Issue 7 12/97
The most expensive booking and best organised thing at Aberfeldy's Heart of Scotland festival must have been the booking of what might have been the best weather Scotland's weekends have seen this summer. The sun and warmth at this beautiful September weekend made one of the loveliest places of Scotland shine in its full beauty.
The great thing about folk festivals like this is that the visitor might be introduced by the festival to some beautiful and often passed-by area. It has been my first time in Aberfeldy, and I fell in love with the place: The beautiful River Tay, the spectacular waterfalls of the Birks of Aberfeldy (known to have been an inspiring place for Robert Burns), the hill views of the Tay valley, the sunset at Loch Tay - a place, but also a festival, to come back!
The festival itself, being the first folk festival in Aberfeldy since some 20 years, had some trouble to build up a reputation for this first year - it was also said that the local and national advertising was a bit poor, resulting in by far too few visitors for this weekend of some of the best of Scottish folk music. Anyway, those who have been there have enjoyed themselves, as the programme was full of musical quality and fun!
The Friday night's concert was very quiet, with maybe 60 visitors having come to see a star line-up headlined by the legendary Ossian. Ossian were supported by the Welsh band Hafren, and the amazing, absolutely stunning guitarist Colin Reid from Belfast. Ossian's gig was hugely enjoyable, they have proved once again that they still have the magic in their music Ossian has always had - still one of the best bands to be found in Scotland. Sad though, that the audience was so small, and the venue in Aberfeldy's academy had no bar - just a machine with soft drinks! Come on, organisers, it's a folk festival you are running...
The ceilidh at the Moness Country Club with the reputed Bella MacNab Ceilidh Band suffered also from the low turn-out - there were just enough dancers for two couples of an Eightsome Reel making this event - em well - very exclusive you might call it...
Saturday's daytime programme was packed with a huge range of workshops for any instrument you might think of; unfortunatley these workshops had problems to find enough interested participants - the superb weather was one of the reasons that nobody wanted to take part at the quality workshops.
One of the main workshop features was the Fiddler's Feast, with fiddle workshops of several of the most established Scottish fiddlers, taking place at the scenic Castle Menzies, two miles from Aberfeldy. I took the beautiful walk to the castle to see the workshop of Ian Powrie, an old farmer from Perthshire, who at some point in his life emigrated to Australia, had run there a garage and even an airline; today he has returned to Scotland to become again farmer - quite an impressive personality. This and the other fiddle workshops seemed to be very good; the atmosphere in the hall of Castle Menzies was special.
In the evening, the festival visitor had to decide between two concerts and one ceilidh. I went to the concert in the Moness Country Club, that offered as the two highlights of the evening Tabache and Michael Marra. Tabache is the brilliant duo of flautist, fiddler and beautiful singer Claire Mann and fiddler Aidan O'Rourke joined by guitarist Ross Martin - some great music and craic. Michael Marra was in good shape as well, doing his very own style of Scottish blues, folk, songwriting and last not least comedy.
Afterwards, there was still time left to have a look into the Ceilidh and join the last dance, an Orcadian Strip the Willow. The craic was great, and it seemed that those who had chosen the ceilidh, had a good choice as well.
The Sunday was the best day of the festival - and also the warmest and sunniest, even allowing to wear shorts! I got up early to catch the workshop of the Hungarian trio Makvirag. They played a number of tunes and songs at the workshop, and explained and introduced their Eastern European instruments to us. It was sad to hear that this might have been Makvirag's last tour; this extraordinary band have decided to retire after some decades on the road.
Another enjoyable workshop was the Gaelic Singing Workshop with Gaelic singer Anne Martin from the Isle of Skye, learning from her some Gaelic songs - though most of the six participants did not know Gaelic!
There were still afternoon concerts, but now let's come to the finale concert which was maybe the most relaxed concert of the weekend. It started with a set of pipe tunes from Gordon Duncan that seemed never to stop, followed by a showcase of quite a few of the artists that have appeared during the weekend: Jim Malcolm's Rohallion, Christine Kydd, Jim Reid, Tamarack. The musical highlight of the night - maybe even of the festival - was Anne Martin & Co. Anne, the Gaelic singer with the beautiful voice, has a quite special ‚Co' band: The Ex-Battie Ian MacDonald on pipes, whistle and concertina, Runrig's Malcolm Jones, harpist Ingrid Henderson and fiddler Ian MacFarlane. The strength of this band lies in providing just a subtle accompaniment of Anne's Gaelic songs. A superb band!
The festival finished off with a Scottish Ceilidh - well not that Scottish... Abdul Tee-Jays Rökötö play actually modern West African music - quite an exotic band for the Scottish highlands. They had no problems in getting the Scottish audience up and dancing - good fun!
It's been a highly enjoyable weekend; part of its appeal were especially the friendly Aberfeldians - though the pubs all had their ‚lock-in' before the concerts ended (what a shame! it's a folk festival, I like to stress again!), these nice locals made a late night club in their comfortable living rooms possible. Thank you, Claire and Linda and all the others for your very warm welcome, what would the festival have been without you?!
The organisers have still to improve quite a few things - bars in all venues, late night clubs, better advertisement etc.; but without doubt they have the chance to make the Heart of Scotland Festival to a new major weekend festival in Scotland. If all of you out there come next year to experience great music in one of the most beautiful places of Scotland, then the craic will be even better!
It's a sunny place, by the way....
Infos for future festivals available from Kathleen Reid
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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 12/98
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