What turns us on and leaves us cold as an audience

My highlight from Friday night at HebCelt 2017 was a woman I didn’t even see. My low point was the woman I had been looking forward to seeing more than any other.

I didn’t get to the festival site until after 8pm last night – that’s what happens sometimes when you have kids — and because of this I didn’t get to see Lucy Spraggan on the Islands Stage.

She was on too early for me, at 7pm, but I am sorely regretting it now. I got the lowdown on it from my friend Jane — who’s been excellent company this HebCelt, as have her hubby Wattie and brother-in-law Robin — and I also heard about it from festival director Caroline.

I messaged Caroline this morning to ask how it had gone. “Her set was amazing,” she said. “Great interaction with the audience and a lovely person which came across in her performance.

“Hopefully we helped her celebrate her birthday in style,” she added, sending me this shot of Lucy, now aged 26, with the amazing cake made for her by Sara Anne.

Lucy Spraggan

Jane said there had been a great crowd for Lucy with lots of young girls down at the front who obviously knew all the words to her songs and were loving it.

For Jane, Lucy had that same kind of magic as Dougie Maclean the night before, despite the obvious differences between them. She was teaching choruses, leading the singalongs and generally having a great connection with the crowd.

I have been a bit in the dark (understatement — read ‘completely ignorant’) about Lucy despite Caroline giving me the heads up ages ago that I should look out for her.

Caroline said she’d been great at Loopallu and that her lyrics were fantastic. She also told me to check out Imelda May, which I did, but I didn’t check out Lucy, and that was a mistake.

Imelda May
Bombshell songstress Imelda May. All pics of Imelda and her audience here by Fiona Rennie courtesy of HebCelt

I do like Imelda May. I have Life Love Flesh Blood on iTunes and listen to it often. It’s an album that’s marked a change of style for her — musically and looks-wise — since the more rockabilly sound of Mayhem. It’s soulful and deep and she’s an amazing singer.

Imelda has played HebCelt before, seven years ago, but it’s got to be said that last night’s gig was a disappointment for some. She’s an incredible talent, no doubt, but there was too much ‘new’ Imelda here and not enough old.

What we saw last night was a sex bomb in full seduction mode but she left me cold. She looks incredible and her voice really is something to behold but, personally, I found it to be too one-dimensional. It was jazzy, it was sultry, and it was very powerful, but it was a bit too heavy and there were too much ‘torch singing’ (thanks for the definition, Jane), which put me off.

Her new sexy rock chick image takes a lot from the likes of Chrissie Hynde but the narrative that went along with it began to irritate me, too, after a while. “Here’s a song about desire,” she purred. Not another bloody song about desire, I thought. We’ve had quite a few of them already. Mix it up.

Imelda May and band

When she did, finally playing earlier numbers like Mayhem and an excellent cover of Teenage Kicks, it was too late in the evening and the moment had gone.

We needed more of that at the start of the performance. As it was, it would have been more suited to a more intimate venue. Someone suggested the Woodlands but she’s too big a star for that. I could, however, have quite imagined it in a gentleman’s club.

I get that I was not the target audience for this. Some of the guys had big hearts in their eyes for Imelda but if an artist isn’t connecting, or attempting to connect with everyone, then there’s a problem somewhere.

“She’s not singing to me,” I said, trying to explain why I felt it wasn’t working. I didn’t feel any connection to her, apart from when she spoke about the importance of all good-thinking people coming together in the light of the Bataclan and Manchester atrocities.

“Whether you’re a Muslim, a Catholic, Christian, atheist, feminist…” she said. Hear, hear to that! I felt for her, actually, as she told how she had been playing in France the night before the Bataclan terror attack, which killed three people from her record label — two of whom she knew personally.

There and then, the thought came to me that here we were at a music festival, coming together and enjoying the atmosphere — just like they had in Manchester. Once again I thought of what happened to Eilidh Macleod and Laura McIntyre from Barra and how we can never again take our safety for granted because we’re from an island community. It was a strange feeling to have at the festival. It was unsettling and the memories of Manchester will be forever upsetting.

Apart from this conversation, though, I found it difficult to relate to Imelda and I couldn’t have been the only one because a lot of people wandered off. This might have been something to do with the slightly dodgy sound — it was hard on the ears and seemed distorted in places — but it would also have been that lack of connection.

HebCelt crowd


HebCelt crowd

It was quite a contrast to the night before, where Dougie Maclean and his guitar had held the attention of the whole crowd and led an enthusiastic, good-natured singalong before the Peatbog Faeries came on and stormed it. Check out my verdict on that night here.

The tent looked empty to me for a Friday night so I decided to take a wander down to the front to gauge how empty it was. At 11pm on the main night of HebCelt, I was able to walk freely to five or six rows from the front, without having to say ‘excuse me’ or even pull my elbows in.

She clearly noticed the lack of engagement from the crowd. Although she said thanks at the end and “you’ve been fantastic” there were other comments that gave it away.

“It took you a while to get your crazy Celtic spirit going,” she said at one point. “You’ve got one last chance to redeem yourselves,” was another one, during an attempted singalong.

“She’s on a hiding to nothing trying to get the crowd singing,” remarked Jane, “because there’s not enough of them.”

The HebCelt crowd is a great crowd. If they’re not engaging, I believe that’s the fault of the artist who is performing — and I think you could say that about pretty much any gig.

I thought about how different this experience sounded to what had happened in the Islands tent when Lucy Spraggan played early in the evening. Apparently it was bouncing.

Lucy Spraggan


Lucy Spraggan
Lucy Spraggan in action on the Islands Stage. Pics by Josh Cameron courtesy of HebCelt

Keen to know what I had been missing, I went on iTunes this morning to check out Lucy Spraggan — who shot to fame on X Factor in 2012 despite having to pull out due to ill health.

Apparently she’s got a very loyal fanbase and a big following on social media. I’d say that’s a very good thing because she comes across as a very good role model.

Right away, I liked her — and the lyrics were as good as Caroline said they were.

It’s not just about the words, either. Her music, which she describes as AFLOP – a meld of pop and acoustic folk, with RnB in there too — is punchy and catchy.

Take this, from Last Night (Beer Fear), the song she wrote herself that went down such a storm on X Factor. Her new stuff is just as good but this might be my personal favourite.

“Last night I told ya I need ya / that’s the last time I drink tequila / last night I asked you to marry me / that’s when I remembered the brandy… I drink that much that I forget / whatever embarrassing thing I say next….”

I found myself laughing out loud. Beer Fear? Who couldn’t relate to that! Oh, the terrible woe of waking up hungover and worrying about what you said the night before. You can’t remember what it was but you know it must have been something awful.

Here, finally, was a Friday night performer I could relate to… and it was 8am on Saturday. Talk about being late to the party.


Comments 2

  1. We were right up front for Imelda May. The crowd talked from the opening note to the end, like they did for for Dougie and many acts over the weekend. The din was noticeable for not only the crowd but Imelda as well. Many folks were not there to listen but to chat. It was like that for almost every artist.

    1. Hi Dave. I know I wasn’t talking but that’s certainly true of a significant part of the festival crowd. I met someone today who was ‘at the festival’ on Saturday and didn’t see a single band! Katie

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