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Loopallu Day One. Friday 25th September 2015. A review.
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It would not be Loopallu without the Ullapool Pipe Band

Friday afternoon and bang on cue, The Ullapool Pipe Band fire up the drones and enact the traditional Loopallu opening by marching folk into the big tent. A traditional start to the festival that sends a clear message: if it ain’t broke . . . A few skirl skirl bops and boos later the band leave the tent, worryingly followed back out by a fair proportion of the crowd – folk just love to follow a band.

Fortunately DJ Butterscotch fired up the decks bang on time and what was for many people a first sight of the multi-coloured Spring Break inspired a pretty effective volte face by the small crowd. It didn’t stay small for long, quickly swelling to a really good sized audience for the opening act of the festival.

Spring Break have been mixing it up recently with their live shows featuring a regularly shifting rota of personnel from singers to percussion to the enchanting talent that is Doris K Kissee. Today the three primary Spring Breakers are joined on stage by local bassman Robin Abbott, suitably attired in cartoon suit with matching hat. DJ Butterscotch once again demonstrated that rapping, mixing and scratching aside he is a raconteur with a real talent for engaging an audience: the perfect foil for his companions on stage, I particularly like the personality of Spring Break.

A set that I am now familiar with though never tired of unfolds, and I am again amused by the audience’s initial ‘what is going on here’ reaction which inevitably thaws to a full on participation featuring call and response and that Tractor Tractor dance. If I have read their posts correctly, something of a hibernation for one of the hardest working bands of the year to follow and the promise of new material – watch this space.

Following on, I was pleased to set eyes again on Little Mammoths. I really enjoyed their performance at the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover event in Aviemore earlier this year. These guys play straight up no nonsense unapologetic rock n roll. It is fiesty, meaty and infectious fare that they play with a smile on their face and no little enthusiasm.

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Click image for more Khartoum Heroes

I’m not sure rock and roll needs any kind of revival per se, but these guys will shake most folk out of any pseudo indie hipster rut that might prevail at the minute: zeitgeist schmietgiest. They hit on some fine riffs and grooves and I’m pleased to say their live performance transfers nicely on to recorded media. A big contrast to the opening act perhaps, but another band with a big personality.

Now speaking of contrasts, hibernation and personalities . . . Khartoum Heroes. There is surely nothing quite like Khartoum Heroes that can compete with their genre defying ‘psychedelic folk rock’ and the sheer theatre of their stage personae. Kenny Anderson (a.k.a. King Creosote) has produced some of my most treasured CD’s and is without doubt something of a genius with a mild almost shy presence on stage. But put him in a frock and a mask and he is somewhat liberated, I was in something of a trance because I know it’s his voice and all, but it is so incongruous that it’s unsettling. Not half as unsettling as guitarist Vic Galloway’s Zorro mask and cod-piece combo though, that, caught my attention. What can I say, they look great on stage, I took some snaps so take a peek.

Anyhoo, Khartoum Heroes formed first in 1994, “four unlikely lads that summoned some kind of phoenix from the embers of two red-hot bands” as Vic Galloway writes in his very fine book “Songs in the Key of Fife”. Two very different bands that married punk, ska, indie, bluegrass and folk influences, toured the UK and Europe in a busy year during which commercial success eluded them and the popular music press ignored them. But what a blast. Too avant garde perhaps for the 1990’s, it is such a collision of influences and talent that it is still rattling along on the edge. Khartoum Heroes aren’t going away, catch them while you can, they promise to be the stuff of legends.

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(One of) the (other) Sheffield based indie pop band(s), Reverend & The Makers

To soothe the by now puzzled if well entertained crowd something altogether more mainstream, the popular and talented Reverend & the Makers. The Sheffield based indie pop outfit resisted offers to ape the Arctic Monkeys and stuck to their guns to work on their own material. Integrity intact their bank balance might have suffered but they have produced a quartet of albums that have been well received and a string of hits. I think it’s fair to say they are a typical Loopallu act. Every year Loopy pulls out an act that might have slipped off the radar who pitch up and have the crowd singing along with more songs than they thought they knew. Jon ‘The Reverend’ McClure is another cracking front man, constantly sparring with audience.

