Loopallu - Lillyput, they sort of sound the same and in some ways they are. The Loopalu festival takes up less than half a football pitch, and is one of the smallest festivals. But there are no self-esteem issues, often associated with smallness, here, as the Loop hosts some of the biggest names in the business - Paolo Nutini, Mumford & Sons, The View and Idlewild.
Taking place each year in the in the small fishing port of Ullapool, there’s just one road in so you can’t really miss it. The festival site clings to a small stretch of grassland – in what is normally a campsite – with the main stage tent pegs dipping their toes into the chilly waters of Loch Broom.
Although this is the main site, gigging happens in the bars and hotels dotted throughout Ullapool. Often, a band will finish on the main stage only to do an acoustic set in a steamy wee bar with room for just eight 8 people. Film buffs can enjoy open-air screenings on an end terrace cottage wall. But we’re not talking Cineworld Blockbusters here…more fun-filled Gaelic flicks. And this is not for the feint hearted; chances are you’ll be clinging to an umbrella, lashed by a gale and suffering from hypothermia. But it all adds to the atmos!
Tradition dictates the festival kicks off with the local junior pipe band. Pipers battled stoically against a force eight head wind as they marched though the town and into shelter of the main Tent.
Five-piece up-and-comers nu-Folk band Rachel Semanni was first on stage. They have just worked with Mumford & Sons after meeting at the Loop in 2009. Their stunning music and lyrics really fired up festival goers. Next, Silver Columns hit the decks and laid down some kicking tracks, probably a bit early for hardcore dance fans, as there was very little movement front of stage.
Carly Connor got the sympathy vote from the crowd, as she had a stinker of a cold. But “Gawd bless ‘er” she still managed to belt out her numbers. And if she sounds that good with the cold from hell, well I can’t wait for a snot-free performance. Great voice. Winning looks. Paolo Nutini's manager. That’s got to tick most of the "How to be a success" boxes.
No Scottish festival would be complete without the Varsity Boys. With two boxes (accordians), bass guitar, drums and pipes, they soon had most of the crowed doing some sort of jig or reel that guaranteed to warm you up. It was a toss-up as to who was having more fun the boys on stage or the crowd. The Varsity Boys seem to create a sound where all the instruments work in harmony == with the pipes kicking, they do not overpower the other instruments, so you just get a great traditional sound played with lots of energy, passion and huge smiles.
Into the evening and what better way to turn up the heat than to bring on Idlewild. It’s hard to believe they have been around since mid 90s as they still sound fresh and edgy as ever, and although not quite as chaotic as in their early days, they have their moments. The set started with City Hall and just got better with No Emotion, Readers and Writers and Younger than America. They make producing great music look so easy == Roddy Womble looks so relaxed these days and Rod Jones’s occasional whirling dervish routine – they’re just a pleasure to watch. Listen and learn.
If the Loop goers were buzzing enough from Idlewild, Paulo Nutini took them over the edge. When Scotland’s favourite boy came on stage they exploded. With teeth so white yio’d swear he was straight from an ad for toothpaste, he was almost drowned out by the crowd in his first number 10/10. It was just hair rising to hear everyone singing along. The atmosphere was just mental as he belted out favourites Pencil Full of Lead, Candy and New Shoes.
After a night of heavy rain and heavy partying, bleary eyed Loopalooers milled around the main arena, trying to remember the night before or trying to catch up with the present. Copper Drift soon blew all the mind fug away. It was a shame there where not more people in the crowd as they missed a winning performance from this versatile local band. With excellent vocals from Erin, the band wandered through some top rock pop outings and like a musical bacon roll restored our equilibrium and set us up for the rest of the day.
Inverness band James Mackenzie & The Aquascene were next on stage. Clearly seasoned and accomplished, they were excellent at the Belladrum festival earlier in the year and they pulled out all the stops for this anniversary appearance here, with a collection of fine folk/rock gems full of atmosphere and magic.
You can’t say Celtic music without the word Skerryvore following close behind. Blending Traditional with a large helping of Rock and Funk, these Celtic ambassadors can melt the hearts of the most hardened trad music opponents. So the huge turn out of loyal fans who immersed themselves in the music and atmosphere was no surprise.
From south Glasgow, bohemian rockers Kassidy have just emerged from months in the recording studio, blinking into the light. With long hair and beards, they look for all the world like the trapped Mexican miners who were rescued recently. Inspired by Californian bands such as Joanie Mitchell and Crosby Stills and Nash, these fine musicians/singers produce rich melodies full of sunshine and west coast vibes.
Edinburgh’s Aberfeldy were next up. Little changed since the band formed in 2003 these dedicated musicians produce an original mix of folk rock and Indy sounds. And with their fans in full voice, this was a magical moment when this intimate music festival shines.
If ever a band lived for their music and sharing it with an audience, then Mt Desolation fits the bill. Core band members are Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin from Keane. But close friends occasionally appear in the line up from the likes of Noah & The Whale, The Killers, The Long Winters, The Staves, Mumford & Sons. Some of their songs are co-written by Brendon Flowers. Their Alt-Country sound is pleasing and beguiling, with songs which simply embrace you and sweep you away. An album is just on the horizon so we can look forward to it storming up the charts.
I was not familiar Adrian Edmondson’s band The Bad Shepherds, so when they appeared on stage with a line up consisting of Fiddle, Celtic pipes and Adrian on a large mandolin I was a bit surprised! But when they opened with London Calling by The Clash I was a completely taken aback. And so it continued. The Bad Shepherds covered modern classics in a sort of Celtic stylee. Versions of Kraftworks “The Model” and Talking Heads “Days Go By” were next and by the time they had crucified classics like XTC's “Making Plans for Nigel” it was becoming a sort of musical nightmare.
However the Loop is such a small event that it was impossible to escape the sound of my all time fave being defiled. And, while I can sort of see what the Bad Shepherds where trying to do, it was more like hearing a bad joke that’s not really funny which does not improve no matter how often you tell it.
So, Janice Long could not have introduced Turin Breaks soon enough for me and with an excellent acoustic set and great songs belted out in grand style I was soon coming out of the black hole that was the Bad Shepherds.
All round good guys and psychedelic popsters, the excellent Magic Numbers rounded off the evening. In a world of over complicated stuff, Magic Numbers keep things simple == great melodies, lyrics and chorus lines you love to sing along to.
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