After a beautiful drive west following the River Broom through the glens to Ullapool, you could be sure on arrival at the ferry terminal you were on the right road for the festival. The fishing town was lined with folk carrying instruments and you could hear fiddles and accordions as you passed pubs and restaurants. Thursday night’s festivities were well underway when I arrived with the evening boat. Heading straight for the tents, I was disappointed to have missed Siobhan Miller and Alasdair White’s An Iuchar – the latter a commissioned piece composed to celebrate the festival’s 20th anniversary. Both acts received great reports and it was clear they’d warmed up the crowd by the time I arrived. The majority of the weekend’s gigs took place within the tents at the main festival site. The Acoustic Stage, Islands Stage and the Main Stage were all safe under canvas and the wind and rain failed to dampen spirits. The electronica fusion act, Niteworks, had taken to the Islands stage and had skirled up a huge crowd of wild dancers at their feet, which I understood to be made up of both visitors to Stornoway and a fan-base from home who had come over from Skye. The band won the Up-and-Coming title at the Scots Trad Music Awards back in 2012 and have a core line up of vocals, pipes, bass and drums. For the weekend’s performance in Stornoway they’d drafted in a number of guest performers; Mairead Green bolstered the melodies on accordion and Ellen MacDonald laid ethereal Gaelic vocals over the pulsing electronic rhythms.
The final act on the main stage was Salsa Celtica and they were spectacular from the outset. The fourteen strong, cross-cultural power-house performed with the energy and joy of the carnival. The care-free, full band sound had the arena filled and brought a flurry of dancing. And this feel-good music isn’t made by accident; over their twenty year history the band has collected a host of virtuosic musicians. This was highlighted during numerous solos throughout the show – perhaps most exciting of which were Sue McKenzie’s sax solo, a firing bagpipe solo by Ross Ainslie which lead into an moody vocal piece featuring a beautifully sophisticated solo by fiddle player Laura Wilkie. The members of Salsa Celtica tastefully combined the respective traditions; Simon Gall’s snappy piano lines teamed with ever exuberant brass and percussive sections gave jigs and reels a sizzling Latin edge. The set An Danns Elegua hears Maeve Mckinnon’s Gaelic vocals met by a powerful salsa chorus. Lead singer Ricardo Fernandez Pompa’s Latin-American footwork was contagious – the front line of musicians were shuffling from side to side and by the last set the frenzy had spread through the audience, the larger part of whom were either jumping about or doing the tango with whoever was next to them.
The festival had various options for the night owls amongst us. Just over the footbridge from the main festival site, Thursday night’s ceilidh was kicking off at An Lanntair and the Caladh Inn was hosting the slightly more subdued late night sessions. There was also live music heard coming from the pubs as I walked through Stornoway. Alasdair White was compere at An Lanntair and had just introduced a selection of Manran who were geared up to play for dancing. The building is perfectly suited for this role; there was plenty of room to chat from the balcony which overlooks the stage and floor. The room was filled and the dancing continued well into the night.
Review by: Alice Tait
Photo Credit: Leila J Angus