Loopallu 2007: Friday

25 Sep 2007 in Festival, Highland, Music

Ullapool, 21 September 2007

Loopallu 2007 at Ullapool (photo - Jennie Macfie).

IT STARTED off very promisingly. Brilliant blue sky and empty roads as I sped towards Ullapool for the best little fest in the west. Childhood memories came rushing back of flying round the bend and looking down on the town, with the race to see who would be first to spot a ferry. Only this time, we were trying to spot the big top. Of course, I saw it first.

Loopallu isn’t like other festivals. Rather than being stuck out in a field in the middle of nowhere, you are within minutes of the town and all the normality that has to offer. It also means that the ever-developing fringe events allow you to prolong the pleasure without the festival mud.

Another difference is how small it is. Walking round the site was less of an event and more a means of getting to and from the entrance. It was good, though, to see that they found room for the ever-popular Woodland Orchestra, sustainable karaoke for the thinking Scot.

To get in you have to register at what must be one of the best located campsites in the world. Campers are given a few inches on which to pitch their tent, and a few more if they have a caravan. You walk through the campsite to reach the festival proper spread along the loch side, and overlooked by the bemused tourists who were expecting a quiet weekend in the Highlands.

There being only one tent meant that if there was a band that you didn’t like, there was nowhere else to go. Last year, people sat around on the grass outside, but the weather this weekend meant that the beer tent was the only shelter, resulting in a good number of visitors quite quickly becoming unaware of where they were, why, and quite possibly who.

I expected the day to start off with the Ullapool Pipe Band, but apparently they couldn’t get away from school on time. There’s something about a pipe band that brings a tear to the eye, but more so when it’s young people playing with such enthusiasm and skill. Even though one poor wee boy was starting to buckle under the weight of his snare drum towards the end, Jimmy Urquhart would be proud of his legacy. I don’t doubt that we will see some of these youngsters on stage in years to come.

Hanging around to march through town with the pipe band meant I missed the start of Lowtide Revelry which was a great pity, as I would have enjoyed more of this melodic band. They now have a fabulous line-up and the blend of voices and instruments really is something special. They felt less like a support band and are now strong enough to headline in their own right. Everything was right – the sound, the look and the working of the early evening crowd.

Munching down my rations from the Soup Kitchen, I enjoyed the rest of the music. It might have been blowing a hoolie outside, but in the tent it was coats off and down to some serious dancing. Sergeant (who kindly did a sound test during the pipe band), 6 Day Riot and Dreadzone all adding their own unique sounds to the festival. Each had their own hardcore fans and hopefully some new ones gathered from the crowds wandering in and out the tent.

The highlight of the festival for me was the Vatersay Boys (although calling themselves Boys might be pushing it a little bit). As wherever they play, the crowd loved them and they were cheered at the start of every song, at the end of every song and all the bits in-between. I got the feeling they were quite enjoying themselves too.

A stroke of genius playing ‘Whisky Galore’ on the screens beside the stage, reminding us all of the background that brought us this great celeidh band. I only wish they had been around for my wedding.

Finally the headliners, the Saw Doctors, appeared, although to a smaller crowd than there might have been, the drink and the rain perhaps sending some home early. Those that stayed were well rewarded, with a stellar performance from a stellar band. Anyone who missed it would do well to catch up with the Highland Cafe recording on Radio Scotland’s listen again.

Then I shot round to the pubs to catch the fringe bands. So many bands, so little time. And in the morning? The campsite was littered with beer cans. Those festival tents that looked so good in the shop flattened. Why, oh why did someone start playing the bagpipes at quarter past seven in the morning? I vaguely remembered falling asleep to the same sound, but surely they weren’t playing all night. Were they?

© Karen Ray, 2007