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HCF Blog

Hebcelt's successful summer continues with awards shortlistings

The news that HebCelt has been shortlisted in two categories in the Scottish Events Awards continues a memorable summer for our team.

At a time when we are hearing of other festivals in Scotland being discontinued, we enjoyed one of the most successful events in our 22-year history. Over four days in July more than 40 acts, headed by The Waterboys, Imelda May, Dougie MacLean and Lucy Spraggan, delivered over 70 hours of performances in the main arena, in Stornoway town centre and in sell-out community shows in Lewis and Harris, reaching nearly 16,000 attendances.

Just two weeks later, a concert we put together to showcase HebCelt and the music and culture of the Outer Hebrides opened the Scottish contribution to the Lorient Interceltique Festival, Europe’s largest Celtic festival.

The Soirée d’Ouverture Écosse, at the 1,000-seater Théâtre de Lorient, was a sell-out and went down a storm with the international audience. The response to the Scottish artists throughout the festival was truly magnificent and the whole Lorient experience was simply mind-blowing.

Our show began in stunning style with a 12-minute edit of Scotland’s Wild Heart, a BBC film visually hymning the Highlands, islands and their wildlife, with an equally magnificent live score by Capercaillie’s/Celtic Connections’ Donald Shaw. The full- length version has just featured at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Following that seemed a mighty tall order, but some of our rising stars won themselves a host of new fans by delivering a splendidly rich and varied snapshot of the region’s current cultural health - from Blasta’s boldly arrayed Gaelic harmonies - featuring Anna Murray, Mischa Macpherson, Jose Duncan and Ceitlin Russel Smith - and the exquisite voice of Mischa Macpherson with her Trio, to Tide Lines’ buoyant folk-rock and the hugely entertaining Elephant Sessions. And overlaying the music during the changeovers was an audio-visual showcase of the scenery and sights from the islands to draw the viewer in further.

What followed was ten really full days for our team and an experience none of us will forget. Playing our part in the Scottish area, we were surrounded by friends from the TMSA (Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland) next door selling artist CDs, to Loch Ness Water, VisitScotland, and stands with kilts and all things Scottish, as well as the pavilion at which a host of Scottish artists charmed, delighted and amazed all who called by. One highlight must be watching Euan Smillie, the fiddler from Elephant Sessions, crowd surfing on a giant pineapple. Yep, you heard me.

We met so many lovely people, some of whom had been to HebCelt, some to the Outer Hebrides, but many, many more who had never heard of either before. They forgave us our dodgy French and we hope our team of cultural ambassadors have encouraged some to visit in future, either to enjoy the festival or simply to experience our beautiful islands.

The Lorient adventure was a frantic, nerve-shredding, wonderful experience and a fantastic advert for Scottish and Celtic music, one that will live in the memory for a long time.

With the applause still ringing in our ears, we have been given another confidence boost by being named as finalists in both the Festival of Year and Cultural Event of the Year categories in the Scottish Events Awards.

This is in recognition of last year’s outstanding HebCelt, headlined by Runrig, which broke all our previous records.

An independent assessment showed the event generated more than £2.2 million for the islands’ economy and helped safeguard 40 tourism-related jobs.

It’s desperately sad when we learn of the demise of other festivals, but it underlines just how challenging it is to organise these large-scale events, particularly outside the bigger population centres.

Our continued success owes a lot to our audiences, funders, sponsors, supporters and the island community. We hope they share our pride, and celebrate with us, when others recognise and reward the work that goes into these occasions.