Ok, so not strictly a cycling post, but instead a quick review of the Howlin’ Fling festival itself… the best wee festival in Highland Scotland, if not the world.
Fri 1 July
The adventure begins with a CalMac ferry full of festival goers. I’m alone at this point (friends Donna and Pete are on the smaller Shearwater boat), but this is fine as it means I can sit back, relax and enjoy people-watching a load of excited Scots drinking Tenants Extra at 11 in the morning. Respect. These guys know how to party 🙂
Once we’re all on the island and tents are up, we hit the Ceilidh Hall for the start of the music. First up is Monoganon, who I’m sure I’ve seen before playing with a full-on band, but today it’s just him in his home made but very effective spider/batman crossover costume, plus a guitarist.
He places candles on the floor, a projector shows his other bandmates playing the instruments we can hear through the PA, and he wanders barefoot around the room singing beguiling laments/prophecies that will turn out to be correct – “you won’t see me / you’ll remember me” (or words to that effect).
A sentiment that come back to me when he wafts into the room, back in costume, at about 3am on Sunday morning (or was I hallucinating?) Definitely an intriguing start to the weekend.
By comparison, you know where you are with Rozi Plain. Lovely songs AND great teeth. She’s joined by Rachel from Trash Kit; the extra guitar and vocals really add a level of subtlety and complexity. By the end, I’m singing along to Humans with a smile on my face.
Slow Club are in no mood for ‘playing the hits’. Instead Rebecca fires off a series of hyper-personal torch songs and ballads, with Charles throwing in a couple of his own for good measure. As they get older, they clearly give less of a fuck what people think about them, in a good way.
Rebecca’s always been ballsy (yes, aware that this is a sexist term but vaginary sounds weird), so when a few people at the back chunter during a quiet one, it’s no surprise when she stops mid song to ask them to shut the fuck up while she spills her guts out. Even though I don’t like the vocal style as much these days, boy can she sing. So not exactly a crowd-pleasing set, if crowd-pleasing means nostalgia, playing the old hits and being untrue to yourself. Thankfully, up here it doesn’t mean that at all.
It’s 11pm, it’s Friday night, everyone’s shit-faced, which means it’s time for… Pictish Trail. And wow, what a set. To be honest, all I can really remember is… amazing outfit, messianic tendencies, very young bandmates dressed in pink(?), lots of new songs, a big sound, very loud down the front, blimmin amazing. Is this becoming a cult?! If so, where do I sign up please?
We all need to cool off, but pretty soon it’s the turn of Trash Kit to get us sweaty again, which they do without breaking sweat themselves. There’s one moment where some douchebag dude gets on stage and is promptly heckled back down again (“If you wanna be on stage, form a band”) and gently ejected from the hall, no doubt to think about what a dick he’s been.
Trash Kit are not about to give up the stage to anyone, let alone some meathead (to be fair, the only one all weekend, and I think he’d just had a bit too much to drink). They play on (mostly new songs but with the same jerky rhythms and mantra-like melodies), the party escalates, and by the end there are limbs flailing all over the shop to an encore track that I recognise from the debut LP.
I’d love to be able to tell you about Makeness but I think it’s at about this point I call it a night, for this is just the warm up to the main event tomorrow…
Saturday 2 July
Bleary eyed, we make it to the music just in time for the very mellow (yet not at all bland) sound of Victoria Hume. Mostly playing keyboard, her songs are fragile but often political beasts, just the thing to get the day started while supping tentatively on that first pint.
Life Model are a band I’ve never heard of, but really like by the end of their set. They have a kinda classic 90s grungey sound, shot through with shoegaze and pop, like a best-of mix of all my fave bands from that era (Chapterhouse, Lush, Belly). They sound great and am surprised more people aren’t into it as much as I am. Don’t you just hate that feeling?
Next up it’s Gwenno, formerly of The Pipettes and now re-invented as a Welsh-language musical mystery tour. I love her spacey, music-concrete inspired sound, visuals and dreamy vocals, even if I don’t have a clue what she’s on about (between song banter does give some clues). It’s a fun set, with political overtones once again – everyone here is reet fooked off about the referendum result.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from the Lost Who’s Mappin Too: Back in the Habit supergrope, but probably not bearded nuns and one particularly talented ladee nun doing the complete, word-perfect rap from Blondie’s Rapture, as well as TLC’s No Scrubs. There are also Prince and Bowie cover versions (obvs) and a totally dancefloor-destroying version of Winter Home Disco by the man P.T. (a glaring omission from his Friday night set). All in all, a Buckfast-fuelled triumph!
Follow that, Bill Ryder-Jones, formerly of The Coral and still annoyingly youthful looking. In truth, he can’t, but his gentle, ambling, slightly melancholic set isn’t without charm. He reminds me mostly of that other great Liverpool act, Shack, and especially Mick Head – which is pretty high praise in my book.
Ah, Jane Weaver and band. What a joy it is to see them on this tiny stage, about a metre away, when last time I saw her, she was playing to a room of thousands (well, a thousand at least) at Liverpool PsychFest. Drawing mostly from the shimmering, dreamy Silver Globe record, this is all kinds of perfect pop, following on from where Gwenno left off earlier.
When they play The Electric Mountain – “look at the mountain, the electric mountain!” – you can’t help but think of Eigg’s bewitching, mighty Sgurr, looming large behind us.
From about this point on, things get decidedly sketchy. I think I remember dancing down the front for some of Tuff Love and digging their sound. I definitely remember being blown away by Bossy Love’s boisterous feel-amazing pop. Did I chat to Charles Slow Club round the fire for a bit after? I think so.
I surely remember at least one Blanck Mass tune and thinking, ‘fucking hell, this is good’. And I just about remember hearing the DJ drop this at 3am and having that moment of clarity and thinking maybe, just maybe, it’s time to go to bed (or at least leave the music and go chase sheep around the campsite instead for a bit…)
Next morning, a couple of people refer to me as “that guy who was dancing loads” – so I’m guessing that I witnessed both Blanck Mass and Operator in full effect. Whatever it was, it was almost literally mind-melting. The eco-toilet graffiti praising Johnny’s programming skills – “so it always ended in techno :)” – does not lie!
An amazing night, for which I have my friends, all the amazing musicians and DJs, and of course the unicorn girl to thank. 😉
Sunday 3 July
To be honest,
the morning after Sunday is a struggle, but I do manage to cycle on the island for at least a little bit (up to the solar panels and back) before I start to fear I’ve lost the ability to balance, and have to head back to the warm embrace of the camp fire.
Here, there’s a lovely little acoustic session to end the weekend. Johnny plays a couple of numbers, including the wonderful Good Morning, and tells his “balls out” story (sure I’ve heard it before…) before some other talented people play songs.
Victoria Hume, Rachel Trash Kit, and one or two others I think. Round the fire we drink Eiggman beer brewed on the island, burn marshmallows, chat shit, and feel thoroughly happy to have made it out alive from the pilgrimage once more.
Thank ye Johnny, Kate Lost Map (especially for the ferry swap!) and the good people of Eigg for once again making us feel so welcome on your little island paradise 🙂