Due to the fact that skiing was happening only days ago, this jolly jaunt to the frozen north took on a somewhat frostbitten slant from the start. Barely out of Glasgow’s city limits we came across a snow plough roaring around with bold intent. The immediate presence of tumbling flakes roughly the size of the miserable-looking sheep in the fields made the point: negotiating feral goats, marauding roadside red deer in search of culture was on the menu for Skye Live 2016.
Still, with a rather spectacular line-up and similarly special location, we set off with abandon; reckless abandon perhaps, but with the extra promise of gin distilled nearby on Harris and some optimistically packed Pimms to take the pain away. What can go wrong?
Held in the little town of Portree on the coast of the island, the festival set up was pretty straightforward: a couple of big marquees, bars and food emporiums, pre-party the night before and raucous after-parties in-between an impressive musical mayhem. Throw in some ridiculously beautiful and mountainous scenery looming down upon the frolicking attendees and you have the makings of something pretty special.
Day one always brings a heady mix of anticipation and nervousness. As luck would have it, nerves swiftly exited the scenario and things were pretty much on point from the get-go. Whether you attend festivals strictly for the music, for the people you meet or a bit of both, the Skye weekender doesn’t disappoint. Jackmaster delivered a thumping and joyfully aggressive set in the dance tent, dropping piano screamer Edward’s World’ to delirium as the sun went down on Friday night.
Earlier in the day there was a skewing towards more traditional Scottish music in the band tent. Whilst we were buzzed by a deeply curious drone, Skipinnish went at it with pipers ahoy. It was a crowd-pleasing spectacle but the highlight by far was Niteworks. Sure, they had a bagpiper but they just dug the sound. Crucially, he wasn’t in a kilt and harking back. It was the first time I’d seen an Apple Mac and bagpipes on the same stage thumping 4/4 beats and fiddles. It shouldn’t work but it did. Prins Thomas produced a Space Disco Ceilidh. The crowd loved it and it was clear this was the treatment traditional music needed to move away from being mere a tourist attraction. “Here we go, here we go, here we-fucking-go,” was the bawdy refrain. Old instruments and new ideas is a fertile zone indeed.
There was a happy vibe about the whole shebang: everyone running around with glee. A great set from Harri and Dom: 4pm may have been a little early for the doyens of the rightly celebrated Sub Club but there was plenty of excitable folk going at it in mid afternoon. After a slightly muted couple of hours from Âme and the excellent Simian chap, we hopped off into the night fortified with Inniskillen beer; a happy but rueful skip from the dropping of Prince as a final track. Regrettably, the curfew kicked in during that touching tribute and things were brought to an abrupt halt half-way through. Still, it brought warm feelings and foments in anticipation for the rest of the weekend.
The following day C Duncan brought his sunny vibes to the west coast of Scotland. Pastoral and bucolic in a way that seemed slightly out of step with today’s musical landscape, his music sounded all the better for it. Like Niteworks and King Creosote, it worked with seductive and seemingly carefree ease. Whilst Droney McDroneface returned to happily whizz around us, the band led by Kenny Anderson were a perfect example of a great festival act; simultaneously accessible but credible, they attracted a big and varied crowd. Whether you were familiar with their oeuvre or not, the string section is hard to resist.
Over by the dance tent, ‘Morel’s Grooves’ blasted out across the site to rigorous effect and Ewan Pearson played a fantastic set. Again, the scheduling felt slightly early and the space was not as packed as it should have been for an absolutely rock-solid and locked-on selection. It’s deeply impressive and pounding stuff.
It takes a lot to divert one from plates of local oysters, crab and scallops plucked from the teeming seas surrounding the island, but the boy delivered. Michelin-starred shellfish by the likes of Scott Davis from The Three Chimneys and thumping house music proved to be a superior combination.
As is the way with festivals, mania slowly takes hold as the cocktails, beer and buffoonery get a grip of the increasingly seething mass. All very good-natured, of course. Every gathering needs at least one person wandering about dressed as a tap, too. It was definitely a case of taps on rather than any unseasonal taps aff moment so beloved in Scotland.
Before the night descended into total madness a brief reconnoitre of the town itself revealed a mixture of the quaint and the contemporary. The sort of small seafood cafes you’d expect in a diminutive fishing port but also places, such as the Merchant Bar, selling all manner of artisan gins and the obligatory 8,000 different Malt Whisky. Obligingly cosy next to the monolithic slabs of rock and dark ocean surrounding us, it was a rather classy establishment.
Back on board the Skye Live train things were predictably rowdy with Capercaillie, the biggest crowd in the band arena. Whilst being exactly as you’d expect – fiddles, rousing choruses and people flinging themselves around with abandon – it was pretty infectious. Karen Matheson has a powerful voice and the increasingly spirited onlookers sang along with gusto.
That, however, is nothing compared to the closer. Following a brief flirtation with Bicep in the club barn knee-deep in straw and sweat, Public Service Broadcasting deliver an absolute ripsnorter of a set. Whether by design or recklessness they smashed through the curfew and got the jammed in frothers bouncing. It’s beautiful and touching at the same time. There’s something plaintive about being talked to by a computer: that artificiality at odds with the drooling humanity around us. Coupled with the gliding and sometimes epic melodies the effect is simultaneously gentle and thrustingly danceable. When a spaceman appeared on stage it feels entirely appropriate.
Normally one wants to experience the last moments before shut-down jammed against a speaker with 125bpms of groove being thrown at you but, with the promise of an after-party to follow, it was impossible to leave PSB. And, as it turned out, the club that opened in the sports hall next door more than took care of the rump-shaking requirements. Impressively non-concessionary, it was balls-to-the-wall techno and house. Throw in a touch of disco and events get very messy indeed. Three more hours of quality tunes and an array of extremely unusual conversations. What more do you want?
Skye Live may be a neat boutique event but it’s set on a wild island with the opportunity for some wild times. Make a long weekend of it, explore the whole place and you’ve got a very special trip indeed.
P.S. Pack your wellies, midge-repellent and sunblock. You may need some, none or all of these on the same day. Anti-feral goat spray at your own discretion.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.