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HebCelt 2019: Showcasing heritage through music

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In July, HebCelt returns for its 24th edition, and once again, the festival is set to be a powerful reminder of the importance of Gaelic and Traditional music to Scotland.

We caught up with organisers to find out more about this year's event: what audiences can expect, and what it's like to be at the helm of a much-loved festival.

Tell us about this year’s line-up: what can audiences expect?

We have around 50 acts performing on three stages over four days in the main arena, including KT Tunstall, The Shires, Tide Lines, Newton Faulkner and Elephant Sessions.

HebCelt promotes the best traditional music, with the emphasis on Gaelic in the heartland of the language, and also showcases local and up-and-coming talent- Caroline Maclennan

There are family concerts and other gigs featuring some of our leading acts in the centre of Stornoway, as well as community events at venues in Lewis and Harris. There is also a host of fringe events and street shows which will provide something for everyone as an international audience helps double the population of our host town during festival week.

HebCelt promotes the best traditional music, with the emphasis on Gaelic in the heartland of the language, and also showcases local and up-and-coming talent.

2018 was a record breaker for HebCelt – how does it feel to programme such a popular event?

The festival is firmly rooted in the community and has so much support from local people and businesses. It is run almost entirely by volunteer effort and we know we can rely on people to help anytime and anywhere we need it. Therefore, it is a magical feeling when the event is such a success as everyone can feel part of it as they have helped make it happen.

Last year we sold out all four days and generated more than £2m for the economy. It is wonderful that HebCelt remains so popular with both local people and our visitors from elsewhere in the UK, Europe and further afield; it’s great for tourism and provides welcome benefits for local business.

Why is it important to showcase Gaelic and traditional music on this level?

The Hebrides are a stronghold not just of the Gaelic language and culture, but also traditional music. Songs and tunes are passed down through generations and we feel strongly that this important part of our heritage should be preserved and promoted to a modern-day audience.

We also have a huge amount of talent among our young people, who develop in the feis (Gaelic arts festival) movement and also playing in their own bands. Many of the artists performing at this year’s HebCelt are past or present music students at Lews Castle College in Stornoway, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands and a festival sponsor.

We are passionate about promoting and encouraging our young talent and by giving them a platform at the festival it can help develop their careers and also maintain our musical tradition

How does the festival engage with the Hebridean landscape?

The festival has a spectacular backdrop in the grounds of Lews Castle and it also stretches throughout Stornoway and into smaller communities in Lewis and Harris. Surveys have shown that 66 per cent of visitors from outside Scotland say HebCelt was the sole or main reason for travelling to Lewis and we engage strongly with local tourism bodies and transport providers to promote tourism and the many attractions across the islands.

We are also mindful of our sensitive environment and work tirelessly to reduce the festival’s environmental impact. We have banned single-use plastic, encourage re-usable cups and biodegradable plates and cutlery and promote energy saving. This year we will also have a climate change tent on site to provide advice on how to take action to protect the planet.

What’s coming up in the future?

Next year we will stage the 25th HebCelt festival. It started as a small event attracting around 1,000 mostly local people, but now it has an international attendance of 18,000 and has won a number of awards for its economic, cultural and environmental contribution to the islands.

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to stage a large event of this kind, and many other festivals have folded in recent years. But we are already planning for our milestone, 25th gathering and, with the backing of our community and supporters, we are determined to continue HebCelt for the benefit of the islands for many years to come.

Tickets for HebCelt Music Festival 2019.

HebCelt runs from 17 - 20 July 2019.For more details on the festival, and to view the full programme, please visit hebceltfest.com

Image: John Ross

This article was published on 04 Jul 2019