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The North welcomes The Gathering's debut

By Margaret Chrystall

FROM the other side of Inverness, you could hear the skirl of the bagpipes floating on the breeze, calling you to new one-day festival The Gathering.

Opening at noon, the Northern Meeting Park event began with The City Of Inverness Youth Pipe Band – 14 young pipers, eight drummers and bass drummer and three adults all playing and marching with a precision and impressive note-perfect discipline as they played familiar tunes such as A Scottish Soldier and Scotland The Brave.

Young talent was a big theme of the day and it added an energy and freshness to an event that seems strangely overdue for the capital of the Highlands.

Local Fèis groups including Fèis na h-Òige, Fèis a’ Bhaile’s Fiddle Forte, Fèis Rois and Fèis Inbhir Narainn played the early part of the day at the second tent stage, Còmhla (Gaelic for together), a space it shared with a small bar and coffee bar.

Meanwhile, on the main stage, here was the evidence of what could come of all those carefully-learned strathspeys and adrenalin-racing reels, the hours of practise and regular Fèis get-togethers.

Making the whole business of performing look excellent fun were The Trad Project, led by the consummately-confident Calum Jones – though the whole band smiled and powered their music on with the funky beats of bassist Shannon Marley, fiddlers Meghan Reid and Alastair Barron and drummer Angus Montgomery.

“Sing along, we want to hear all your voices!” Calum invited the crowd. And the energy levels were just as high when the set finished with Butterfly Effect.

Most of the main stage bands were rising young stars of the Scottish traditional and folk worlds.

Tide Lines’ combination of Celtic soul, big guitar and Robert Robertson’s haunting vocals made a fitting and emotional headlining set to close the main event.

Missing a good bit of their set because of the half-hour-and-counting delay in the second tent at the start to Peat & Diesel’s gig, fans reaching Tide Lines found them cutting to the chase in the build to the climax of the whole event by the time those of us who had waited to hear the Lewis sensations arrived.

The Dreams We Never Lost wafted across the crowd with its downbeat opening scenario – ‘My mind is heavy so I’ll pour myself a drink’ transforming into an uplifting message, optimistic about the ‘dreams we never lost’.

“Sing to me!” Robert Robertson asked the crowd, which obliged – including a little girl who knew the words, perched on the front barrier beside her dad.

“You’re a crowd of beautiful singers, Inverness,” Robert praised those singers, encouraging them to keep on going into the next number, co-written by him during his time with Skipinnish, Walking On The Waves, with its infectious “Walking these shores all my days” chorus.

“See the twilight merge to dawn” we sang, though the reality was that even on that grey Inverness evening, it was still brighter than twilight.

The encore followed, Tide Lines humbly thanking the organisers for giving the band the honour of finishing off The Gathering’s day and Far Side Of The World was a great choice.

Romantic, celebrating our own Highland and West Coast world, it was also the first song that Tide Lines ever released, taking us back to the start of their musical journey.

Elephant Sessions’ Alasdair Taylor and Euan Smillie. Picture: Gary Anthony
Elephant Sessions’ Alasdair Taylor and Euan Smillie. Picture: Gary Anthony

Earlier there had been a hero's welcome homecoming for the neo-trad drive and soundscapes of Elephant Sessions.

Electrifying a crowd is one of their special skills, fiddler Euan Smillie and Alasdair Taylor perfecting a two-pronged attack of sinuous melodies in tracks such as new single Colours.

Nice little plug for new album What Makes You from Alasdair before I Used To Be A Nice Boy with its killer bassline – close relation of Another One Bites The Dust, possibly – from album All We Have Is Now, then a linger there for Tingles. And there was no let up as the set raced to a finish with a two-minute warning from Alasdair.

“We’ve got two minutes left! Come on! Come on!” he coached the crowd, as the set reached the finish line.

And all credit to the party-making oomph of Torridon, which had added another gear to the crowd’s warm-up before Hò-rò.

Jump A Little Higher saw singer Michael John Macmillan cheerlead the crowd “It’s time to get crazy, don’t be lazy”.

The Vatersay Boys add bagpiping power to play Cock O' The North.Picture: Gary Anthony
The Vatersay Boys add bagpiping power to play Cock O' The North.Picture: Gary Anthony

More mature favourites The Vatersay Boys just got everyone in the mood for a ceilidh, popular favourites starting off their stint on the main stage, the first set of tunes dissolving into a singalong of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. And the village hall feel of their music continuing as “a Boston Two-Step” was announced and three-bagpipe power was added to the line-up.

