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2003 Festival Review

The Waterboys
Salsa Celtica
Luar na Lubre
Fiddlers Bid
McGoldrick, McSherry, O'Connor & Byrne
Finlay MacDonald Band
Atlantic Movement

Festival 2003 headline act, The Waterboys, have always had a strong fanbase in the islands but even the band's Mike Scott was unprepared for the phenomenal reception they got in the famous tent. Despite having done thousands of gigs, he admitted being taken aback by the response of the crowd who adored every second of songs including Fisherman's Blues and The Whole of the Moon. "I was surprised by the volume of sound - it was like a barrage walking out there," he said.

The night made festival history, as it was the first time the 3000-capacity tent sold out. For those left out in the cold without a golden ticket, the answer was found in spanners and wire cutters as they attempted breaking in through the perimeter fences to avoid missing the biggest night of the year.

The Waterboys

It is also believed to have been the biggest gig in the Outer Hebrides ... ever.

Almost unbelievably after that, the impact of Saturday night headliners Salsa Celtica rivalled the Friday. It was a definite change of tone, but a perfectly pitched one, as their hip-swaying fusion of Scottish folk music and heady Latin rhythms went down a storm with the crowd who simply refused to let them leave the stage.

As night drew in and the lights of Stornoway twinkled brighter across the harbour, the atmosphere in the tent grew more and more intense as the famous party band played encore after encore.

Atlantic Movement

Timbales player Guy Nicolson had broken his hand in two places the night before but refused to let that stop him, proving that, when it comes to one of the biggest events in the international music calendar, the show must go on. Every second hurt but nothing was going to stop Salsa Celtica playing the Hebridean Celtic Festival.

As always, the festival had something for everyone. The traditional sit-down show in the studio on Wednesday night was Atlantic Movement, a project commissioned specially for the festival which brought together seven of the finest Celtic singers from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cape Breton.

Fiddlers Bid

Then there was Shetland band Fiddler's Bid and contemporary pipers Finlay Macdonald and Michael McGoldrick who showed what is possible within the world of supposedly 'traditional' Scottish music.

The young lads - and one girl - in Fiddler's Bid demonstrated the fiddling tradition of Shetland is still just as vibrant as it was when fiddle magician Aly Bain first began making waves.

It was a case of 'bagpipes ... but not as we know it' from Finlay and Michael who are both pushing the boundaries of what can be done with this familiar instrument.

The festival is a main player in bringing down the barriers in terms of what fits the bill as 'Celtic music', but this year it also showed the language barrier is really no barrier at all when it comes to music.

Luar na Lubre

Galician band Luar na Lubre made their first ever appearance in the UK at this year's festival. They had barely a word of English between them, but that didn't matter. Speaking through a translator, the band's Bieito Romero said playing Stornoway was like coming "home". Highlighting the impact the Hebridean Celtic Festival is having worldwide, he said: "If some really important festival like this one invites you to come to play, it is a great pride".

For Mike Scott, his history-making show was the realisation of an ambition he had for years. "When I saw there was a big Celtic festival, I thought 'that's one to play".

If you weren't there, never mind. There's always next year!

Katie Smith