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Hebcelt takes centre stage at French festival

As we begin the countdown to this year’s HebCelt in July, we are also playing a significant role in another major festival which will showcase our music, culture and language to an international audience.

As announced yesterday, (22 May) Scotland is this year’s Country of Focus at the Interceltic Festival of Lorient, the largest Celtic festival in Europe, being held in France from 4-13 August.

The HebCelt team has been given the honour of organising the opening concert for the Scottish element of the festival, being held in the Pavilion of Honour on 5 August, which will kick start a number of events featuring Scottish artists throughout the ten days of this prestigious gathering.

This has been a huge undertaking, but is a wonderful opportunity to promote the islands and their heritage, while helping to inspire further culture-based tourism.

The importance of the Lorient festival cannot be overstated and we are delighted to be featuring so prominently.

This annual gathering, when Brittany meets other Celtic nations and regions including Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Galicia, Asturias, USA, Canada and Australia, attracts an audience of 900,000 over ten days, many of whom are visitors travelling specifically to attend the event, and it generates about £30 million for the economy.

For Country of Focus nations, the opportunities to develop cultural tourism are obvious, as well as the chance to promote their artists, musicians, dancers, visual arts, craft and food and drink.

We were initially invited to take part by Lisardo Lombardo, Lorient’s artistic director, via Showcase Scotland Expo, who do a fantastic job of promoting Scottish-based artists in folk, traditional, world and acoustic music to overseas music events. The much-enhanced relationship with Lorient this year is the result of a great deal of work behind the scenes by them and other agencies.

Then in January, we were offered the opportunity to curate the opening feature for the Country of Focus and were given about two weeks to pull together the programme. A daunting task, but one we relished.

As far as I was concerned the programme had to be representative of HebCelt and naturally have a strong Gaelic blas (focus). The result, I believe, is a wonderful advert for the sights and sounds of our islands, as well as an amazing showcase for HebCelt.

An excerpt from the stunning ‘Hebrides - Islands on the Edge’ documentary, with music by Capercaillie’s Donald Shaw, will act as a perfect scene-setter. Then, there is ‘Blasta’ (tasty or delicious), a specially-commissioned show focusing on Gaelic vocals and featuring singers Calum Alex Macmillan, Anna Murray, Mischa Macpherson, Ceitlin Smith and Josie Duncan, from the isle of Lewis.

Also performing are the Mischa Macpherson Trio; Tide Lines, a four-piece band who are heavily influenced by the traditional music of the west Highlands and islands; and Elephant Sessions, an emerging group of Highland musicians.

In addition to our involvement in the Scottish pavilion, HebCelt has its own pavilion at Lorient. With Highlands and Islands Enterprise assistance, a number of local organisations have joined with us to help promote the Hebrides and what it has to offer, including An Lanntair; Acair Books, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year; and Outer Hebrides Tourism, which put together a fabulous competition to help drive traffic to our location - £1,000 worth of accommodation and £500 for travel to the Hebrides to be arranged with Hebridean Hopscotch.

It’s a hugely ambitious project for us coming so soon after HebCelt, which runs from 19-22 July. But Lorient puts our festival and the Hebrides in the spotlight on an international stage and has the potential to provide an unprecedented stimulus for tourism.

It’s been a wonderful journey for us and we are grateful to all who have got on board.