Broomfield Campsite, Ullapool, 17-20 September 2009
WITH FORECASTS of sunshine ringing in my ears, the car was packed on Thursday morning and a quick drive up the A835 meant we were on site and the tent was pitched ready for a weekend of Loopallu fun by lunchtime.
Although the festival proper does not kick of until late Friday afternoon, a Thursday arrival meant I could take in the full fringe programme, get to know my neighbours for the weekend, and more importantly, we could take the car on site to unload – no carrying of tent and rucksack across the festival campsite!
Loopallu, or Loopy as it’s affectionately known, is a small two day festival held on Broomfield Campsite in the village of Ullapool every September. Attracting a mix of locals and incomers alike, there is a varied musical programme in the Big Top Tent on Friday and Saturday, along with a late night Festival Fringe that runs from Thursday until Sunday.
Wakening up on Friday morning, it seemed that the weather forecasters had it right for once, with blue sky, roasting sunshine and a sparkling Loch Broom. What makes Loopy one of my favourite festivals is undoubtedly the location. What other festival can boast such a view from almost everywhere on site? Even when it rains (which unfortunately it did later on in the weekend) it is still one of the most scenic parts of the country.
Another reason I love Loopy so much is that it is right in the centre of the village – nothing is more than ten minutes walk away, which after a summer spent at other festivals, in the middle of nowhere, is a pleasant change. Being able to have a quick trip to Tesco, or a wander through the village to buy an ice cream is great.
Also, as there is only one stage at Loopallu, it’s quite easy to nip back to your tent or grab a quick drink or bite to eat in the village between sets – meaning you never have to miss a band if you don’t want to.
Again, the festival was opened on Friday afternoon by the Ullapool Pipe Band marching through the campsite and then into the main tent. They were followed by Bronto Skylift and then Pearl and the Puppets before the fantastic Kid British took to the stage.
This Manchester four-piece seem to take their influences from almost every musical genre and mix it all up to create their own unique sound. Songs about modern British life like ‘This House is Dadless’ and ‘Part Time Job’ appeared to go down well with the crowd – as did their mass one finger salute to the BNP, who had shown up at one their gigs to try and recruit members.
After hearing the Dykeenies first few songs, it was time to investigate the food choices on offer at the festival – always one of the most important features at any festival, I believe! There wasn’t a greasy burger van to be seen, which is always a plus point in my book.
Choices may have seemed limited compared to some festivals, with only a handful of traders, but then again the festivals location comes into play – why have lots of traders when the village itself has several fantastic eateries? In these credit-crunch times, I’m guessing a lot of local businesses were glad to see Loopy come around once more, with the additional spending that it brings.
After eating the biggest plate of stovies I have ever seen, it was time to catch Alabama 3 on stage. A late replacement for the poorly Neville Staple, the band played a superb acoustic set that went down well with the Loopallu crowd.
Despite Alabama 3 having been on the bill at several festivals I’ve been to in the past, this was the first time I had seen them play and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed their set – although anyone who plays classic Johnny Cash is always going to go down well with me!
Soon it was time for Friday headliners The View to take to the stage. Having never been a fan of their music, or their diva antics, I was still prepared to give them a chance. However, after their first couple of songs, I decided enough was enough, and headed to the Ceilidh Place to catch the Family Mahone as part of the fringe.
Something of a Loopy institution these days, the Family Mahone are fronted by Mark Radcliffe and peform a selection of drinking songs that keep the crowd entertained every time they play. They never disappoint, and the crowd in the bar were enthusiastic, applauding the band even as the sound checked!
Saturday started of windy and cloudy with rain forecast. A trip to the outdoor shop for stronger tent pegs was in order, as well as a look round the ‘Festival’ photo exhibition by local photographer Paul Campbell in the cafè upstairs. The exhibition showcased Paul’s work from a variety of different festivals including Rock Ness and Belladrum and brought back some great memories of past festivals.
By the time we made it back to the tent and used the new super strength pegs, the festival was already well underway. Walking into the main stage tent, Grousebeater Sound System were already half way through their set. It’s not often you here the bagpipes and the bodhran being played alongside some hard dance music, but that’s what these guys do.
The six-piece band fuse together the traditional sounds of Scottish music with dance music, and result is a completely unique sound that you can’t help but dance to. Having played Rock Ness, Belladrum, T in the Park and the Edinburgh Fringe already this year (the band only formed in March of this year), they are surely destined for even bigger things in the coming year.
Most of Polly and the Doux Billets and The Dangleberries were heard from the comfort of my own tent, sheltering from the now very heavy wind and rain showers and catching up with our new found friends in the campsite (probably one of the friendliest festival campsites to be found).
A break in the weather allowed a quick walk down to the main tent in time for Codeine Velvet Club. The five-piece band is a spin off project of Jon Lawler, front man from the popular Fratellis. This new project has a much more mature sound than his other band, with 60’s overtones and a big band feel to it. The band are already receiving rave reviews, and this reviewer certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if CVC become bigger than the Fratellis.
Next up were Mumford and Sons, who received a great reception from the crowd. Unfortunately, they weren’t really my cup of tea, so it was time again to sample some of the culinary delights the festival had to offer – this time a Nutella filled crepe, just what you need on a cold night!
By the time Family Mahone took to the main stage, the tent was beginning to get very busy. The band received their usual welcome from the crowd, and yet again did not disappoint with their collection of drinking songs and banter from Mark Radcliffe.
Headliners Lightening Seeds took to the stage, only to be met with some technical difficulties – which led to a less than impressed crowd with many leaving to find space in the pubs for the fringe acts. Things did improve however, but I still found myself leaving before the end of the set, ready for Rhythm’n’reel in the Seaforth as part of the fringe.
Awakening to find the weather was somewhat drier than the day before, it was with a great sense of sadness I watched the festival site being dismantled around me. We had decided to stay on for an extra night, to catch the final act of the fringe on the Sunday night.
As it turned out, we never made the fringe, deciding instead to take things easy for driving home the next day. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas – a gale force wind blew up, forcing us to abandon the tent in the middle of the night and sleep in the car (no mean feat when you are 5’10” and the car in question is a Golf GTI).
I had a great festival, and although not all the bands were to my liking, those I did enjoy more than made up for it. The atmosphere, and the location, and the people you meet – these are the things that make Loopy such a great festival for me. And my tent survived the storm, so there’s every possibility I will be back next year too.
© Elizabeth Sinclair, 2009