We look at Loopallu with Glasvegas, The View, The Pigeon Detectives and more, at Loopallu 2017.
The last time that I ventured along the West coast for Loopallu was in 2014 (Shame on me) but like so many people, it has always stood out for me as one of the most special Highland festivals. The fact that it’s always the last festival of the season, the stunning location, the great mix of big names and up and coming artists are to name but a few of the reasons why it always seems like a great idea despite the near certainty that it’ll be bitterly cold and probably raining.
When I heard that 2017 would be the 13th and final year of the best fest in the west, there was no chance that I would be missing it. The festival was unable to secure its usual site in the local campsite this year and therefore moved to a new location on the pier. Although this provided a great alternative this year, organiser Robert Hicks recognised that with accommodation scarce on the ground in the village, it can’t work as a long-term solution moving into the future. However there was no misery or solemn goodbyes this weekend– just a great big farewell party.
Driving into Ullapool, the tent and the arena set up on the pier looked mighty impressive. You really couldn’t think of a more scenic festival backdrop. The festival capacity decreased to 1,500 for the new site and so although lacking in numbers compared to previous years, definitely not lacking in spirit. The pier actually makes for a great arena, with enough space for the main stage and a smaller open air stage allowing for the traditional changeover act, the Arts tent run by An Talla Solais as well as the bar and special Prosecco and Hendricks Gin tents (definitely welcome additions). The Literally Literal events were hosted in the nearby ferry terminal and food vendors lined up along the pier. No complaints about the lay out here!
As has been the way for the last 13 years, the Ullapool Pipe Band ceremoniously opened the arena, seemingly for the last time and Neon Waltz had the pleasure of being the first act to take to the main stage. Rhythmnreel were there to keep people jiggling between acts with a mixture of lively sets and fun covers. As afternoon turned to evening, Bombskare were the first act of the weekend to draw a big crowd into the tent. Having played the festival multiple times, the Loopallu crowd knows what to expect with the Ska sensations. Voted Best Part Time Band in 2016 – there is never a dull moment with Bombskare and they took all of their well-known exuberance and madness to the stage. The 9 piece self-titled ‘sorcerers of skank’ did not disappoint their Loopallu loyals.
Neo-Trad band Tide Lines are fairly new on my radar, having seen the name of several line ups throughout the summer but they have clearly already established a steady fan base among Loopallu go-ers. Their debut album was released at the beginning of the summer and they will continue to tour their new, fresh material all the way into December. Tide Lines are definitely a band for fans of the likes of Skerryvore or Skipinnish – with several former Skippinish members making up the band. Their music has ties to the traditional music of the Western Isles however mingled with big pop and electric beats, which gives it a big fresh sound that went down a storm with their crowd.
The Pigeon Detectives took to the stage in a flurry of indie-rock energy and attitude. The band are currently touring throughout the UK to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of their platinum selling debut album Wait For Me. Meaning that it was also 10 years since the band last played in Ullapool. They spoke fondly of playing in the village hall, the beautiful scenery and the ‘banging fish and chips’. Matt Bowman stole the show with his front-man antics. I was a big fan on the Pigeon Detectives in my early teens but I guess I’ve maybe turned into a big boring adult because the whole time he was swinging his microphone on a long lead and spraying multiple water bottles around the stage, I couldn’t help worrying about the health and safety issues. Electricity and puddles of water aside, the band gave their all playing through their catalogue of big indie hits such as Take Her Back and This Is An Emergency.
The headliners for Friday night were also celebrating a big 10 year anniversary. Scottish Indie Rockers The View have also embarked on a UK wide tour to mark 10 years since their chart-topping debut Hats Off to the Buskers was released. So truly a night of celebration for Loopallu’s last big hurrah. The View played through their platinum selling debut in order, meaning that their hugely popular 2007 single Same Jeans was third on the bill and expectedly sent the tent into frenzy. It might be 10 years old now but it still seems clear why the album left it’s mark on the Scottish music scene and also took the band to international success at the time and the crowd were on a high before heading off to enjoy the various hugely popular fringe events in the local pubs, including Little Mammoths in the Argyll Hotel and Vic Galloway in The Ceilidh Place.
Day two of Loopallu (The final final day!) started off with beautiful weather. The arena was still a wee bit quiet as the first acts took to the stage. Most likely recovering from the festivities that went on into the wee hours the night before. Despite a late night the evening before, Little Mammoths were the first band onto the main stage and were in fighting form. They tried to liven things up a little by sharing round their bottle of Famous Grouse with the crowd, it didn’t go down too well with security but the thought was there! Changeover entertainment came from Ruiraidh Maclean and Davy and the Hosebeast and went down a treat.
The second act of the day were the relatively new The Howl & The Hum who were embarking on their first ever tour, with Loopallu being their third date. As I’ve said time and again, Loopallu has always been a great event for bringing forth new and exciting acts and I would say this band were my highlight in that respect. Despite only being three days into their first tour, I felt that there sound and presence was well moulded and formed beyond their years.
I could list countless influences that I heard in their songwriting, from Leonard Cohen to acts such as Alt J but having such prominent and wide spread influences doesn’t take away from the music that they are creating here. Front man Sam Griffiths has an incredible voice and they have paired delicate songwriting with big melancholic instrumentals for something really quite special and I’d definitely be looking out for them over the coming years.
Callum Beattie is another young songwriter coming to the fore. His recent appearance on the Quay Sessions with Roddy Hart definitely showcased his abilities as a fine vocalist and musician. (It’s still available to listen to if you wanted to hear a bit more from him.) Callum said that he does try to draw on his own personal experience where can and this really comes across, his songs are full of personality and charm and he comes across as confident and genuine on stage. He will be releasing his debut album in March next year.
Back in 2014 when I last visited the festival, I reviewed a band that I’d never heard before. At the time, they left a good impression as a folk rock band and at one point I drew what felt like an inevitable comparison to Mumford and Sons. Now back for the Loopallu finale, Hunter and the Bear are a fully formed, unignorable presence who have rid themselves of anything remotely Mumfordy. The folk rock band have gone..well, rock band. And I would say by all accounts this was a great move and they had one of the most receptive crowds of the weekend.
The band released their debut album in May of this year. The album, Paper Heart, went to no.7 in the global rock charts and the band have been blown away by the support they’ve had and appear to have really found their stride as a result. Their set was tight and slick and resulted in a bold sound that utterly filled the bouncing tent. The band were really grateful to both the Ullapool community for the continuous support and to Robert Hicks for giving them that first chance to play on a main stage when they were finding their feet.
I’ve always thought of Saturday’s headline act Glasvegas as being a bit of a Marmite affair, lying in the less enthusiastic camp myself. I find the vocals for Glasvegas really wearying after perhaps one or two songs (and one of those has to be Geraldine, so I’m definitely not a true fan) so I thought they were an odd choice to headline this special occasion however I cannot deny there was definite buzz in the tent as their set went on and there were definitely some of those true Glasvegas fans who will always hold them on the Scottish indie pinnacle present in the centre of the crowd. They did prove to be a popular finale, playing some of their well-recognised anthems such as Euphoria, Take My Hand.
In true Loopallu tradition, The Vatersay Boys who have played at every festival were there to give it their all and carry on the party in full swing right until the end. But not before Loopallu’s main man Robert Hicks got up to say a few words about the end of this special era. It was a moving goodbye to an event that has been at the heart of Ullapool for thirteen great years. But what was that? Did anyone else catch that?
“See you next year!” …Watch this space!
WHAT HAVE YOU MISSED? We have a pile of coverage from Loopallu 2017 (and previous years).