Hebridean Celtic Festival 2008

This year’s Hebridean Celtic Festival took place over the last weekend and a bit. There wasn’t much that grabbed our attention this year but we decided that the Red Hot Chilli Pipers were the most interesting act so we got tickets for the Thursday night show.

The other acts that night were Julie Fowlis and Four Men And A Dog. Julie Fowlis is a pretty good singer and can play a variety of instruments but her set didn’t grab me all that much. Her style is rooted in traditional gaelic but with a very modern slant, folksy with haunting vocals and lots of atmosphere but I felt that her set lacked variety. She was supported by a strong cast of musicians but it seemed that they never really got going, possibly because they were the first act of the night. I could listen to more of her music but for me it would never be as anything other than background music.

Four Men And A Dog offered more musical variety and were much more successful at setting feet tapping, hands clapping and arms waving. Their roots may be traditionally Irish but by adding elements from a wide range of other musical genres they created a more eclectic and interesting soundscape than Julie Fowlis. I’d  be more inclined to dip into their catalogue than that of Julie Fowlis but, since they don’t quite match my musical tastes, it’s not all that likely that I will – their are lots of other things on my want list with a much higher priority.

And that brings us to the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, the evening’s headline act. Although these guys are more of novelty act than anything else, they were very good. Lots of high-speed bagpipe versions of well known tunes like Smoke On The Water, Thunderstruck, We Will Rock You, Clocks, Hey Jude and others. There was also a bit of synchronised dancing and foot-work but the less said about that the better. There was some nice interplay between the guitarist and the pipers, as well as a ‘piping competition’ in which each of the three pipers got to show off in the spotlight. There was also a solo spot for the keyboard player who, unless I misheard, had been playing keyboards for Westlife recently. That potential blot on his copybook aside, he was actually very good and provided a nice break from all the frenetic bagpipe playing. All in all the Chilli Pipers were great fun to see and hear but I won’t be rushing to buy any of their albums – the pipes have never been a favourite of mine and not even the novelty of the bagrock version of Smoke On The Water is enough to keep you that interested. Even so go and see them if they’re appearing in your neighbourhood as they put on a very good show.

There were lots of other festival goings on but the only other act that we saw was The Balloonatic, a street performer who clowned around with an enormous red balloon. He was very funny but my youngest child was too afraid that the giant balloon would burst to enjoy the show fully.

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