Stornoway music fans rejoice. If you’re suffering from a touch of the post-festival blues, Stramash is on this weekend — and it’s free entry too, which is also nice if you’re feeling a bit skint after HebCelt.
The white tent went up again on the Castle Green on Monday night — without incident this time after it came down on their heads last year when they were putting it up in strong winds — and the lighting rig and stage were also in place last night (Tuesday) when I cycled round.
When it started out six years ago, Stramash was held out of the back of an artic lorry at Cuddy Point. Its precursor was Sounds In the Grounds but its aim is still the same… to celebrate the local music scene, whatever the genre, and to raise money for cystic fibrosis charity The Leanne Fund.
Although entry is free, there are buckets for voluntary donations and it typically raises between £1000 and £1,500 for the fund every year.
To my mind, there’s something nice about Stramash bringing us down gently from the HebCelt high with a twilight summer music event in the old festival tent, which is associated with so many good memories and had such a special atmosphere.
The purchase of the white marquee, the same as the original HebCelt one, was funded mainly by the lottery and the committee also now own virtually all the equipment, which has helped them control costs. They will also be forever indebted to Hebridean Plant Hire for all their help and generosity in the early years.
“Without them we wouldn’t be here just now, not a chance,” said organiser Paul Matheson. “These guys were the major supporters for us from day one and they are this year’s headline sponsor.”
As music festivals go, this isn’t anything like HebCelt. It is much, much smaller and more grassroots, with music largely provided by folk from the island.
One guy who’s very involved is Sean Harrison. He’s on the organising committee and will also be playing with his band on Friday.
Sean said: “I think the selling thing for us is the free entry. It’s open to anyone. You can come here and not have to pay a penny or you can come in and donate. We’ve had the free entry policy from the beginning and we will continue that.
“It opens it to a whole mass of people who may not be able to go to things, financially, and I think it also strikes a chord with people because we don’t make masses of profit.”
So what do you get this year for your non-existent ticket price?
Apart from the main act, Mason Hill from Glasgow, the bands and musicians are all homegrown and there’s a suitably homegrown vibe to the whole thing too — there’s a baking stall and cups of tea and coffee as well as a bar and burger van.
Musically, this year is the most varied one ever, according to Sean.
“We have electronica, blues, alternative rock, folk rock, singer-songwriter, metal and flat-out rock.
“The main thing is that we’re providing a platform for bands, mainly local ones. This is a platform for people to continue to be creative, especially with their own compositions. You can’t just rock up at the Crown or MacNeil’s and play your own stuff.
“There are a lot of bands playing regularly on the pub circuit and being invited to play here has enabled them to be a wee bit more creative, so they’ve written sets of their own material which they wouldn’t have had the chance to perform otherwise.”
Comparing Stramash to its much bigger cousin, Sean said: “Obviously we really like the festival but there probably isn’t the platform there for some of the genres that we have, like metal and alternative rock, because obviously there’s a certain genre for HebCelt.”
So far, the set-up has been going “without a hitch” (knock wood) and the plan is for three mini programmes which group together broadly similar types of music.
The first, entitled Stramash Showcase, is on Friday, beginning at 6.30pm. The second — the particularly child-friendly one and the one I’ll be taking the kids along to, to hear Daddy and the Dun Ringles (could be the name of a new band) — is the Stramash Matinee, on Saturday from 1pm to 5pm. Stramash Rocks is Saturday from 7.30pm till late.
The line-up is as follows: Some Random Guy, Michael Libby, Neosa, Sean Harrison, Howling Lords and Spanish on Friday night. Saturday afternoon is Rosie Sullivan, Eleanor Nicolson, Trouble Is, the Dun Ringles and Strange Brew.
Saturday night is Seldom Few, Broken Ravens, Dedrok and Mason Hill.
In general the aim is to “go with what’s current on the local scene” but the organisers started bringing in their main headliner a few years ago. Money changes hands but it’s not very much.
“We are paying our main band but we’re always trying to go for someone who’s on the cusp,” said Sean. “The guys we’ve got this year, Mason Hill, have just signed a deal in the last month or so but we’ve been following them for the last couple of years because we’d been told about them by friends of the festival.
“We told them what we do, what the aim of the festival is, and that we were able to negotiate a fee and they were very generous with their side of things.
“We can roll out the red carpet to a degree but it’s not Glastonbury-esque!”
If you want to find out about Mason Hill, a five-piece alternative rock band, they’re all over Facebook. Having a visiting band helps mix it up and keeps it interesting but I have to admit that it’ll be all about the Dun Ringles for us.
They’re playing on the Saturday afternoon. Being able to take the kids along to see their dad on stage is pretty special but I’ve always been a fan of their particular brand of ‘maw rock’.
I asked Jason, who’s also playing with Sean on Friday, what he thought about this particular event. “Stramash is great,” he said. “To me, it’s a sort of concert for the people of the island. The festival (HebCelt) is great at bringing everyone in but this is our thing — a local musicians festival.”
I had asked Sean how to describe the atmosphere at Stramash. He was a bit stumped by that one and deferred to Thrash who was also helping set up. “Pretty good,” he said.
Sean then asked Lotto. “I dunno – I’ve been pished at every single one.”
I’ll just leave that there. Looking forward to it, folks.
- Main picture by Paul McGinley at Stramash 2016, featuring The Broken Ravens.