Hebridean Celtic Festival 2009 / Sail Hebrides Festival
Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, 15-18 July 2009
THIS YEAR I’ve the benefit of a wee bit of additional consultancy with regard to the local slant on the Heb Celt. After Anna Murrray’s very, very late post festival-club appearance at a certain kitchen party, we’ve exchanged notes.
And again I’m going to sketch a connection with the Sail Hebrides Festival, timed to coincide with the music events. This year we achieved a wide skyline of distinctive North Lewis-style dipping lugsails. These are a very similar shape to lateen sails so when they’re well-trimmed they produce a shape you remember.
From Wednesday to Saturday that fleet, joined with large numbers of visiting yachts and dinghies large and small, produced an imagery which was a real water-borne show. It takes a bit of arranging to produce that kind of shot.
Anna and I both came up with the idea that a band or a singer has also to put on a show to make a mark at this busy noisy sprawling event which is mainly half a week of good natured mayhem.
Thus we both settled on La Bottine Souriante as a triumph. It wasn’t just the showband-style synchronised movements of the brass section – though that was smooth. The pace was relentless and the balance of the tunes arranged so the performance was indeed a show. This is the third time I’ve seen them work their magic in Scotland and I’d say this was the strongest yet.
Whereas. for me, the ease and fluency of the Michael McGoldrick Band was just that bit too smooth for the rough texture and noisy tent culture of the main stage here. Anna enjoyed the band but reckoned the order of the night didn’t suit them. The Chair drove the energy level higher earlier on, and even the power of the vastly experienced band was not quite up to the mission of following that. I caught The Chair at the Festival club later on and an Lanntair was jumping.
The unpromising sounding Aussie band The Ploughboys were another Festival club hit, as were the local heroes Face the West. I’ve been observing the development of the latter over the last year. Keith Morrison drives the show from the keyboards but the guys are kilted up and swaying in time.
Again, the pace is the thing and they build it well. Add the dynamism of Alasdair White’s fiddle and additional guests and the pace is better than steady, I’d have liked to see how they fared in the big tent but it was no surprise to see them gain a well-deserved ovation at the Club.
I’m dependent on Anna’s comments on the afternoon sessions. I was trimming some of said sails at the times. But Anna thought these slots came into their own this year. Many of them were sold out and highlights included another example of showmanship in the professional presentation of young people who have been attending sessions in the Hebridean Feisean movement.
The students, guided by the very fine singer Norrie MacIver, built their individual efforts into an audio-visual performance of a newly commissioned song by Calum Macdonald.
This swings us right back to a pronounced theme of this “Homecoming” Festival. The recent revival of Na h-Oganaich reminded us how the great songs of Murdo Macfarlane found a new and wider audience by a rhythmic presentation of them at the Pan-Celtic Festival in Killarney.
And so it came to pass that Sheila Stewart could encourage Martyn Bennett to do more still of whatever he wanted to her recorded voice as it would reach folk she’d never find alone. Calum Martin’s Megantic Outlaw project is somewhere between these.
Again I’m dependent on other local reactions to the show, but the word round the hoil (harbour) is that he pulled it off by assembling a strong ensemble combining contacts made during the Psalm and Soul project (Nashville connections on bass and drums) and locally based heroes such as the excellent Andy Yearley (keyboard accordion) and his daughter Isobel Ann’s superb voice and strong stage presence.
After the telling of the title-yarn, the second half goes into a more freestyle performance. But still a showband, supplemented by Ado Matheson, a guitarist with a very strong following in these here streets.
So can it all go on? Yes, but I’d say on the strength of what I saw and heard, the festival club was stronger than the Tent. The connections with events such as Sail Hebrides and with the Feisean movement are all working. I’m not too worried about how we define Celtic. I’d like to see the World Music slant on the Festival main stage show taken that bit further. And maybe in juxtaposition with a popular music slant.