Wow. The dust is settling on Stornoway after another Hebridean Celtic Festival and I’m so glad I was there (along with the rest of the 18,000 people who made it a record-breaking event).
I didn’t see everything — not by a long way — but I did see the amazing headline performances by Runrig and the Red Hot Chili Pipers, plus Astrid and Whisky Kiss, and still feel a bit giddy from it all.
HebCelt, I love you. It had been too long.
Despite living in Lewis, I hadn’t actually been to the festival for something like six years — mainly due to the arrival of my two babies — and hadn’t expected it to have changed as much as it has. It is so much bigger now. It could almost be a different event if it wasn’t for the same location and, ooh, the music.
I remember the festival when it was just the big white tent with the bar at the back. Now it’s a whole village with oven-fired pizzas and cocktails, not just burgers and beer.
I took Michael, my six-year-old son, along with me to the festival arena in the castle grounds on the Thursday night. I made sure he was well equipped with ear defenders — the last pair in Engies – and pointed out the ‘rendezvous point’ sign to him at the entrance, so he knew where to go if he lost me.
In the event, there were loads of kids running around, hither and thither, and if there is one festival where you needn’t worry too much about safety issues, it’s probably this one.
There’s so much on offer for the wee ones now, too. A bouncy castle, face painting, even a circus! This wee circus took place inside one of the smaller tents called the Magpie (the black and white stripes, you see).
Michael was very impressed with the show, put on by Let’s Circus, a Newcastle-based company, and I have to say that I was too. The first act we saw was Wizzy Lock, a male-female unicycle duo from Tokyo with a gift for mime and slapstick.
The build-up to their finale — where the guy rode a unicycle that was five wheels high — was hilarious. We had a running commentary in mime from the woman, as he was plucking up the courage to attempt to mount the giant unicycle.
“Nee naw, nee naw, nee naw” she sang, driving an imaginary ambulance and then crossing herself. “You going Heaven” she told him, as the young crowd waited with baited breath. When he finally made it, Michael declared: “That was awesome!”
They obviously made a big impression as he told his granny all about it the next day.
The next circus act was The Ballunatic. This guy, who was dressed up in a red bodysuit and contorted himself inside a giant balloon, was pretty wacky. He became many different shapes, including a dog with a wagging tail, to ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’
When higher drama was needed, he made shapes to Carmina Burana — and then finished his routine by blowing up a rubber glove on top of his head and wiggling out of the giant balloon in such a way that his superhero pants fell down.
To a small child, there’s nothing funnier than someone’s pants falling down and despite the fact he looked completely ridiculous, Michael was convinced that this was Superman. We also managed to see the Kenyan acrobats and left happy.
Speaking to festival director Caroline Maclennan the next day, she pointed out that 19 per cent of the festival’s total audience are under 16 — and it is important to cater for them. So concession tickets are offered and plenty entertainment laid on.
“What you’ve got is a nice family orientated audience for the most part of the day,” she said. “I love seeing all these wee luminous hoodied waifs running around, having a great time.
“It seems like they’re totally unsupervised but they’re not. It’s such a nice, safe environment. It’s one of the things that people who come from away will comment on.
“I remember a complaint coming in, three or four years ago, about the ‘marauding hordes’ of children… it’s great when you get a complaint about people enjoying themselves at the festival!”
Let’s Circus began coming to the festival two years ago and they have “hugely added” to it, she said, with their shows proving so popular they had to do a second one each night.
Caroline reckons that children will get most benefit from the festival from the age of four, upwards, but that will obviously depend on the child. In Michael’s case, he is still years away from being ready for the proper music experience, on his daddy’s shoulders or not.
She also reckoned the audience demographic will change between 9 and 10pm — and that was certainly my experience.
By 9.30pm, my wee guy was tired and complaining, and needing to go home. By 10.30pm, he was tucked up in bed and I was listening to clips of Hayseed Dixie on YouTube to make up for what I was missing.
The festival, for a child, “is a huge thing” and Caroline said this is why they also offer the family concerts in town during the day. I took Michael and his little brother James, two, along to the first one in Martin’s Memorial on Wednesday and for a while they really enjoyed it.
For my money, if they even get a taste of music then it is worthwhile. But as important as music is to these youngsters, the children are also important to the festival. “They are our future audience,” said Caroline, “or our musicians or craftmakers”.
I hadn’t thought of it that way. But what I had thought was that it is very important, if you are taking a young child along with you at night, not to have high expectations — and to be very selective about what nights you take them to.
You probably won’t see much of the music, so my approach was to take Michael along on a night when the music didn’t really matter to me, so that he could have the experience, and to leave him at home with a babysitting grandparent on the nights when it did matter!
That was exactly what I did on Friday and Saturday as the two bands that really sold HebCelt to me this year — Astrid and Runrig — were playing. More of that to come later!
Were you at the festival with a wee one? What did you think of it? Or were you at Hayseed Dixie? How much did I miss?!