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Festival Review: Oban Live 2018 – Small but Great!

If you’re there for the music, there’s something special about 1 stage festivals – no negotiating what to see together, no losing your group while chasing each other around a site, just a relaxed and enjoyable experience. The risk is whether the production values are there at these smaller festivals… Going into its third year, Oban Live has no such problems, and is nestled into the football stadium of  the picturesque Scottish coastal town of Oban. MNPR Magazine was lucky enough to cover the event this year at the beginning of June.

The quality of the music was top notch, but what would you expect from an event organised by some of the characters from Skerryvore? There is no camping at the site, but being only a 5 minute walk from the centre of town there were lots of opportunities for both staying in comfort and for warming up before doors opened at 4pm to reveal 6 fantastic acts each day. These were a mixture of newer and established musicians, all with a folk / traditional bias and (of course) strong technical bone-fides – but most of all, every one of them put on a fantastic, engaging performance!

The event was well organised, with all the essentials: large bars to all but eliminate queuing, a great variety of food options and plenty of clean toilets. There was a great vibe from the crowd, with people enjoying the sun filled days with friends, and kids with colourful and sparkly face-paint happily bouncing around. You can get a flavour of the event from the photos below, with a rundown of the bands beneath that.

[Photos by Mike Rushby Photography: WebsiteFacebookInstagram]


 

To jump to a specific band please click them here:

Skerryvore     Blazing Fiddles     Hermitage Green     Tidelines     Heron Valley     Sharon Shannon     Sons of Argyll     Skippinish     Rhuvaal     Peatbog Faeries     Kathleen Robertson     Chunks

 

[Photos by Mike Rushby Photography: WebsiteFacebookInstagram]

Standout Performances:


Skerryvore

Oban Live grew out of the success of an open air concert back in 2015 in the same venue, where Skerryvore revealed their 10th anniversary album “Decade”. In 2018 Oban Live was again the scene of an album launch for the Scottish giants of instumental trad-rock fusion, with a number of tunes being played from their latest release “EVO”. At various points, to mark the occasion, the guys had help from the Oban High School Pipe Band, who were Scottish Champions at their age and looked on top form as they packed the stage with pipers and a drum line with neon lit sticks. If you’ve never heard a stadium cheer on 20+ pipers that really know what they’re doing, I highly recommend it. Skerryvore also drafted the assistance of Irish accordionist great Sharon Shannon, who has a long history with the band having featured on a track much earlier in their career.

When Skerryvore had the stage to themselves however, they owned it. The 8 strong lineup generate layers of sound using guitar, bass, fiddle, pipes, keys, accordian, whistle and drums, with an energy that gets you right at your core. When you listen to them it’s a visceral experience, and the stadium environment of Oban Live serves to accentuate the punch of the different threads in any track. Skerryvore have a real command of their performances, both on stage and musically. One of my favourite moments from the evening was crouching behind a speaker between photos, watching the entranced front row as the band stretched a pause ever so slightly before dropping into a chorus for the first time. Oban Live marks the start of a world tour to promote the launch of the new Album EVO, which at time of writing was the highest new entry on the UK iTunes album chart. The album is fantastic, but if you get the opportunity to see them live then grab your mates and be there – Skerryvore will blow the socks off any venue they play.

 


Blazin’ Fiddles

Their name is a pretty good indication of what you should expect when you see Blazin’ Fiddles – but what it doesn’t convey is how mesmerising these true contemporary folk artists are. Jenna Reid, Bruce MacGregor, Rua Macmillan and Kristan Harvey on fiddle are joined by Anna Massie on guitar and Angus Lyon on piano. Hailing out of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the group have entertained at every scale of venue, from local bars to The Royal Albert Hall, and some of the key factors in their success were on display in this performance as well: energy, and stagecraft. Blazin’ Fiddles vary their tone between jaunty jigs and more fiery numbers with ease, and made a feature of pairs of the fiddles either partnering together, or sometimes dueling front and centre. They know exactly what they’re doing, in part because they’re celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2018 – the result is a smile on your face and the undeniable urge to start dancing with your partner, or anybody else nearby!

Fantastically fun from start to finish. 

 


Hermitage Green

The prize for the largest number of instruments per player used surely goes to cheeky Irish boys of Hermitage Green – they made it clear they were gunning for that award with every single member playing something different in their first two songs on stage, with the bodhran, djembe, banjo and even a didgeridoo all making an appearance alongside the more traditional, drums, guitars… and bongos.

