own version of his trip.’

The project (following the masterminding of Fiona Hunter’s debut solo album and his own critically acclaimed experimental album DecemberWell) is Vass’s most ambitious venture to date. Its progress will be documented by Salmon Films, who will be making a film about the project.

‘We were inspired by the vitality of Mike Vass to reproduce Neil’s Gunn journey,’ says Conxi Fornieles of Salmon Films. ‘A real adventure in a very magical place.’

After a summer of writing and recording, Vass will return in the Autumn to tour the new album, featuring some of Scotland’s top traditional musicians and film footage captured on the voyage.