Singer is an unseen star of Whisky Galore

Singer Mairi MacInnes with Whisky Galore star Gregor Fisher
Singer Mairi MacInnes with Whisky Galore star Gregor Fisher

You won’t see Mairi MacInnes on the big screen in the new film Whisky Galore! but she is one of its star turns.

It is Mairi’s beautiful voice that can be heard as the islanders set out in darkness in their small boats to retrieve whisky from a cargo ship lying wrecked on rocks off Todday.

And you will leave the cinema with the haunting melody of Gairm Na h-Oidhche (Calling of the Night) echoing through your mind as Mairi sings the full version of the song as the credits roll.

The Arrow Films release this month of a remake of the 1949 Ealing comedy Whisky Galore!, based on the 1947 Compton Mackenzie novel about wartime islanders facing a whisky shortage suddenly finding a cargo of it on their doorsteps, is showing in Scotland and in the US.

“I have seen the film, and I am delighted I am part of it,” said Mairi.

Her song can be heard in the background of a night scene in a “beautiful mystic sort of moonlight”, she said.

The film is expected to boost Scottish tourism, and Mairi hopes that it will bring more attention to the history of Eriskay, where the real shipwreck happened, and the islands generally.

She has made her home in the Clyde Valley but is originally from South Uist, being a native Gaelic speaker whose career took off when she won an An Comunn Gàidhealach gold medal, Scotland’s leading award for Gaelic singing, in 1982 at the age of 18.

“I started singing when I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” said Mairi, now 52. “When I was a wee girl, I used to sing to my heart’s content.

“I was one of the youngest winners of a Mod gold medal, and that was the start of many doors opening for me.”

Her singing has taken her all over the world and led to regular spells presenting children’s television for the BBC and also Songs of Praise.

She released her first album, Causeway, in 1989, and others have followed, but one of her favourite memories is of singing a solo, accompanied by 500 pipers, every night on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle at its military tattoo.

“That was one of my momentous moments,” she said.

Mairi is also involved in festivals for children and teaches traditional music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, a post she has held for the past 15 years.

And the next event in her diary is a natural follow-on from Whisky Galore! She is taking part in a whisky festival on Eriskay - On the Rocks, inspired by the film - next month.

“I have been very blessed,” she said.