Skip to main content

Reviews - HCF 2009

HCF – Saturday

Wednesday · Thursday · Friday · Saturday · HCF Shinty Cup

Saturday in pictures...

Saturday Mainstage: Face the West – The Chair – Michael McGoldrick Band

And so, suddenly with eager anticipation and rumours of no-shows by headlining acts, the final night of the 14th Hebridean Celtic Festival rolled around.

Face the West

The buzz in the tent on Saturday was around local band Face the West, who with three albums already under their skinny jeans belts, are creating a name for themselves locally with their confident and crowd pleasing live performances.

There must be something about island life that breeds raw and original musical talent in these remote parts - Colin MacIntyre from Mull, and Mylo just over the way on Skye may well have been inspirations. Is it something in the water or the bracing Atlantic air? An escape from the boredom of short winter days and longeurs of quiet contemplative Sabbaths? Who knows, and indeed, who cares? This was a step up for this talented crew, but make no mistake it won't be their last.

Some eyebrows may have been raised at Face The West's inclusion on the main stage, never mind a coveted Saturday night slot, but they soon silenced any doubters by proving no less self-assured by opening the proceedings. They clearly relished this opportunity to perform for a wider audience and occupied the stage and the spotlight like seasoned professionals. Locals and tourists alike voiced their approval enthusiastically.

The Chair

The news on Friday that Orkney's finest The Chair wouldn't be doing a guest appearance on Gaelic language station BBC Radio nan Gaidheal as advertised came as a disappointment. It may also have been the cause of a few premature grey hairs over the river at festival HQ. Were the Saturday night headliner's going to make it for the Saturday night main stage slot?

The Orcadians were let down by the airline company that serves the island, popularly known as "MayBe" by many, and remained involuntarily seated in their Inverness departure lounge chairs when they were due to go on air. Further transport problems in the shape of the CalMac ferry Isle of Lewis breaking down led to talk among the local worthies in McNeill's pub, as well as some men of the cloth, that a Sunday sailing may have been one hubristic crossing too many. The Lord, however, must be a Chair fan and the boys duly arrived in time to storm the stage and grab it and the audience firmly by their tender parts. Traditional music purists look away now. Folk music's answer to AC/DC have arrived, and they're not going to leave until they've thrashed and pumped the bejesus out of their energetic and eclectic take on rock influenced folk.

"Follow that!" may have been one thought that is passing through Mike McGoldrick's mind as The Chair left the stage to demands for "one more tune". Despite the weighty task of closing the festival after some of the most exciting, not to say irreverent, performances ever witnessed at Hebcelt, he must have taken comfort from being surrounded by an impressive ensemble of top class musicians. His Capercaillie colleagues Donald Shaw on keyboards and Ewan Vernal on bass were there, with John Joe Kelly (Flook) on bodhran, Parvinder Bharat on tablas, and Martin O' Neill (Box Club/Dochas) on drum kit providing a formidable and solid percussion back up. O'Neill showed no signs that this was his sixth gig of the festival. The hardest working man in the folk business? This week definitely. Ed Boyd and Dezi Donnelly completed the line up in their usual genial and relaxed fashion.

Michael McGoldrick

McGoldrick is a laconic sort of chap on stage. He's not one those musicians who cuts his music with amusing anecdotes and insightful observations. Which is just fine. All the more time for plenty of straight down the line traditional tunes, performed with stunning musicianship and energy.

A great addition to the line-up was Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson who was welcomed on stage to do the set's only song.

With a final bow and a wave, McGoldrick and the boys left the stage and the Hebridean Celtic Festival 2009 came to an end. My only grumble of the whole night was we could have done with more of Karen Matheson's lovely voice and there was definitely more scope for Parvinder Bharat to display his stunning skills on the tablas.

Sated with fine Celtic, and not so Celtic music, we filed out into a torrential downpour that possibly only Noah could have been familiar with. Maybe the man upstairs isn't a folkie after all.

An Lanntair, 3pm - Fèis showcase Àr Dachaigh

Saturday afternoon was a family affair at An Lanntair. That is, the audience was largely composed of the families of 23 young musical enthusiasts from the Fèisean of the Outer Hebrides, some of them breaking the auditorium taboo by recording proceedings on videos and mobile phones. Well, parental pride has to be allowed for.

This showcase performance was the fruit of several weeks of development, led by the inexhaustible Norrie MacIver, with Fèisean from Lewis, Barra and the Uists. For those who don't know, Fèisean (the plural of Fèis) are opportunities for young people to receive musical tuition within their own communities. There are over 40 of them across Scotland, and this performance was a showcase for four.

Simply titled Àr Dachaigh (Our Home), the players had taken the Homecoming theme to heart and presented a touching, harmonious and visually pleasing tribute to their islands. Projected onto the back of the stage were, first, interviews with people of the islands, talking about their love for home and why they wouldn't exchange it for anywhere else, and then lingering video landscapes of island scenes, which provided the backdrop for the music.

The musicians were very young (from 12 to 16, I guessed). All the songs were traditional, but the spin given to them by each group was surprisingly varied – from traditional playing and singing (Fèis Eilean an Fhraoich) to stirring, guitar driven stuff from Fèis Tir an Eòrna. Each contribution was rapturously received, and not just by immediate relatives in the audience. There was a distinctly restful, smile-inducing feeling to the event – letting your eyes dwell on lovely scenes while the music wafted around you.

In a rousing finale, all 23 youngsters (and Norrie) filled the stage to premier a new piece penned by Runrig's Calum MacDonald. In fact, his son Donald wrote the tune during his own encounter with a fèis project, and Calum added words. Glaodh an Iar (The Call of the West) is written in praise of the people of the west, the environment and the draw it has for people to return home.

How fitting, then, to hear it for the first time as the climax of this lovely afternoon, the whole event a feast of lifted voices, instruments and hearts in tribute to a unique place, which all of us feel privileged to call home.

Grateful thanks to reviewers Annie Delin, Mhari Pottinger and Douglas Coulter