Hunter and the Bear's Achiltibuie-born frontman Will Irvine looks back at Loopallu as Ullapool-based festival readies itself for one last big weekend
HUNTER and the Bear will be the final band to ever play Loopallu’s main stage – and there is something very appropriate about that.
The Scottish rockers have spent the last six years rising through the festival ranks, from fringe appearances at the Arch Inn back when they were just a two-piece to this year’s headline appearance.
For a festival that has nurtured and given breaks to so many promising artists over the years – Jake Bugg, Mumford and Sons, and Sam Fender have all played the festival over the years – it seems appropriate therefore that the festival is giving their final headline slot to one of those artists.
And for Hunter and the Bear frontman – and Achiltibuie boy – Will Irvine, getting the chance to close a festival that has given so much to his band is a dream come true.
“So excited, man!” he exclaimed. “We haven’t headlined before at a festival of any sort of stature. We’ve done a couple of little local-y things, but this is a big deal.
“Especially for me – Loopallu was the first festival I ever went to, when I was about nine. So yeah, to be headlining it is really, really cool and should be a really special night.”
It’s been quiet recently for the band, as they’ve been hunkering down in a Cardiff recording studio putting together their next album.
Their Loopallu gig marks the beginning of the next chapter of the band, who officially came into being in 2014.
But as Will remembers, they were gigging under the moniker before Hunter and the Bear even were Hunter and the Bear. “I kind of consider this band having been going for about four years, but before that we were cutting our chops in the Arch Inn playing covers, doing anything.
“And you know, the fact that they gave us that chance when we were starting out and said, ‘Yeah guys, come on, you can play the fringe event of the festival’.
“And then slowly we got into the proper festival and then we played the little stage, then opened the big stage, then were the support headline last year – and now we’re headlining the whole thing.”
There are some special things planned by the band to help bring Loopallu to a suitably raucous close – “I can’t really say now because that would ruin the surprise!” Will laughed when asked what those might be.
But it’s guaranteed to be a special time for Will, whose memories of Loopallu extend all the way back to its first year ¬– when bluegrass rock cover band Hayseed Dixie headlined. “It was way less swanky than it is now!
“The sound equipment wasn’t as good, the tent wasn’t as good, but it was very Highland – it felt like a Highland Games meet or something.
“And I just remember, I was about nine or 10, and I was looking up at one of the [Hayseed Dixie] guitarists. And he had a cigarette, and he would be smoking it, and when it was time for him to play he would put it in between the strings in the headstock of his guitar and just crack on playing.
“And I remember just thinking, ‘woaaaah, that guy’s a badass!’”
And as a local boy, it was one of Will’s first introductions to live music beyond traditional confines. “We had never been to anything like that, there’d been nothing around. We were used to village stuff in Achiltibuie or ceilidh and stuff like that.
“And then you had all these bands coming in – obviously it was humble beginnings, but you know just the power of music that bands from all over – those guys were American. It was nuts, it just totally blew my mind.
“And I guess, who knows, it might have had something to do with me wanting to get into doing music, because shortly after that I started playing drums and things. Obviously I’m not a drummer now. But I think the local music scene being buzzing, like it was when it first arrived, definitely contributes to inspiring people.”
So Will will be waving a farewell to the festival not just as the frontman of a band who have had so many opportunities from the festival, but also as a fan. “I remember the first time we played the main stage, maybe three years ago. I just remember looking – I could see where I was stood, I could see through the arch entrance at the back of the tent, and I could see out into the bay and the hills.
“And I remember, I just had this moment of pure elation, of just feeling, ‘That’s the view I’m so used to growing up and seeing it a million times.’ But when I was stood on that stage, it just felt, how am I able to stand here doing the thing that I love with all these people watching us?
“It was just the first time we’d got ourselves to a point it felt that we were a proper band. It was probably the first big stage we played. And just that view, that thing that I’d seen so many times, it looked so different on that day, it was just a whole new perspective on life as a musician I guess.
“It started to feel real at that point, that we were a band that people might want to come and see!”
Hunter and the Bear headline the last Loopallu Festival in Ullapool, which takes place on Friday and Saturday. For more info go to www.loopallu.co.uk