Row over Elton's Highland festival clash

THE organisers of an annual island music festival have been angered by what they see as "artificial" competition this year from a one-off gig by Elton John which is being staged as part of the Highland Year of Culture.

The superstar singer has been booked to play at the Caledonian Stadium in Inverness on Sunday, 15 July, in what many regard as a huge coup for the 2007 programme.

But those behind the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway from 11-14 July say the Elton John concert will take away some of its audience while doing nothing for culture in the Highlands.

The Hebridean festival, now in its 12th year, will be headlined by The Proclaimers, who will be joined on the bill by the Irish band Moving Hearts, featuring original members Davy Spillane and Donal Lunny, as well as artists from Scotland, Spain, Canada and Turkey.

Organisers say it will be a "truly cultural festival, unlike some of its one-off competition".

Caroline MacLennan, the festival director, said: "We are dedicated to bringing live music to the Outer Hebrides and developing a positive and long-term legacy for Celtic culture in the Highlands and Islands. Despite increased competition for audiences this year as a consequence of Highland 2007, we believe our line-up, combined with our continued family events and wider community-based projects, will prove popular with our audiences from around the world."

A festival source, who asked not to be named, said: "Highland 2007 is supposed to be a celebration of Highland culture. However, despite assurances that the organisation would not use taxpayers' money to set up artificial competition for existing festivals, they have done exactly that.

"As a consequence, there is not a level playing field, and millions of pounds will now go out of the Highlands this year, rather than be used to develop the region's cultural roots.

"Highland 2007 is supposed to leave a cultural legacy, but no-one will have envisaged that their legacy could see well-established festivals in the Highlands going to the wall."

Fiona Hampton, director of Highland 2007, said: "We are celebrating culture in the Highlands and its not all about traditions and heritage, important as they are - it's also about the contemporary culture. People like contemporary and pop music as much as they like traditional music.

"We wanted a headline artist that would send the message out across the UK and the world that we can put on fantastic big events in the Highlands and Islands. So when we got the opportunity to host Sir Elton John in Inverness we thought 'fantastic'.

"It was never on our radar that Sir Elton John playing the Caledonian Stadium would affect any of the existing festivals, especially something as well established as Heb Celt. We just thought they were totally different audiences and did not perceive there to be any conflict or negative impact."

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