Gaelic punk

IssueFebruary 2008
Feature by Tomas from Skye

Anarcho-punk legends Oi Polloi have been around since 1981, but recently their music's taken a completely new turn. Their latest album, Ar Ceòl, Ar CÃnan, Ar-a-mach (a pun, meaning Our Music, Our Language, Revolt) is entirely in Gaelic.

Scottish Gaelic (pronounced “gah-lick”, rather than “gay-lick”) is a minority-language based around the north-west of Scotland with about 60,000 fluent speakers and up to 100,000 with a good grasp of it.

Thanks to Deek in Oi Polloi, and Seattle rocker Tim Armstrong, Gaelic now has a small but innovative DIY music-scene unafraid of pushing the language and its culture to new places. Along with fellow anarchist, Seonaidh MacÀdhaimh, who ran a class called “Gaelic for Punks”, in Edinburgh, Deek and Tim took to learning the language. They went on to study at the Gaelic college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, on the Isle of Skye. Doomsday Tim has now created several Gaelic bands including Mill a h- Uile Rud (Destroy Everything!) who delighted shocking anyone that could understand them with their sexually-explicit lyrics.

This was followed by LÃ Luain (Doomsday), who toured Ireland with Oi Polloi. His latest project is a perhaps more broadly-appealing group. Na Gathan (The Rays) have an all-new line-up and songs, including a Gaelic version of Judas Priest's “Breaking The Law”.

It's in Oi Polloi that you find the most politically-motivated songs including BÃs Dhan t- Siostam (Death to the System). Armachd Lèirsgrios (Weapons of Mass Destruction) decries the existence of nuclear weapons at Faslane on the Clyde and they give a gay slant to a traditional Gaelic song Fhir a' BhÃta. Even the “Naked Rambler” gets praised in one of the best songs on the new album.

Many could be forgiven for asking why musicians with a message should be singing in a language that most people don't speak.

First off, there's a natural attachment to the language - Gaelic is beautiful in itself, with its ancient poetry and culture.

Emphasising diversity and fighting mono-culturalism, it's entirely natural that a band rooted in DIY principles would defend a language and people's history threatened with extinction.

Union Jack? Thall 's Cac! Chan eil ach aon bhratach a dhìth oirnn A' bhratach dhubh is dhearg! Union Jack? Away and Shit! We need only one flag And that's The Red and Black! Oi Polloi and Na Gathan will be performing at the Spirit Bar, Glasgow, on 31 January, as part of the Celtic Connections unofficial fringe.

Topics: Culture
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