The hits are rolled out, appropriately enough ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’ is in there but my personal favourite, saving the best for last, was ‘Silence is Talking’. Noel Gallacher may well have ‘shit in his smoking jacket’ while listening to last years album release “Mirrors’, all I caught this evening was the whiff of a very happy Loopallu crowd. Guitar driven indie electro pop at it’s best.

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Kevin MacNeil & Willie Campbell

Also on site, in the Ullapool Book Festivals very fine Literally Literary tent, long time Outer Hebrides collaborators Willie Campbell and Kevin MacNeil. Willie is no stranger to Inverness audiences having made a appearances at the city’s XpoNorth (Go North) event. Novelist,poet and playwright Kevin just happens to have produced one of my favourite volumes of poetry (Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides). This evenings event featured Kevin reciting poems in Gaelic and Scots with Willie borrowing the mic to follow with guitar and song. I thought it worked wonderfully well. Anyone planning to visit the tent the following day was promised a world exclusive with Kevin reading from his soon to be released new novel. (PS – their Saturday songwriting workshop went well, rumour has it Loopallu might just have a new anthem).

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Jim Kennedy showing off his new guitar

Elsewhere the Art Tent was doing a roaring trade, the population of painted faces grew steadily. The pedal powered Wee Green Cinema was extremely popular as was the beer tent although some claimed they were only there to catch the mighty Rhythmnreel. It wouldn’t quite be the same without their own unique trad-folk-rock and pop infused sets. Jim Kennedy has managed to tame his messiah complex of previous years but he is now channeling Jimi Hendrix.

Whatever else it does, Loopallu continually succeeds in either giving folk a first taste of bands that go on to be a raging success and/or they give us quality ‘heritage’ acts that have universal appeal. It never ceases to amaze me that a festival that sells out before any acts are announced consistently comes up with the goods in the shape of headliners that are massively entertaining with a tent-full of hits to their name and, this is the weird bit, there is always a sizeable proportion of hardcore fans in the crowd. Enter The Damned.

Being a retired punk I was thrilled to get up close to a band I didn’t get to see in the flesh back in the day. There was a school of thought then that The Damned were the original and best punk outfit. The Sex Pistols had the headlines, but some thought they were playing great rock and roll in a punk style, it was The Damned however, who were truly punk in everything they did. Sigh. Of course of the original line up only Captain Sensible and David Vanian survive; Captain Sensible setting the scene before Vanian bursts on to take control of the stage and the audience.

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Click on the image for more from The Damned
On the night I wasn’t the only one thrilled to get up close to The Damned. A blue haired super-fan somehow managed to get back stage, appearing beside Vanian to ask “Are you all having a good time”. Everyone (and I mean everyone apart from maybe her boyfriend still in the audience) thought it was part of the show until Vanian said, “I have no idea who this woman is”. Exit stage right #notEloise accompanied by security.

“Eloise’ was of course given an outing to a rapturous response in the tent. I was chuffed to hear ‘Silly Kids Games’, ‘Neat Neat Neat’ and opener ‘‘Love Song’. But really, it was all good. I’d like to see them again but I’m not prepared to don the long leather coat and make-up before heading to the Whitby Goth weekend. Maybe I’ll wander down with a camera some time . . .

Yet again, Loopallu absolutely delivers a scorcher of a first day. It has been a day of choppy-changey contrasting bands with big personalities that held the crowd and delivered quality performances. Here’s to next year.

Check out our Loopallu content, you can also get confirmation of the 2016 dates and buy tickets for the event.

A notefrom the editor

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Roddy McKenzie
Roddy McKenzie
Life-long engagement with music and a truly eclectic taste (although prog-rock and metal will usually have me scrambling for the off button). If pushed, I would have to say the Velvet Underground are one of the most important band’s of all time. Although I consider myself first and foremost a photographer, as regards reviewing I guess I cut my teeth in the vibrant fanzine scene of the 80’s. Around the same time I started taking photographs and, to be brief, performance and photography were made for each other: perfect match.

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