EILEAN DORCHA FESTIVAL – ISLE OF BENBECULA – 28 & 29 JULY, 2017
Light rain showers blow in from the Atlantic across Lionacleit machair as rousing tunes from the Sgoil Lionacleit and Uist Pipe Band herald the start of the Eilean Dorcha Festival ( EDF) on the Isle of Benbecula.
The two-day festival, still in its infancy, is making a big impression. Both days are sold out, 3,000 strong with tickets sold in 47 countries. Local people have branded it the ‘friendly festival’. It is easy to see why. There is a tangible warmth to the welcome extended to festival goers that have descended on the island. Love is all around. It is a musical meeting place where new friends are made and old friendships rekindled.
This year’s line-up featured an eclectic mix of local artists and better-known bands from Scotland’s burgeoning trad scene. Niteworks headlined on Friday with The Silencers closing on Saturday. Both delivered great performances, but I’m not convinced they provided the crowd with that special end-of-night wow factor.
Above: Tide Lines
Tide Lines made their mark enchanting the audience with songs influenced by the traditional music of the West Highlands and Islands. Their first single, ‘Far Side of the World’, featured in the set drawing a fervent response from the crowd.
In the ‘Byre’ tent, the Beinn Lee Ceilidh Band, young Uist musicians, put on a hell of a show made up of reels and jigs that had the partisan crowd in raptures. The wonderful arrangements, the flawless playing. They have a swagger. This band epitomises everything that is good about EDF: they exude an infectious good-time vibe. Young and old, everyone is dancing. For me, the highlight of the weekend. They deserve elevation to the main stage next year and a later slot. Headliners, perhaps?
Above: Beinn Lee Ceilidh Band
London-based band Hunter and the Bear also played a blinder with their fiery brand of power folk rock. A rampaging set egged on by a jam-packed, swaying mass of humanity inside the tent. Ross-shire band The Side went down a storm with their infectious indie rock. Trail West served up a cracking set of high-energy ceilidh tunes. Hugely popular in these parts, this is another contender for a lengthier slot.
The tribute bands on the bill proved a hit. The Dolly Show was bursting with energy, a vivacious stage presence. There was a lovely moment when she invited local lad Calum Campbell up to duet on ‘Islands in the Stream’. Calum milked the moment for all it was worth, savouring the cheers from his friends. Later ABBA A-Rival got the whole tent bouncing with a steady stream of classic hits. Everyone knew the words. Waterloo!, we all yelled.
Above: The Dolly Show
Other acts worthy of note that delivered high octane performances included Manran, Journey North, Hò-Rò, The Rolling Drones, Willie Campbell and the Open Rotation, Heron Valley, Iain Spanish and Friends and Schiehallion The Shed.
EDF has started a ‘young musicians group’, a showcase for talented local youngsters. In the Byre tent, accordion, guitar, fiddle, penny whistle and harp are all on display in a short, but riveting set. It is heartening that festival organisers are looking to the future and providing a helping hand to the island stars of tomorrow.
The annual event is bringing economic and cultural benefits to the islands. Hotels, guests houses and campsites are full. The nearby Dark Island Hotel reported roaring trade as the bar till rang merrily all day.
Speaking before this year’s festival, Iain Morrison, editor of the local newspaper, Am Paipear was in no doubt about the importance of the festival to the islands:
“Last year EDF set the bar incredibly high. It was lively, fun and well organised, with a very special family atmosphere. I have no doubt that the second EDF will build on the successful foundation laid in 2016. We know that the first EDF brought significant economic benefits to Benbecula and neighbouring islands, and with a considerably bigger festival planned for this summer, it is to be expected that the rewards will also grow accordingly.
“Similarly, one of the remarkable features of the first EDF was the number of visitors who made the journey to Benbecula, many for the first time, just to experience the festival. I believe the signs are that this trend will be replicated this year, which is more good news for the islands.
“EDF is contributing enormously to the notion of Uist as a top summer destination – our islands are fully booked for EDF weekend, which is exactly what we want! I hope EDF receives the necessary support to continue to grow and prosper. Such events, that really offer something for everybody, and deliver tangible benefits, are so important for our fragile economy.”
A dedicated group of volunteers pulled out all the stops and delivered a fun packed, family-friendly festival that the whole community can be proud of. It is putting the islands on the map and showcasing the areas breath taking scenery. Above all, it is great music and bloody good fun.
“If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain”, proclaimed The Dolly Show midway through her set. For Benbecula and its neighbouring islands, the Eilean Dorcha Festival, the ‘friendly festival’, may turn out to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
All photos ©Rachel Bibby – 58 North Photography
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