They say that if you wait five minutes the weather here can change and that was certainly true today. Despite heavy rain while we were in the Big Blue last night today was warm and sunny with blue skies and fluffy white clouds- perfect for watching the the Shinty Challenge Cup at the pitch just beyond the Bridge. We were in good company too, spotting Saltfishforty among the people sitting on the grass watching.
We left after a while to the wifi delights of An Lanntair, but were sidetracked by the sound of beautiful beautiful singing. Following our ears we found ourselves at Martin’s Memorial hall for the album launch of Oidhche Chiadain. The speakers were outside the hall doors, with people handing out leaflets, so we wandered in, assuming that the cd would be playing. Instead, the band themselves were performing- with the three girl fiddle players (all very young) singing harmony vocals so perfectly it sounded like they’d been mixed together in the recording studio. Just perfect.
The trip to An Lanntair was cut short by a fire alarm, which led to everyone being led outside. Instead we ended up at HS1, home of DJ Dolphin Boy for the last few nights and very good tuna paninis too. By now it was almost time for the first act of the evening at Scotland’s Island Stage, so we hurried home to recharge batteries (mine) and change batteries (camera) before heading out along the river to the main site.
We managed to see a little of Rura, before going into the main tent to see Rachel Sermanni, who I’d seen a little of at Celtic Connections this year. This time Rachel had her full band with her and although she seemed a little nervous of how big the tent was (the slope of the site means performers can see all the way up to the back of the audience) her voice showed no sign of it. She reminds me a little of Laura Marling- the same contradiction between a petite, feminine and shy demeanour and a strong powerful voice. The audience liked her, disappearing back out into the rain as she left the stage, leaving the tent pretty empty when Kan appeared.
Kan, a bit like Manran, have really found their feet this year and despite there only being four of them managed to fill the tent quickly with their mixture of global musical influences .When they first got together there was much talk of the creative geniuses of Brian Finnegan (ex Flook) and Aidan O’ Rourke (Lau) and the wonderful possibilities they could create. Now, with Jim Goodwin and Ian Stephensen proving their song writing capabilities too (Manc Attack/ Module One) it seems Kan can only keep getting better. And they were hardly rubbish to begin with!
While the stage was being set we wondered out to listen to a bit of Open Day Rotation, a local Lewis band. The tent was full, listening to Willie Campbell singing his heart out. Still undecided as to which artists’ cds to buy, I settled for some tea and a HCF hat before going back into catch KT Tunstall. Confident, with a rock chick attitude, she was determined to win the crowd over with compliments, cheerful banter and a positive attitude.
However, the Sunday regulations on Lewis means that Festival Club finishes early so we left KT to her ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’ and went into town.
The last night at festival club saw performances from Saltfishforty with Anna Massie and Mairearad Green, Kan (even better on a smaller stage) and Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag finishing off the evening with a riot of fiddle playing, the dance floor filled with dancers and balloons which burst underfoot as people partied.
I get the feeling that the last night at club is a way for everyone, but particularly the workers and volunteers to let their hair down and celebrate the end of an amazing festival.
And it is. I’ve been to festivals across the country and HebCelt is my favourite. It has the best bits of lots of festivals all thrown together. Things like...
- Fantastic bands –Peatbog Faeries
- Bands you hear for the first time and know you love- Niteworks
- Bands that you’d never heard of before but will see again- Ahab, Present Company
- Festival Club- so important, giving people a chance to carry on partying after the last bands have left them on a high as well as an opportunity to talk to friends and potentially see exciting collaborations between musicians
- The festival split across lots of sites throughout the town, allowing you to be as involved or as detached as you want.
…but more than any of these things, the HebCeltFest has spirit, passion and community involvement on a scale I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s the festival that isn’t afraid to care and that, I think, maybe why I love it so…