This is our second visit to Howlin’ Fling (following 2014’s edition) and this time the event is advertised as a stripped down affair of two days, well Friday evening and all day Saturday.
Life of Eigg however, has to be experienced first hand and once onshore, Eigg time begins. We arrived Friday afternoon via the Shearwater ferry and left Monday morning. Howling’ fling is not just a music festival, this is an opportunity to share island life for four days with some of the most hospitable people you could find anywhere. Eat, drink and be merry. Enjoy the music and the company of 200 fellow festival goers, the artists themselves and the fine people of Eigg, that is the prevailing message of the weekend.
The Lost Map record label provides a fair share of the weekend’s bands understandably and the festival itself kicks off with the performance artists and band, Monoganon. Quite a start it is too with just a stripped down two piece version of the band, they certainly left an imprint on the mind.
A forty minute break between each band gives everyone time to eat, drink and chinwag. The ever wonderful Rozi Plain melts the audience with a sublime set and she is followed by Slow Club who mesmerise and seem a bit disengaged with each other at the same time. A pair of solo songs each, sees the other partner in the band seemingly pretty disinterested to what the other one is signing, Perhaps it’s just the night, the tunes are as great as ever, let’s hope this band can forge forward together.
Johnny Lynch aka Pictish Trail (Lost Map boss, festival organiser, compere and singer/songwriter), who sticks in a great full band set. Johnny seems to be following the John Grant route of acoustic singer/songwriter goes electronic, but it all makes for a bouncy set.
The evening goes on till around 4am on Saturday morning, but this correspondent heads tent bound, down the lane and across the stepping stones on the river for a night’s kip. Night’s are short on Eigg this time of the year, it is still light approaching 11pm so you could be up at 5am and find yourself chatting with the locals and late night revellers. Saturday morning passes with bacon and egg butties from the ever wonderful harbour-side kiosk and a walk around some of the island.
Ed Dowie, a composer who has been making music since the late 1990’s kicks off today’s music with a sweet atmospheric set. I think James Blake must have listened to this guy. Victoria Hume from Jo’berg is heavenly, songs and a voice that again melts the heart. Life Model a Glaswegian garage band really ramp up proceedings with the most rocking set of the festival so far, a band to most certainly keep a eye on.
The quality of bands and artists is first class and most importantly they seem genuinely delighted and humble to have been asked to play on Eigg. Gwenno (Saunders) has totally reinvented herself from her Pipette role as a champion of Welsh Music. Her album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ was Mercury nominated and her set comes from that excellent record. An enthralling performance.
There are moments in your experience of live music that are nearly impossible to re-tell. You've got to be in the moment and all that drivel. But what the hell, let's try to explain a dozen pop star cross-dressing nuns on this wee island of Eigg. Howlin' Fling 2016 gave us a new kind of supergroup. Forget Blind Faith. Forget The Band. Forget the Wilbury's or all that you ever saw or imagined.
Yet Blind Faith is an apt reference point - many of us couldn't find our way home. Billed as 'Look Who's Mappin' Too', you might get a flavour if, to the words of a familiar Sgt Pepper track, you sing along: 'Picture yourself in a hall on an island, with transgender nuns holding fender guitars ..... in short, TLC's 'Scrubs' was suitably irreverent and angelic, while Bowie's 'Let's Dance' probably had David Jones jigging in his grave. Neither song will ever be the same again.
Spirits were among us, and no doubt inside us. A brilliantly ramshackle ultra-group of musicians conspired to deliver - in full habit regalia - half a dozen 'tributes' in covers-band style. It was pure magic and drew possibly the biggest cheers of the weekend. They say pop will eat itself - this was pop peeing itself with joy and with a beaming smile on its celestial face.
Break for dinner with the ever superb ‘Where the Monkey Sleeps’ catering crew means next out on stage is ex Coral guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones and his band. Certainly the set of the weekend, almost a Neil Young and Crazy Horse vibe at times, the band is full of genuine musicians in superb form. A stunningly good set in the tiny Ceilidh Hall (where all the music is staged).
Jane Weaver another Liverpudlian plays a storming set of psych/folk around her successful ’Silver Globe’ album and is followed by the ever maturing and classy rockers, Tuff Love and the soulful danceable machine that is Glasgow’s Bossy Love.
Sunday is a day for exploring the island on bikes as the sun shines. Thanks to Libby for opening her tea shop for us! Then it’s an afternoon/evening around the campfire where those who have not caught the ferry back to the mainland just test the local craft ale and kickback. People chat, musicians pick up an instrument and perform or invoke a sing-a-long.
We are piped off the island on Monday morning with new and old friendships made and re-kindled plus, many happy memories. There truly is nothing like a Howling Fling on the island of Eigg!
Pete & Nige