An appeal for The Eilidh MacLeod Memorial Trust was made by Iagan MacNeil in a break between Vatersay Boys’ tunes.

The young girl with her Vatersay family background – who died in the Manchester Arena bombing – was remembered and supported by many of those there, asked to give their spare change as they left the Northern Meeting Park at the end of the night.

Organisers revealed earlier this week that over £5,000 has been raised to fund music education for young people to remember Eilidh’s own love for music.

“Young people will be up on these stages entertaining people,” said the Trust’s Iagan.

Siobhan Miller. Picture: Gary Anthony
Siobhan Miller. Picture: Gary Anthony

Siobhan Miller’s stunning vocals embraced genres, giving us the trad folk of The Banks Of Newfoundland from second album Strata then moving on to the more contemporary feel of latest album Mercury’s Western Edge, inspired by a poem about Iona, Siobhan told us.

Listening to Hò-rò, it was easy to understand comparisons that have been made with early Capercaillie and it was a revelation to watch them dance up a crowd.

But it was Lewis’s Peat & Diesel – whose popularity has exploded with their quirky humour and celebration of the Western Isles – who packed out the second stage with all ages just after the adrenalin-pumping TradBeats, though young kids were already having their pictures taken with Peat & Diesel at the side of the stage as the crowd already began to gather while TradBeats finished up their tunes.

TradBeats combined the rhythms of step dancing from Sophie Stephenson with Bigg Taj’s awesomely orchestral range of beat boxing sounds plus Gaelic puirt a beul and a waulking song – even encouraging us to try body percussion, playing beats off ourselves.

Peat & Diesel packed out the tent stage.
Peat & Diesel packed out the tent stage.

But the audience – with all ages standing shoulder to shoulder – were already nose to nose with Peat & Diesel at the front of the stage when the trio started setting up their equipment.

By their start time 8.30pm, the place and the area outside was packed, and the delay began. A quick confab between security staff and one of the event organisers saw the decision to delay the start by half an hour – those around me presumed in the hope that people would leave for Tide Lines start, also at 9pm. But it didn’t happen. Instead the already jammed-in crowd waited patiently, and finally around 9.14pm, the announcement was made that the gig would go ahead but we had to take two steps back – then another two – to make sure young children down the front would be safe.

Peat & Diesel played five songs – including Loch Maree Islands, instantly a giant singalong, then four more tracks from their Uptown Fank album – Country Boy, Stornoway, Say You Love Me and Heorna Mhor, beefy rock with the muscular tones of Boydie and the sweet waft of Innes’s accordion. But we never got as far as viral hit Salt & Pepper or Western Isles, songs that once heard might have satisfied some of the crowd into moving on.

Or would it? That crowd were there to worship their heroes and it appeared nothing was shifting them.

But in Heorna Mhor, something worrying going on towards the back of the crowd caught the eye of the security staff onstage, a word was whispered into drummer Uilly’s ear and the band was told to stop instantly.

“We have to call it quits,” accordionist Innes Scott told the crowd. Singer and guitarist Boydie added: “But we will see you in the Ironworks at midnight!”

So at least the whole episode made a wonderful advert for their set coming at the late night festival club gig at the Ironworks which was apparently packed out once the outdoor entertainment ended.

Main stage next year for Peat & Diesel?

Singer Kim Carnie. Picture: Gary Anthony
Singer Kim Carnie. Picture: Gary Anthony

With 40th and 50th birthday balloons down the front and a hen party – which had kept making Kim Carnie giggle in her winning set on the tent stage where Given To Me and song San Cristobel (I think!) were instant favourites – it occurred to you that it would be easy to see The Gathering become an occasion to make memories of big life moments –The Gathering their soundtrack and backdrop.

Though long queues for the bars and around an hour wait for some of the food stalls at teatime was a downside of the event, tweaks have been promised for next year and a few more picnic tables for what is a long day would maybe be nice for Gathering 2020 – it was impossible to fault the music line-up.

When you asked people for their critique of the day, all were complimentary and enthusiastic about the acts chosen.

It was the vital core ingredient to get right in this first year, for what is potentially an event with a great future, celebrating the Highlands and the north.

ALSO on www.whatson-north.co.uk: read more about tweaks for next year and comments from The Gathering's promoter

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