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2005 Festival Reviews - Fèis 2005

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THURSDAY

Poet Still Astray

Today's article answers a number of questions, including: how true a portrayal of the music industry is Spinal Tap? How true to life is 'The Osbournes'? Is Van Morrison very cool indeed or what? And do you have that T-shirt in my size?

All right, so the first event of the day is the mad old piece of fun at the Legion where you have John Sinclair - Ozzy Osbourne's former keyboard player - chatting about life as it is, was and will be in the world of the music business.

Londoner John lives in the Highlands nowadays, but a forty-odd (some of them very odd) year career in the music business has seen him tour the world with bands such as Uriah Heep, the Cult and the blessed institution that is Ozzy Osbourne. John Sinclair's chat yielded some salutary lessons to music fans and music wannabes alike.

Aspiring musicians (and surrealists) take note. This guy's musical career began with his grandmother putting a very young version of him on the counter of the local Co-Op where he would regularly sing Adam Faith songs in return for a block of cheese. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. Sinclair said - I avidly assume he meant the pun - that this gave him his first taste of showbusiness. You have to love the surreal absurdity of this, no? And Sinclair loves cheese to this day, even thinks of it as some kind of hypnotic anchor.

Much of Sinclair's talk revolved around crucial issues of modern day music making technology as compared with previous methods. So much music is manufactured nowadays, John mused, and the plain fact is that the music-buying public doesn't seem to mind this, odd as that seems. (For example, people will happily vote in to a tv programme to help manufacture a pop band, and they will ultimately buy that band's records and DVDs and books describing just how manufactured a band they were. The disconcerting fact is people no longer worry about fakery in music.) I couldn't help but feel a hearty measure of pride that this fakery is not generally evident in Celtic music.

In the past, intimate and creative knowledge of one's instrument counted for so much - computers couldn't do it for you - and yet, amusingly, that human touch extended beyond musical integrity. Sinclair got the job to be Ozzy's keyboard player because a mutual friend said to Ozzy, 'I know someone who drinks as much as you do.'

Sinclair also spoke with humour and honesty about his experiences with Spinal Tap. Ozzy, for example, doesn't really see the humour in Spinal Tap the way other people do because to him it was real; that was - and to some extent is - how many big bands perceive themselves. They are often wise to the fact that what they do verges on parody; it is for fun, for fantasy. Black Sabbath actually had a Stonehenge built for them that was too small! Art imitating life imitating art...

Art is what sustains us in so many ways. One of my most anticipated events of the festival was the appearance of Blas. I am a longtime fan of each and every individual member of this supergroup, so to see them all onstage at the same time...well...

Well, at the same time as they were on stage I was in a Q. Only this Q looked more like a Y, as it forked out into different - wait, no, now it looks more like a Z. Hang on, the days when this Q looked like a Z are gone, long gone, this Q is now like a spaghetti junction. Ah, you were probably there too, so you know what I mean.

Any old how, to my great disappointment I missed part of the Blas concert, which left me genuinely distressed. What I did hear of them confirmed my suspicions that these diverse and wonderful women are not only a credit to the Outer Hebrides but a credit to Western music full stop. They are a living, breathing example of why, despite all of history's bigotries and oppressions, Gaelic culture is not only alive but blooming. They are the real thing - and how rare is that in music nowadays? In many other countries Blas would be regarded as a national treasure.

Now. Lewis being Lewis, the rumour mill had for some weeks been turning, day in day out, grinding reputations. Van Morrison won't be appearing at the HebCeltFest. Van Morrison won't be here. Van Mo- blah-di-blah-di-blah-di-blah-di-blah-yadda-yadda-yadda. Well, Van Morrison WAS here tonight, no mistaking it.

From the first you felt you were in the vicinity of a Presence, a major artistic figure. This dapper gentleman with an aura of natural cool felt no extraneous need to entice us into his music via speeches. No, I sincerely felt that this, for once, was a musician who really does let his music do the talking. Did it?

Oh yeah. Already - second song into the set - Van was providing us with a thoroughly groovy version of 'Have I Told You Lately That I love You?' This rather set the tone for the evening: a living legend both fulfilling an audience's highest hopes while simultaneously subverting them...memorably.

Van Morrison played a set that contained so many classics of his career that some fans were in danger of exploding. 'Bright Side of the Road', 'Baby Please Don't Go', 'Here Comes the Night', 'Cleaning Windows', 'Wonderful Remark' and 'Brown eyed Girl' to name but a few. Amazing!

