A guide to the Scottish island music festivals of 2015

SCOTLAND’S festival scene is a mish-mash of mainstream musical selections that match up to their counterparts down south (such as the summer stalwart T in the Park) and the inner-city offerings that spread themselves across various city venues (like Edinburgh’s burgeoning Jazz Festival).
Picture: Tiree Music FestivalPicture: Tiree Music Festival
Picture: Tiree Music Festival

But across from the mainland and up to the islands, there are a number of interesting and quirky music festival offerings that combine the region’s folksy musical heritage with stunning landscapes and locals passionate about homegrown talent.

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Alcohol and music fuse in May & June, for the Isle of Islay’s Fèis Ìle (22-30 May) and the Arran Malt & Music Festival (26-28 June). The plethora of Islay’s whisky distilleries will be holding open doors sessions throughout the Fèis Ìle musical celebrations, whereas Arran Distillery will be hosting folk music sessions within its walls, alongside White Stag whisky tasting masterclasses. Gaelic folk outfit Skipinish will be in attendance at both, to lead the merry attendees in ceilidh dancing.

Arran’s musical offerings begin earlier however, with the Arran Folk Festival (5-7 June) at the Douglas Hotel, a celebration of open sessions with all musicians welcome and fiddlers concerts going on into the wee hours. June’s celebrations close on the Isle of Bute’s Port Bannnatyne Marina, with the knowingly titled Tee in the Port (27 June) offering local music with stunning water side scenery. July sees the islands come to life with three festivals offering vastly diverse line-ups. The Isle of Mull plays host to Mendelsohn on Mull (29 June-3 July), a celebration of classical and operatic music at venues across the islands, including the picturesque Glengorm and Duart castles. The classical theme continues with Islay’s Cantilena Festival (5-10 July) offering recitals of Schubert up to the challenges and flourishes of modern composers.

At the same time, the Outer Hebrides channels the traditional roots of the region with new young musicians at Ceolas Festival (5-10 July) - a celebration based around a summer music school which culminates in concerts and musical performances of traditional music around South Uist.

The Hebridean Celtic Festival (15-18 July) in Stornoway is one of the stand-out events on the

Scottish festival scene, a celebration of traditional music with always a nod to a scene burgeoning with younger artists looking to put their own spin on the celtic sounds. None sum this idea up as perfectly as headliners Salsa Celtica, a band of musicians with their roots firmly in the Scottish folk scene and an ear for the global, building latino jazz into their sound and becoming a world-renowned act in the process.

The Isle of Bute’s own festival Butefest (17-19 July) brings a touch of the spirit of Glasgow’s vibrant music scene to the Islands, via Wemyss Bay. Bands already confirmed for this three day festival include political Scots hip-hoppers Stanley Odd as well as dream-pop noises from The Lonely Together and the hard-hitting trad sounds of Treacherous Orchestra.

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One of the hidden gems of the festival scene across Scotland lies at the Tiree Music Festival (17-19 July). Picking up a plethora of awards, including two for ‘best small festival’ - Tiree marries the scenic locale with celtic talent such as The Fratellis, Trail West and We Banjo 3.

The classical flourishes of the month before in August with the Mull Of Kintyre Music Festival (19-23 August). Dundee’s own The View will be joining the four day line-up, bringing some of the most reconiseable headliner sounds to any of the islands summer celebrations at the Victoria Hall in Campbelltown.

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However, ‘mokfest’ will still be keeping itself linked to the region’s rich folk heritage with a young folk night, a ceilidh and a Sunday survivors night - set to welcome a plethora of pipers, fiddlers, guitarists, singers and more to close the curtain.

September shows the depth of variety that the Islands has to offer, with Isle of Cumbrae playing host to the Millport Country & Western Festival (4-6 September), an event that brings the music of the Wild West of America to the isles of Western Scotland, including country band performances, such as Scotland’s own Carson City, and line-dancing workshops between the Town Hall and the Crazy Horse Teepee on the ‘jewel of the clyde’.

The picturesque Inveraray Castle in Argyll also opens its doors in September, to Best of the West Festival (12-13 September) - an event with a strong focus of young talent of both Gaelic and English origins such as Peat Bog Faeries and Skerryvore as well as a fondness for the island’s biggest export, with a dedicated whisky marquee. Whilst the whole of Tarbert opens up to visitors for Tarbert Music Festival (18-20 September), a celebration of local music and fresh seafood.

The month closes with a bang at Loopallu Festival (25-26 September), where Ullapool welcomes brings a taste of the mainland’s music scene far up to the pebbly beaches of the North, with previous headline acts including Mumford and Sons, Franz Ferdinand, Shed Seven

and Jake Bugg to name a few. A highly anticipated event on Scotland’s cultural calendar.

As Orkney began the Island’s musical offerings, it’s fitting that the festivities close in October in a haze of blues at Orkney Blues Festival (18 September-20 October). The month-long event has previously welcomed a wide-range of blues players, from the international line-up of The Fastliners with band members coming together from locations stretching as far as Texas and Canada and as near to home as Orkney itself alongside Irish jam-session master Paddy Maguire. With this being the festival’s 10th anniversary year, there is bound to be a full-hearted celebration for this decade landmark, with blues notes being heard wailing long into the night from The Ferry Inn of Stromness.

• This article was produced in partnership with CalMac