Now that the glitter has settled on Lost Map’s Howlin’ Fling!, hosted by Pictish Trail on the remote Isle of Eigg, one of the small isles of the Inner Hebrides, I’ve written a personal account of one of Scotland’s best kept secrets.
As we were eagerly waiting on the ferry arriving in Arisaig, we were welcomed by some fellow Flingers, who were Flinger spotting and had us down as two on our way to Eigg for a wonderful weekend of music and marvels. It so transpired that we had further things in common aside from anticipation for the weekend ahead. We were one of the first to arrive after a fairly wet but enjoyable ferry journey that involved seeing familiar faces and becoming acquainted with new ones as we were to embark on a stamina-building test together.
Welcomed warmly onto the island by Lost Map king and island dweller Johnny Lynch (known to many as Pictish Trail), it was a beautiful moment to have that fleeting reminder of what it was to be back on this island, having been here several years ago. Johnny himself reflects, “That feeling when the final boat of audience members arrives on Eigg, for Howlin’ Fling!, that’s a special feeling. When everyone is there, bands, volunteers, pals, family and audience members, it’s an exciting moment.” So it appears that it is not only I that feels that magic, and it’s not only the first ferry trip that carries it.
Thursday night’s plan was simple – or so we thought. Getting the tent up and pitched beside the other campers in the main campsite took longer than expected, even after a new tent pre-Fling test. To add to the pressure of building the tent, we noted the drones and cameras behind us, filming every decision we made when erecting our abode for the next four nights. My camping partner then decided to get out his inflatable lounger (pretty much a windsock sofa) which came in that conspicuous colour of neon green, and I must admit that as we were sat up beyond the site, this ridiculous notion of the two of us sat on this bright, beaming burst of colour, I could not help but giggle, our cares left back on the mainland.
Friday morning was wet, as we had anticipated, with the rain keeping me awake for the crux of the night. A coffee and breakfast over at the hub of chatter and hearsay in the tearoom seemed the best plan, and there we bumped into folks off the most recent ferry, including Francois, Amaury and other members of the Atlas Mountains and Archipel. A catch up on their trip over, a black pudding roll, and java, we were all set for the day ahead, which in Fling terms did not kick off until 6pm. A wander into the wilderness was only next on the agenda, which was lush. Vivid green tones are contiguous to us whilst on this isle.
After a spot of food, and banter with the caterers, Bruadair, we began to engage with the music from outside the Ceilidh Hall, nobs and buttons being pushed and twisted to create some secret sounds, as Devonanon to Monoganon (Richard Greenan of Kit Records and John B McKenna) were on the bill to play. KT Tunstall was next, performing her poptastic songs such as the career-propelling Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, and a cover of Erasure’s Respect alongside Pictish Trail, as well as a weird performance of Seven Nation Army incorporating the festival favourite, “Oh Jeremy Corbyn,” unpredictable for this independent island off the West coast of Scotland. When asked about how she would describe Howlin’ Fling! to her friends back in California she boldly responded, “like Hobbits organised a festival in a Magic Forest on an island off the coast of Hobbiton with a bunch of experiment of folk artists, massive dance music icons, and some power pop thrown in.”
Her set was followed by percussion-heavy French gods Francois and the Atlas Mountains with electro-tracks such as Piscine included in their blinding repertoire and a crowd-surfing, backward guitar playing moment from newest member David Nzeyimana. Amaury Ranger, who plays both with Francois and the Atlas Mountains and Archipel, made us appreciate what we were witnessing here: “gigs happening in locations like Eigg are always the best moments in a musician’s life because this is more than just going to a gig. There is a whole story and a real trip to do to make it possible.”
Serafina Steer’s most recent band in the shape of Bas Jan then took to the ceilidh hall for a discordant all-girl set, and Jon Hopkins DJed the night away before Archipel, who’s line-up included members of the Atlas Mountains, concluded an evening of eclectic talent.
We eased our way from the tent into another crowd-pleasing, booze-flowing day, via the dulcet chords of Bart Owl and the mildly soothing folk of eagleowl. “I love the idea of cutting ties with the mainland and ignoring the real world for a weekend,” was Owl’s response about Howlin’ Fling!, after their soothing Saturday set, which included a rendition of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow whilst the rain was beating down outside the marquee. Seamus Fogarty’s set, with Emma Smith on bass and violin and Aram Zarakian on drums, lived up to the acclaim of an artist with a recent Domino-signing and expected record release on the horizon. Withered Hand, back on the line-up after playing the first festival on Eigg, warmed the crowd up yet again with the popular Religious Songs, and dazzling Heart Heart. After playing here twice I asked Dan to describe Howlin’ Fling!; “wet, wild and sublime” was his response, and he was by no means wrong. Pictish Trail succeeded Kid Canaveral’s kick back into revelry, with an energetic set including After Life, Who’s Coming In and Dead Connections, adorned in glittery giddiness. Producer, wizard, James Holden, finished the evening for me with a glowing psychedelic rave, reflecting the beauty yet the endurance test this weekend had in store.
After a fearsome trek back to the tent, which saw much water wading and drenched clothing, we attempted to rest once more before the “sublime” end to this biennial festival. The Sunday was a formidable attack on the senses, as we witnessed a debauched Neil Pennycook from Meursault demolish his guitar whilst the band intensely executed the work of I Will Kill Again. Pennycook, vocalist, when asked about the Fling mentioned, “I just make my own way to the island and stand at the back of the ceilidh hall, patiently waiting for the rest of the acts to finish before walking onto the stage and screaming I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside until everyone, eventually, goes home.” Formidable is this man’s forte.
This was all before taking to Laig Bay in a trailer, where a camp fire was built from the pallets that were used to build the weekend’s marquee stage. Blissfully keeping warm, as the sun set over the peaks of Rum, there was much carousing and midgie-deterring to see us to the end of this well-anticipated, unique festival.
2017 might have been a drenched affair but that was not going to dampen the spirits of these festival-goers, as there was plenty of warmth to be found at the heart of this festival. Johnny Lynch hinted that this festival is indeed very close to his own heart, “being able to put on an event with my pals on the island, and my pals on the label, it’s the perfect collision of everything that’s important in my life. It’s pretty much the reason I make music.”
And this affection from Howlin’ Fling!’s host and organiser is inherent to all aspects of the festival, as we consider how to go about getting tickets for the next. The sentiments of the artists are true: a trip, a story, cutting ties from the main land, a romantic ideal, as we take a trip to the seaside, sublime and wild, the passion and warmth of the people and the land will bring these punters back time after time, and render this festival somewhat poles apart from most that can be experienced on the mainland.
Photos are courtesy of Beth Chalmers, Eoin Carey, C. I. Campbell and Dave Greer.
For more on Lost Map’s Howlin’ Fling! and the label click here.