What followed was a heady mixture of ballads, harmonies and feel-good anthems from this dynamic group. They’ve put out two albums since they formed in 2010, both of which are good but don’t do justice to how good they are live. Hermitage Green commanded the stage, and had a good time doing it too – you simply can’t beat a drum duel to get the crowd into it. They have such a variety of styles confidently on display that there is no denying their talent, and they are quirky enough in everything from their lineup to the rhythms they employ in their choruses (just listen to “Quicksand”) that they are definitely memorable. If paired with the right production, I have a feeling that their next album could be something really special.

 


Tide Lines

Tide Lines is a fantastic example of doing it right – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band achieve both a completeness in themselves and also recognised success in such a short period of time. It helps to have the talents of Robert Robertson (vocals, guitar) and Ross Wilson (piano) forming the core of this young band, who obviously learned a thing or two in their time with Skipinnish before going out on their own in late 2016. With the fantastic Alasdair Turner (guitar, bagpipes) and Fergus Munro (drums) rounding out this young lineup, Tide Lines deliver mesmerising ballads with soulful songwriting, before moving on to toe-tapping contemporary folk with slick, modern production.

Some of their more driven tunes have an indie-pop type of allure, but then you’ll hear the tell-tale pipes or whistle that lets you know that these guys are ever mindful of their roots in the Highlands and Herbridean Islands, and which provides a depth and balance to the scoring of their tunes which marks them as a true talent to watch. Compelling hooks, bouncy rhythms and unparalleled vocal stylings are just the normal for Tide Lines. Effortless quality – what’s not to like?

 


Heron Valley

The energy and enthusiasm of this young modern folk 6 piece comes across clearly in their ernest female fronted vocals. Heron Valley clearly have a keen eye for production detail, (right down to having each of the members in their own bold colour) with noticeable finesse in the layering of fiddle, accordion, guitar, pipes and banjo, all the while with drums and keys propelling their tracks forward. Their debut album “Roam” released in 2017 showcased a wide range of styles, with some tunes leaning into the instrumental tradition, and others taking a more modern jaunty ballad route. “Home” is an example of the latter, and further evidence of their focus on production, with a stunning video. The band is off touring in the US later this year and it will be interesting to see if their adventures push them to focus on a particular style in their next offering. Whatever it is, we can’t to hear it.

 

 

[Photos by Mike Rushby Photography: WebsiteFacebookInstagram]

The other performances were by:

 

Sharon Shannon – Legend of the Irish folk scene, there’s an almost cult following for this accordion wielding talent. A spirited performance was accentuated by the guest stylings of Michael McGoldrick on flute and Susan O’Neill who delivered a fantastic vocal performance as well as accompanying on guitar.

 


Sons of Argyll –  A collaborative project with over 24 top names in Scottish traditional music, paying tribute to late inspirational figures from the local region whose have influenced many of the acts playing at Oban Live 2018.

 


Skipinnish – Scots Trad Live Act of the Year 2017 and staples of the scene all around Scotland, they take a big band approach to riotous fun. Each member could wow a crowd with a solo given half a chance, but put them together and the way the hooks weave in and out of the 7 piece lineup will have you jumping around like a mad-thing in short order.

 


Rhuvaal – A vibrant 5 piece band that have been gaining momentum over the last 3 years, playing modern traditional music including bagpipes, whistles and a voice that has a mature and complex tone (which is very strange when you see its young owner!).

 


Peatbog Faeries – A heavier and funkier take on the traditional style. Largely instrumental with a tone that ranged from playful to raucous. With whistles or bagpipes up front, the celtic roots were prominently on display, while many of the songs were closer to trance in nature.

 


Kathleen Robertson – The 19 year old singer/songwriter and winner of the Oban Unsigned competition. An ethereal voice with an older style of traditional music.

 


Chunks – A guitar heavy Oban based band that has been doing this for 20 years. They took the crowd on a feel good tour around indie and rock covers that included anthems you just couldn’t help but belt out.

 

 

[Photos by Mike Rushby Photography: WebsiteFacebookInstagram]

About Mike Rushby

Mike Rushby is an Aberdeen based photographer best known for live music work at festivals and gigs in Scotland. He has a reputation for being able to deliver outstanding shots no matter the chaos about him or how bad the lighting is... #despitethelight Follow him @MikeRushbyPhotography

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