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Festival Review: Tiree Music Festival 2018 – Small, Beautiful and Brilliant

Tiree is a beautiful small island off the West Coast of Scotland with a population of less than a thousand people. Known for its stunning beaches, being a kite-surfing paradise and producing a disproportionate number of first class musicians. For the past nine years it has also been home to the Tiree Music Festival, which doubles the population of the island for the 3 day affair. You can get a flavour of the event from the review and photos below, with a rundown of the bands beneath that.

 

The compact festival site itself is dominated by a Big-Top tent containing the main stage, with a second stage outside that this year was used to showcase the Year of Young People 2018. The bands featured on both stages showed off a variety of genres; from Americana and rock, to the traditional and neo-trad bands that are making waves throughout Scotland.

 

In addition to the main stages, there were plenty of other things going on around the site. A chillout yurt showing an off-beat cinematic programme doubled as a space for intimate acoustic sessions. Stunning beaches were the launching point for all sorts of watersports excursions during the day, and in the evening there was an epic fire show. There was also plenty for the kids, with face painting, circus skills, a story tent, and special kids music sessions held by some of the artists participating in the festival.

 

The atmosphere at the festival was one of amazing comradery – though fortunately there wasn’t too much adversity to struggle through! The technical team did a great job of moving some acts inside when the weather got the better of the outdoor stage for a few hours, amidst the otherwise gorgeous sunshine. Good food from a host of local vendors and short queues at the bars certainly helped, though some intrepid regulars decided that cooking a Christmas roast with all the trimmings was the most sensible way to make use of their campervans – Nutters!

 

The people at the festival were interesting and kind, whether punters, volunteers, staff or artists. It’s telling that my wife and I went to Tiree not knowing anybody, but on the ferry home were swapping stories from the weekend with half the passengers on the boat. Next year is the 10th anniversary for Tiree Music Festival – the organisers haven’t let slip what they’ve got planned to celebrate, but it’s sure to be one heck of a party!

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: Website, Facebook, Instagram]


 

Standout Performances:
(in no particular order…)

[Photos by Mike Rushby Photography: Website, Facebook, Instagram]

 

Be Charlotte

For somebody that professed to have “struggled to find” her sound, Be Charlotte has no such issue anymore. Wearing her trademark spectacles and a shiny outfit, there is something magical about the subtle hardness of the electronic edge to the otherwise cheerful pop vibe that Charlotte delivers while fronting her 3 piece band. Her lyrics are pointed modern day ballads, performed in vocal styles ranging from wispy to gravelly. That Charlotte can pull off that spectrum at pace (and sometimes while attacking a side drum) puts her right up there, and you can see that she pours everything into her performances. It’s no wonder that earlier in 2018 Be Charlotte signed with Columbia / Sony Music. We’ll be looking forward to what is sure to be one hell of a debut album.

 

The Amorettes

Sometimes you don’t need it to be complicated. The Amorettes are a solid rock trio, with drums, guitar and bass played hard and well… with added hair flicks. They commanded the stage from the first second they stepped on to it, with a smirk and a “let’s do this!” attitude. Coming out of central Scotland, they’ve been touring extensively since 2012 which showed in a masterful performance where they played the crowd as much as their instruments. The Amorettes are punchy and fun, and grabbed the audience with crunchy riffs, upbeat hooks, and a relentless assault on the drums. This is what good rock and roll sounds like in a modern world – punchy, edgy and definitely a good time.

 

The Hoosiers

Most people have heard of The Hoosiers – their debut album “The Trick to Life” was multi-platinum back in 2007 with singles such as “Goodbye Mr. A” and “Worried about Ray” being ever-present on radio and every other strand of pop culture, before the band was stung by the ‘difficult 2nd album’ as well as differences with their label and faded from popular consciousness for a time. Unlike most bands that have a rollercoaster start, they returned to form in 2014 with “The Rise to Nowhere” and have released a further album along with other live recordings since then. Most importantly, The Hoosiers are delivering great live performances, still fronted by Irwin Sparkes on guitar with Alan Sharland on drums, and support on keys and bass. Their sound is characterised by a rhythmic undercurrent, and punchy guitar hooks that guide the vocal performance through neat lyrical structures. This is the formula that worked so well on their debut album and still works just fine on their 4th – “Up To No Good” is timeless in that tradition. The Big Top tent might not be the arenas of their heyday, but The Hoosiers rocked it just like it was, with a high energy performance which ramped up as they pushed through the set – the crowd enjoyed the big sound and momentum for their newer work as well as the anthems from a decade ago. They’ve still got it.

