Paying tribute to Islay musician Ian Carmichael

Ian Carmichael.

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Ian Carmichael, who belonged to Islay but lived in Glasgow, passed away peacefully in Glasgow Royal Infirmary on March 3, in his 95th year. His funeral was held in Glasgow on March 12, though his ashes are to be scattered on his native Islay.

Ian won the Mòd Gold Medal in 1961 in Stirling and I know he had a wonderful reputation among musicians and singers who shared a stage with him through the years.

Most of the information in this piece was kindly passed to me by one such man — Willie Cameron, Acharacle, who described Ian to me as ‘a powerful trained voice’, ‘a very popular entertainer’, and, most of all, ‘a lovely man’.

Willie played with him at various cèilidhs round the city where Ian was always a welcomed guest. Ian also appeared regularly for a few years in the 1980s at the Park Bar when the pub held a mid-week cèilidh at which Ian alternated weekly with Dougie Gillespie. These were the good old days of the Park Bar lock-in where the craic is still
spoken about to this day among those who were lucky enough to be there.

Ian’s wife, Mary, would always be on hand to collect him. While those light-hearted and often impromptu cèilidhs were legendary, it should not be forgotten that Ian also had a successful television and recording career.

He appeared on TV a number of times (mainly on the Gaelic programme ’S e ur Beatha) and recorded several albums — some under his own name, others with George Smith and The Hebrideans, and one with David Silver on the Lismor Label.

Like so many of his generation — including more than three quarters of his classmates in school — Ian was a native Gaelic speaker who first began learning English at five years old and only then, in his own words, ‘like a foreigner starting from scratch’.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the language and culture remained very close to his heart
throughout his life and he was passionate about its survival. In an interview for the cover notes of his Highland Heritage album, he said: ‘As long as Gaelic singing is kept alive, our traditions will survive over the centuries.’

Ian’s own contribution to keeping his beloved culture alive is unquantifiable. While the singers, musicians, and characters of that era will never be replaced, the mantle now passes to generations such as my own (and younger) to ensure his wish for Gaelic’s
survival is realised; and, with the memory of singers like Ian Carmichael, we have a fine example to follow.

Robert Robertson.