Interview with John Joe Macneil

Published: 02 Jul 2020

Tell us about yourself?

My name is John Joe MacNeil, I’m from Barra originally although I am currently living in Edinburgh. I work at Edinburgh University as a. I also run the MA in Primary Education with Gaelic.

How has lockdown been?

I must say, I have enjoyed it to an extent. Although there are some days where I feel a bit lonely and just want to jump on a plane to Barra! I am keeping busy though. As well as my work, I am also broadcasting a radio programme on Celtic Music Radio again, something I used to do as a student in Glasgow. I have also been learning some new skills in technology, broadcasting live from my flat, using various machines. I have been working on various music projects, busy with choral arrangements as well as singing and playing the piano at home. I moved to Edinburgh in September and one room is full of boxes so I have been working on emptying these and going through old photos, books and CDs. The charity shops will be busy with all they will be getting from me after this!

What have you missed most?

Well, this is an easy question to answer. I have missed my family and friends, returning home to Barra and getting together with friends for a bit of craic.

Have you enjoyed being involved in Taigh Cèilidh a’ Mhòid?

I have thoroughly enjoyed it. What an wealth of singers we have heard from. I love hearing the songs and all about the memories the singers share with us from the time they won their Medals. It is also great to hear performances from those who are no longer with us, this is a precious gift they have given to us.

There is a lot of work involved in the live ceilidhs, you are obviously a bit of a tech guru, is it complicated?

Had you asked me that question when we first started doing the ceilidhs, I would have said it was very complicated, I think it was giving us all grey hair at the beginning! However, now that we are more used to it and have a better idea of
what it involves, it is much easier. Not only is the structure of the ceilidhs easier but I feel more familiar with all the technology involved as well and what difficulties may arise. The An Comunn staff contact the singers initially, to invite them to come and sing on the Cèilidh, to find out a little bit about themselves and about the songs they have chosen to sing. That information is then passed on to me so that I can prepare a script for the evening and make some notes so that I know a little about the singers, if I am not familiar with them already or the songs they have chosen. That is all just to make sure everything runs smoothly. It’s always the same questions we ask them, so we can find out a bit about them now and about their memories from when they won their medals. We also want to make sure that there is a good bit of craic about the evening! I’d like to say a very big thank you to Alex and Anna, who run all the technology behind the scenes and pull everything together. We’d be in trouble if all of that was left to me! We want people to get the feeling that they are at an actual traditional ceilidh. We have a fantastic team working on this and we are looking forward to the next one.

Do you still perform as a solo artist?

I occasionally sing now and again. I love singing and have been trying to learn new songs during lockdown. I have a very long list of songs which I have been planning to learn for years and have been trying to learn some of these.

Do you prefer being in front of or behind the camara lens?

I enjoy both. I enjoy learning all the different skills in working on the technology behind the scenes but on the other hand, I do enjoy being in front of the camera delivering a programme. I think I will go for in front of the camera.

What do you prefer, singing solo or in a Choir?

I do enjoy singing solo. Although I get nervous, I enjoy singing and telling the story of the poetry but I also love singing in a Choir. I love all the choral arrangements and how the choral arrangements help to tell the story of the
song. For that reason, I will go with singing in a Choir.

If you had the choice to sing with anyone on stage, who would it be?

If I had the choice, I would have loved to have sung with my Grandfather. His voice and his style of singing was just wonderful and I would love to, not only sing on a stage with him, but to also spend time with him, remembering all these different styles and the things he taught me when I was young and have now, to an extent, forgotten.

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