 

Project Smok

You simply will not hear a better pair for sheer, unadulterated virtuosity. Ali Levack is tremendous on the pipes that he occasionally broke out, but his skills on whistle are unmatched. You wouldn’t have been surprised if his fingers caught fire with the speed and precision that they danced – a theme matched by Pablo LaFuente on acoustic guitar, who produced an unrelenting groove that underpinned the masterful performance. Supported by Martin O’Neil on bodhran, Project Smok delivered a sophisticated and intricate set that despite that was never delicate – the crowd was seduced from the first moments, and jumping soon after, from a well crafted set of hooks, beats and flair that was a joy to listen to. 2018 saw the release of their debut album “Horizons”, and we have no doubt that there is greatness to come for this Neo-Trad pair.

 

Trail West

Trail West launched their brand-new album “From the Sea to the City” in style by headlining the first night. Sporting their own headbands they certainly brought the crowd up to the boil in short order. These guys took the stage and went full bore for over an hour, showing off a fantastic blend of melodic vocals and vibrant hooks provided by keys, whistle and accordion. The jaunty tone of the band is propelled by in part by excellent drumming, but mainly by a clear love of the material they’re performing – they will be long term staples of the modern West Coast scene.

 

Rura

For the past 8 years Rura have been producing high quality, predominantly instrumental, trad and folk music. With fiddle, pipes/whistles, guitar and bodhran, this four-piece creates energy and excitement wherever they play. They took to the stage with a smile and got straight into a bouncy number to whip up the crowd. There is an insistence in their music that is contagious – creating a momentum as they play through their sets. With a recently released third album “In Praise of Home”, it showed that they were really pleased to be sharing their new material which was all written themselves. The band looked like they were having a great time, performing with confidence and just enough cheekiness to be winning from start to finish. Phenomenal.

 

Calum Mackenzie Jones

A singer-songwriter from Oran, Calum Mackenzie Jones is incredibly accomplished for his age. This is hardly surprising since he’s been writing and performing his own material live since he was 13. From then to now, he has played in bands in styles from folk, country, blues, trad and celtic rock, with a mainstream radio playtime, a host of big venues and even a charity single already under his belt. What does that make him? One of the most exciting young musicians around. His vocals were delivered with a smoothness and ease that perfectly complimented his precise finger work on the acoustic guitar, and his lyrics have an ernest, personal side to them which you can’t help but be engaged by. Many comparisons have been made to household names (my favourite was Ed Sheeran but with less stupid hair), but the fact is that Calum stands out by what he does on stage, and as soon as you hear him play there isn’t a need for comparisons. Similarly, while he played a set supported by a band, we thought he was more impactful in the numbers he played as a soloist, where his stripped back sound showed off the sophistication of his live performance. Oh, and it’s worth noting that in studio he also lays down his own drum recordings. Calum Mackenzie Jones is a standout artist that we will all hear much more of in the years to come.

 

Holly and The Reivers

A folk trio with a range of influences from by-gone Americana, to the traditional stories of England, Scotland and Ireland. Hailing from Newcastle, this acoustic guitar, banjo (5 strings) and fiddle lineup showed off how to weave melodies around and alongside each other, including tight soft vocal harmonies matched to the tone of their lyrics. Playing a mixture of traditional folk ballads and their own material it is clear that Holly and The Reivers are special – there is a mesmerising quality to their old-timey style that captivates a listener and causes everything else to fade away. Their music speaks to people, and we look forward to seeing what they will say to us as they continue to establish themselves.

 

Elephant Sessions

Elephant Sessions are well known for leading an instrumental neo-trad charge from the Highlands, with their charismatic combination of fiddle and mandolin up front. They have an impressive ability to tug at your emotions, with more complexity than any vocal arrangement could hope to achieve. Their set demonstrated their unfailing ability to captivate and supercharge any crowd with their blend of high energy performances, blazing back-lighting and cheeky grins from all the band. Amazing as always.

You can read more about Elephant Sessions here from a recent review at a smaller gig. 

