Howlin’ Fling festival review – low-key folk in stunning setting

Isle of Eigg, Hebrides: This inaugural event showcased a wide range of music – from Jens Lekman to cellist Olly Coates’ Messiaen – but the island was the real star

The Guardian, Monday 21 July 2014 

Beth Orton and Sam Amidon

Slow and steady … Beth Orton and Sam Amidon. Photograph: Antonio Zazueta Olmos

Could there be a more magical setting for a music festival? The little Hebridean island of Eigg is a gem: tucked between Skye and Ardnamurchan, flanked by craggy Rùm and tiny Muck, topped by its iconic knobbly An Sgùrr. The ferry trip involves whale and dolphin spotting; and the campsite is a white sandy beach, perfect for morning swims among the seals. In recent decades, Eigg has become famous for its progressive collective land ownership (its residents bought the island in 1997), and that community spirit was evident everywhere at the festival – from locals giving punters lifts on the back of pick-ups to headline acts taking voluntary shifts on the bar. It’s a cliche, but the star of the show was the island itself.

Strictly speaking, this was Howlin’ Fling’s inaugural year, though the festival has provenance. Run by musician and Eigg resident Johnny Lynch, AKA the Pictish Trail, it’s the successor to the Fence Records’ Away Game, held before Fence imploded in 2013 and Lynch set up his own label, Lost Map. Mercifully, the weekend bore few vestiges of that acrimonious split, aside from the odd cheeky quip.

The programme was more low-key than the Away Games festival, but worked thanks to the range of music and plain goodwill. Lynch evidently has an ear for fine voices, from Rozi Plain’s wholesome croon to Steve Mason’s laddish husk; Kid Canaveral’s raucous whoops to the twisting, tugging, compulsive glitches of impressive newcomers Adult Jazz. Friday opened with Sam Amidon’s slow, cracked-edged drawl; later he duetted with Beth Orton, her voice high and brittle against his. Sweden’s Jens Lekman charmed the bobble-hatted hipster crowd into giddy grins with his smooth, happy pop songs. And a mellow Sunday-afternoon set from cellist Olly Coates included Messiaen’s Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus. No instrumental piece is more vocal, and Coates made it sing.

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