This article has been written with the support of CalMac. Find out more.

Howlin' Fling organiser Johnny Lynch on the Isle of Eigg's intoxicating lure...

Hit the Highland Notes

Johnny Lynch, aka Pictish Trail / credit: Beth Chalmers

...and why he decided to start a music festival on this tiny eco-friendly island

'As soon as I stepped off the boat, my life changed.' Johnny Lynch is recalling his first visit to the Isle of Eigg, where he runs independent label Lost Map and hosts the uniquely magical music festival Howlin' Fling. This was back in 2010 before the island's almost mystical attractions had fully taken effect on the then Fife-based singer-songwriter. 'I had just started going out with my partner Sarah – a journalist in London who had decided to become a farmer on Eigg – and I went to visit her. It's just an incredible place, with such friendly people. The islanders asked me what I did for a living; I said I was a musician who put on live music events, and they were all like "you should do one here!"'

If Lynch is anything, he's someone who makes things happen, and one invitation was all he needed. The festival was almost instantly born. 'When I think back now, everything happened so insanely quickly. I visited the island for the first time in April, decided we should do an event, and announced it on the Fence Records website when I got back to Fife a week later. We put tickets on sale in May and they sold out in something stupid like six minutes. The event happened in September, and I've been living on the island ever since.'

It's not hard to see why Lynch fell hard for Eigg. With a population of under 100, it's a tight-knit community of like-minded folks, who – through their own Isle of Eigg heritage trust – own all 12 square miles of the eco-friendly small isle. They are proud of their special part of the world and rightly so. There are museums such as the Cleadale Crofting Museum and the social history exhibition at the Old Shop. There's a terrific microbrewery called Laig Bay. The views from the aptly named mountain An Sgùrr ('the sharp peak' in Gaelic) are beautiful, particularly towards the neighbouring Isle of Rum. The history of the place is fascinating: you can read about the rousing local buyout in the community centre and, less uplifting but still of interest, visit The Massacre Cave where almost the island's entire population suffocated at the hands of a rival clan back in the 16th century.

Hit the Highland Notes

Adding to that varied cultural fabric is Howlin' Fling. This year's festival represents the sixth bash of its kind on the island, having started under the Away Game alias when Lynch oversaw the day-to-day running of Fence Records. It's a proper music festival; Lynch could easily rely on the geographical splendour of his surroundings to attract punters, but always curates a strong bill.

Jon Hopkins headlined at the last event in 2017, British Sea Power topped the maiden voyage, and the likes of Cate Le Bon, Gruff Rhys, Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains, and Django Django have made it over. It's hard not to fall in love with Howlin' Fling; the camaraderie of the boat trip over from the mainland, the drama of setting up an eight-person tent in high winds, and the wholesome joy of buying homemade festival posters created by the island's children all bring back warm memories years later. The feeling you can't shake is that there's nowhere on earth quite like Eigg.

'Acts always want to come back!' says Lynch. 'I think the good thing about Howlin' Fling is that because it's so small, the acts feel a sense of ownership of it. We encourage them to bring their friends and have a fun weekend with people they love.'

Ahead of this year's bash, Lynch promises another top-notch line-up and says the plan is to film more sessions with performers, capturing the island in all its glory. Beyond that, a wild time will be had and, inevitably, problems will be solved. Lynch laughs, recalling everything from booze shortages to broken legs. 'All the issues that occur during the event tend not to be insurmountable, as there are so many folk willing the event to happen and so many folk wanting to help, that it kind of runs on its own steam. The whole thing is fuelled by the collective will. People want these events.'

And Lynch is already excited to welcome them. 'My favourite moment each year is seeing everyone get off the boats and arriving on the island,' he says. 'There's a lot of adrenaline pumping in the body when that happens.'

Howlin' Fling takes place on Eigg, 31 May & 1 Jun. Tickets are sold out.

The Howlin' Fling

Micro-label Lost Map host their semi-regular festival on the Hebridean Isle of Eigg. Ticket holders are ferried over from the mainland for a weekend of live music and DJs.

Post a comment