 

Skerryvore

Tiree is the home gig for the 8 strong lineup who represent one of the best blends of folk, trad, rock and Americana in the scene today. They had no problem at all getting the whole venue bouncing, with a polished set that a fair chunk of the crowd enjoyed singing every word to, despite their latest album “Evo” only having been released a month ago. Having seen a fair bit of Skerryvore in the past 12 months, they definitely have set-pieces of flair in their live performances which work too well to change up. This slight repetition is offset for the fans by a constantly rotating cast of guest players from their extensive network – the result of having played all over the world with increasing success since 2005, and their stewardship of the scene through engagement in local artistic projects. The lineup works exceptionally well in blending moments of virtuosity from pipes (plural), accordion, fiddle and guitar, with the ever-present excellence in the supporting parts from keys, bass and drums. Skerryvore remain in excellent form, and as ever gave the fans just what they wanted.

You can read more about Skerryvore here from a recent review at Oban Live, another festival that the Gillespie duo have a significant hand in organising.

 

Hò-rò

Hò-rò formed just before the Celtic Connections festival in 2014 and won the prestigious Danny Kyle competition, to give them a fantastic start to their career. They developed a great sound together and released their self-titled debut album back in 2016 as a 4-piece, with their characteristic bright accordion, pipes/bodhran, guitar and fiddle. They have a fantastic diversity of styles, from ceilidh tunes to fast paced trad/folk fusions and soulful Gaelic ballads. Exploring the potential of these different avenues led the band to add keys and drums to the lineup to tour with and is the reason that Hò-rò’s latest album is titled “Hex”, released in May of 2018. It was this 6-piece that we were treated to, who of course delivered a high tempo and technically accomplished rendition of their tunes, with wry smiles and a light show as dusk faded that was only outshone by the neon orange of their accordion and the glowing praise from a well entertained crowd. Hò-rò have been making the most of their momentum, and in September will make their way over to Belgium to play the Schots Weekend. This is a band that rightfully won the Up and Coming Artist of the Year in 2017’s MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards, and don’t look like they’ll be happy to stop there – they delight crowds wherever they play, and we can’t wait to see where their continuing exploration of their sound takes them.

 

Skipinnish

There have been many variations of the Skipinnish lineup in the long and storied history of the band, with the current iteration as an 8 piece with pipes/whistle, guitar, accordion and fiddle supported by a full back line. With 8 albums and countless festival appearances to their name since 1999 they have always been busy, and with good reason. Skipinnish have been writing exciting original material since their inception, bringing a mixture of fluidity coupled with a time honoured approach to story telling. Their style is less blended than others in the West Coast scene, which (though they’ve never gone out of their way to promote it) sets them apart somewhat as purveyors of traditional trad tunes. That identity has survived nearly 2 decades and the departure of former band mates wanting to explore a more modern twist. Skipinnish represent some of the original and best in a scene densely packed with talent, and are always well received by crowds wherever they play.

You can read more about Skipinnish here from a recent review at the Oban Live festival.

 

Other notable performances by:

Wolfstone – Celtic rock at its finest, producing an interesting mix of styles which is the result of exploring the scene since their first album was released in 1991.

Brian Hughes and the Lone Sharks – Good ol’ fashioned country music that had everybody dancing from start to finish.

Scarlett Randle – A promising singer-songwriter with clear vocal talent – look out for her when she showcases more of her original material.

Martyn Joseph – A passionate and experienced storyteller with his guitar accompanying him, drawing inspiration for his ballads from the world around him and events we all struggle with.

Paul McKenna Band – A five piece folk band out of Glasgow fronted by the man himself telling stories about “people we know and people we wish we could be”.

Jonathan Gillespie – A versatile vocalist who as a solo act here demonstrated, many different styles with nimble hands on the keyboard.

Beinn Lee – A young traditional band from the island of Uist currently touring in support of their debut album, released after five years of playing and writing together. The quality of the vocals and how seamlessly the instruments weaved together around the melody sets them apart from some of the other up and comers in the trad scene.

Eabhal – A young trad quartet who you could see really enjoyed bringing their music to life for the crowd, with moving and energetic instrumental numbers. It will be interesting to see what direction they take from here to define themselves.

Mary Anne Kennedy – A Gaelic singer delivering moving melodies. Lilting and ernest lyrics, accompanied by borders pipe and acoustic guitar, with a punchy changeup at times.

Anna Rachel Macdonald – A young harpist showing how to make mellow really work, with a soft acoustic guitar accompanying.

Carma – A young singer-songwriter duo with ethereal vocals and a soft and sweet style on guitar/ukulele and keys.

Tiree Songbook – A collaborative project involving a lot of different artists, brought together to honour the bardic tradition of Tiree with this loving rendition of the songbook itself. With an extensive house band, and an impressive lineup of singers and pipers this was as authentically local music as you’ll ever hear.

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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