We re-join Alice for the final day of Hebcelt Festival, you can read all the entries for this post here.
Just before 3 o’clock, Findlay Napier and his band – made up of his brother Hamish on the keyboard and Ian Sloan on pedal steel and telecaster – took to the Islands stage. Findlay’s laid back, witty stage presence was welcomed by the crowd. He sang a number of songs from his latest release VIP: Very interesting Persons (review here) and his honest vocals, combined with a grittier delivery, convey a strong sense of his own convictions and his regard for the people whose story he tells. In contrast he can bring warmth and joy to the light hearted tales, such as Eddie Banjo. The band although small, provided robust accompaniment; with Ian Sloan decorating the vocal work with perfectly responsive steel guitar lines and Hamish Napier offering effortlessly colourful and melodic solos on the keys.
A large audience gathered in the Islands tent in anticipation for The Elephant Sessions later that afternoon. The eager crowd was in safe hands with the rapidly-rising stomp stars, whose music was exhilarating from the outset. The set comprised self-penned tunes and they opened with a steady yet dramatic piece, which heard a moody melody passed between the fiddle and mandolin against a backdrop of soaring electric guitar and bass. They moved straight into a quirky, bluesy number propped up by impressive work on the drum kit from Greg Barry. Accelerating into Ainya’s, a set from their recent debut album, they elaborated on a rousing, feel-good reel which sparked a frenzy of dancing. The middle section of their set saw the band pull out some of their heavier, more electronic material which heard darker arrangements teamed with sublime fiddle/mandolin harmonies. A high point was the set revolving around the bass player’s undeniably groovy tune I Used to be a Nice Boy, a jazz influenced piece which urged dancing. They closed with an explosive set The Empress and the jumping crowd below showing their ability to whip up a party. Talking afterwards, there was a marked buzz behind the scenes; the band had thoroughly enjoyed their enthusiastic reception. They’ve had a busy summer since the release of their debut album and are looking forward to their upcoming performance at Cambridge Folk Festival and further English appearances during their sixteen-date tour scheduled for November.
The rather charming four-piece, Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys (read our Ionia review here), share roots in the Great Lakes of State Michigan and have taken an individual approach American roots music. In terms of instrumentation they could be a straight-up, traditional Appalachian band. However this mould is broken; predominantly through the unique quality in Linsday Lou’s voice and her ability to throw it about with the control and flair of a soul singer. Additionally, they drew on a number of other influences, for example her song Hot Hands, heard grinding salsa rhythms using steel guitar and banjo picking. The Flatbellys were equally competent, offering imaginative arrangements whilst clinging onto traditional roots, scattering impressive traditional bluegrass solos through the sets, perhaps most notably though the song Pass Me the Whiskey. The band was welcomed back onto the stage for an encore, looking particularly humbled, Lindsay Lou broke into the song Smooth and Groovy, which featured astonishing, flowery vocal work backed by a chilled-out riff played on the banjo, guitar and mandolin.
Back on his home turf, Lewis born singer Iain Morrison was joined by a strong musical contingent featuring Pete Harvey on cello, Lori Watson on fiddle and vocals, Joe Smillie on drums and Gordon MacLean on the bass. I was glad to catch the latter part of his set in the main arena which included a collection from his most recent album and 6th solo release Eas (read our review here). He explained each of the tracks featured are based on a ‘piobaireachd’, the classical music of the highland bagpipes. The emotive piece, Siubhal (47) featured a passage of building tangled, repetitive lyrics, which were layered with vocal harmonies and with an underlay of beautifully eerie, chords on the fiddle and cello. Closing with lilting yet sorrowful song Bring the Sea, a chorus of voices from the audience could be heard joining in on the drifting outro.
Treacherous Orchestra put on an utterly thrilling show. The set was beautifully crafted, chiefly featuring material from their latest album, Grind (read our review here), with a couple of numbers from their debut tossed in. Although for the larger part of their set the band bare their teeth, their opening piece The Long Count had a nostalgic feel, beginning with a dream-like sustained chords on the accordion which built up to a beautiful floating whistle melody played this time by Ali Hutton alongside Kevin O’Neil in the absence of Ross Ainslie, who had to leave for another tour following his performance with Salsa Celtica. The relative calm before the storm was not lasting; the complex-chaos was let loose and the 10 piece broke into some tearing reels. A particular crowd pleaser was the The Sly One, which elaborates on Adam Sutherland’s tune; a harsh, Balkan-esque melody; which is robustly propped up by aggressive accompaniment, rife with discord. The band project a powerful presence from stage, engaging fully with each other and the crowd below. They filled the main arena with a set highly impressive both in terms of musical intricacy and the aesthetically entertaining performance.
Leaving Treacherous Orchestra amidst the final cheers, I set off for the Islands tent where Shooglenifty were carrying all before them. Before reaching the tent, it was clear who was playing – they’ve retained the sound that heavily influenced a wave of neo-trad in the 90’s; this particular line often dubbed acid-croft. This was the fourth stop of their summer tour following the release of their seventh album The Untied Knot which has the same red-blooded, experimental sound, but the addition of Kaela Rowan on vocals has given a new depth. She cast lines of puirt a beul over psychedelic arrangement featuring the signature bluesy banjo lines and eccentric fiddle/mandolin tunes which characterise the band. With a run of international dates this summer and a UK tour scheduled for November and December there’s plenty of opportunities to catch Shooglenifty in full swing.
The final act on the main festival site was world music collaborators, Afro Celt Sound System. Their set was predominantly based around a number of instrumental solos over a backdrop of electronic rhythms. Marked high points were James McNally’s solos on both the bodhran and whistle during which he demonstrated overwhelming virtuosic mastery of the instruments. An immense energy contributed to the performance by N’Faly Kouyate who played the West African kora and dancing dancing for the entirety of the set. The music was predominantly based on gradually developing, electronic rhythms, decorated with riffs on the various instruments, adhering to techno music format. I would have loved to have heard more melodic displays from each of the musicians, who in their short solos showcased immense talent. Together the band created a huge sound ideal for filling the large space and creating a satisfying party feel necessary to conclude the festival.
I arrived at the club to find young Glasgow band, Sunshine Social handing over to Jamie Smith’s Mabon who were greeted by a swathe of dancers who’d come straight from the festival finale in the main arena. They played a rousing set perfect for the occasion, filled with uplifting jigs and reels bolstered by the pumped up accompaniment offered by Adam Rhodes on the bouzouki and drummer Iolo Whelan – who occasionally came and joined the frontline with his tambourine, dancing and playing all at once; much to the delight of the boisterous audience below.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable festival, offering a range of music and venues to accommodate all. The buzz in Stornoway over the weekend was magical – something valued by both the locals and travellers alike. Visitors felt welcome and the music warranted every mile of that scenic journey.
Review by: Alice Tait
Until Next Year then…
Photo Credits: Hebridean Celtic Festival