FolkWorld Live Review 10/99:

The 8th Isle of Bute International Folk Festival

An atmospheric festival on a bute-iful island

By Michael & Christian Moll

Isle of Bute; photo by ?? The Isle of Bute Folk Festival is special in many senses. Firstly it takes place on an island, giving the festival a unique atmosphere, and resulting in the fact that most people will stay for the whole festival. Secondly this island offers superb views over the sea to quiet and peaceful hills on the other side of the water, and the island itself has a mediterrean flair (at least as long as the sun is shining). Thirdly, the range of different events and different venues has a huge appeal on the festival atmosphere. And additionally, it is a real family festival, this year being made even stronger by the first version of the Children's Festival.

This year, we have been at the Isle of Bute Festival for our fifth time. It is mainly the friendly atmosphere that draws us back every year; it is just the kind of festival where you make every year plenty of new friends, while meeting also plenty of old friends. It is a festival firstly for the atmosphere, and only secondly for the music. Kyles of Bute; photo by The Mollis

This year, we approached the festival island for the first time from the North, from Argyle. Coming over from Stonehaven Folk Festival (which was the weekend before), it was a fascinating approach, seeing the island from the distance in its full beauty. Directly on the ferry, we met the first known face, a local musician playing with the Bute band "The Cochranes"...

This year was the second Bute festival without late Danny Kyle, the "father" of this festival, and it was a proof that it is still going strong! And Danny himself took also part once again...

Starting on Friday night with a Ceilidh night, it was once again a weekend full of fun, friends, great atmosphere and music. The weather marked the start of the summer, with some nice sunshine developing during the weekend (especially for the beach party on Monday - although we missed that one).

Saturday afternoon you had to make the difficult choice: Dance till you drop at the World Ceilidh Band Championships (a prestigious event, where a jury chooses the best Ceilidh band of the year) or join the two afternoon concerts in the beautiful old rooms of the medieval castle. We chose the castle concerts, starting with a Songwriters Masterclass with insights to the songs of Ben Sands (from Northern Irland), Frank Robb, Iain Ingram and David Nicol, and moving on with a concert featuring once again Ben Sands, then the Itchy Fingers and finally the beautiful sounds of Lyre Celtica, a new band with harpist/singer Maggie Macinnes, percussionist Steve Lawrence and Sean O'Rourke on whistle, flute and sax.

Mac Umba in Bute; photo by The Mollis The Saturday evening main concert was not too well visited. Featuring the Scottish roots pop band The Silencers and blues-pop-folk singer Rab Noakes, it was a concert on the edge of folk music, and possibly this did not attract the "real" folk audience. And in the end, without doubt the pub session were going strong - a good alternative to the concert...

Later, at 10.30, you had a big choice of events - the Blues Palace, the famous Bute Birl happening in diverse pubs with festival artists doing the round through all the pubs, and finally a concert with Macumba and Pat Kilbride. We went to see Macumba, and were impressed by their concert in the noble surroundings of the bar room of the Royal Hotel (quite strange - the hotel has closed down, but in its ruin you find this noble club room). Featuring three pipers and four drummers and percussionists, Macumba is a loud affair with much party atmosphere. Their music blends Scottish highland pipe traditions with Brazilean samba percussion - great stuff. And when at 12 somebody came to the stage to tell Macumba they had to stop, the band only said "This guy told us we have to stop", and played on...

A short summary of Sunday sees some workshops in the morning, a top class concert of Ivan Drever and Duncan Chisholm in the castle, and some strolling along through the town of Rothesay - not to forget the Australian - Canadian-Scottish - German chat in a pub. The programme had a bit of a lack this Sunday afternoon, as in the early afternoon there were no official events, and then at 4 p.m. both Danny Kyle's Open Stage and the concert of Ivan & Duncan took place...
But unofficially, Mac Umba played in the early afternoon a set on the square. All looked a bit tired behind their sun glasses, but the audience loved them again.

Danny Kyle & The Peatbog Fairies; photo by The Mollis Sunday evening had the top concert of the whole festival, featuring three of Scotland's very best bands. Ceolbeg had one of their seldom appearances, followed up by the Tannahill Weavers. For the end of this night, it became once again a bit more modern, with the Peatbog Fairies and their blend of modern music with Scottish traditions. For us, it was a great end of the night, the right thing to dance the night away. Even Danny Kyle joined the Peatbogs for a few tunes on stage...

For us, this was the finale of the festival, having to leave on Monday. For those who still had the time, Monday offered a Danny Kyle Singalong in the Islander - an atmospheric pub run by Danny's former partner Gerry Chambers, then a Beach Party and finally the famous Barn Dance which is always best fun.

To add a few things: The Children's Festival is said to have been a success as well, offering workshops, ceilidhs, concerts and fun for the wee guests of the festival. The campsite was this year again a great experience without too much noise and chaos...

The Bute Festival 99 was once again a great festival. Heaven must be like having Bute every day...

Bute always takes place at a weekend in mid July. A journey to Bute can be well conneted with a visiti to the Stonehaven Folk Festival the weekend before...
Further infos available from
festival organiser Peter Morrison or at the Isle of Bute Homepage

Photo Credit:
(1) Palms on the Isle of Bute, Photograph unknown, from the Archives of Danny Kyle
(2) The Kyles of Bute; photo be The Mollis
(3) Mac Umba in Bute, photo by The Mollis
(4) The Peatbog Fairies with Danny Kyle, Bute 1999, photo by The Mollis

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 10/99

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