A be-suited, be-hatted Van the Man hit the audience with classic after classic. All of the instruments were in perfect balance with each other (well done sound technicians) - and this gave Morrison's backing musicians a fine chance to prove their worth. As each one soloed, for example, on the beyond-sublime 'Moondance', you could feel your heart vibrate in sympathy with your ears. The stunning piano solo verged on perfection, a perfect dissonance, like the favourite time you had a shiver of joy or cried with laughter.

I don't care whether or not Van stayed on the island long enough to find out if he's related to the Morrisons of Ness or not. The versions of his great songs - whether performed in uptempo or jazzed out style - won over this festival audience because he played Music with a capital M. As the gig was progressing - and afterwards - you felt that this was a very special event indeed.

The glorious encore was of course 'Gloria', and this song built up so much that the audience's reaction threatened to sink the island. I've seen legendary bands perform legendary gigs, but the finale to 'Gloria' was awesome to behold.

I hesitate to suggest it, but I am certain that Van Morrison not only cracked a smile but did so with good reason.

Now, if I were Xosé Manuel Budiño I would be heading off back to Galicia armed with stories of 'si, si, that night Van Morrison supported us in Lewis...' There is no doubt that Van Morrison is a hard - near impossible - act to follow. There was immense pressure on Xose. But he managed it well.

Xosé Manuel Budiño and his band of colourful troubadours rounded off the evening with a cool balance of chilled fusion, invigorating tradition and charming (the girls tell me) seductiveness.

One of the most exciting and relevant parts of Xose's philosophy is his determination to create something new from his Galician (and outward-looking) standpoint; like many of his Scottish contemporaries he does not wish to recreate tradition (which has been done before) but to create from it something new while retaining a respect for those who went before.

Xose's set sometimes felt cinematic and atmospheric and at other times bold and energetic. His standing in Galicia is rather like Capercaillie's devout reputation here - indeed Karen Matheson has guested on his most recent album. Xose's band kept the best of their set till last and they left the stage safe in the knowledge that they had not only succeeded the great Van Morrison but done themselves and Galicia proud.

K. MacNeil

Kevin's Random Bit At the End

Quote of the day: Today's best quotation comes from John Sinclair, Ozzy Osbourne's former keyboard player and drinking buddy: "Does anybody want to be turned into a chicken? Think of the eggs."

Man of the day: Calum MacDonald - known to many locals for his dedicated, enthusiastic and insightful programmes on Isles FM - for his help with bringing today's review together. Moran taing, a Chaluim!

Lost item of the day: Again, there was a slight marble spillage. It was also reported that a number of people lost all sense of time. They couldn't, of course, tell us how long this lasted, but those affected hope to rectify it. Until the next time.

T-Shirt of the day: Those HCF10 ones are actually pretty cool. Mine fits. Does yours? No, I mean does it fit YOU?

Email of the Day: "Hey. I've just read your stuff on the HebCelt Festival website. I know it's only after one night and stuff, but I love what you're doing. It is very different and witty and a bit strange. What gives? I mean, shouldn't you be writing about - or giving more focus to - the big stuff? And are you the same guy who does the music and books?" (Name and email address withheld)
Hi. Thanks for the compliment (if indeed it is one). My remit, as I see it, is to write about my day to day experiences at this great, joyous, exemplary festival. I kind of go where the wind blows me (and there's something very Leodhasach about that - I was born and raised here), albeit that I know I'll end up at a good place. The big stuff? Maybe you're referring to the big blue tent events. I'll be there! Too right! But it also felt important to me to give credit to Teine the other night, for example, and a very fine venue outwith the island capital. These reviews and whatevers I write are very much my own opinion and I don't necessarily follow more conventional forms of journalism - mainly because I'm not a journalist! But listen, thanks for the email, thanks for taking an interest and above all enjoy the festival. PS Anyone else wishing to email me may do so via my email address, which is: Loveandzen@hotmail.com)

Anecdote of the day: Imagine being a member of the Cult, a successful band that therefore allows you an allowance for stage clothes. Imagine you get a ragged piece of notepaper and a pen and you write on the paper a 'Codpieces R Us' logo and make out a crude invoice for 1 exploding codpiece and 50 refills, totalling $1,800. Now hand that 'invoice' in to the accountant and wait and see if you get the money. You don't have to wait all that long. And you DO get the money. The rock and roll life really is like that, it seems. (John Sinclair did not appear to be wearing a codpiece when he told this story).

Food of the day: A festival roll from Mackinnon's. Available all year round despite its name, this roll really is a treat. It contains a fried egg, tattie scone, slice of cheese and fried onions. Even the thought of it sets me slobbering like Homer Simpson. Hhhmmmm...festival roll... (At this point the writer's head flips backwards, his tongue lolls out of his mouth and saliva dribbles out of his mouth and onto his computer, thereby bringing today's writings to an end).

www.KevinMacNeil.com