Review and picture gallery: Howlin' Fling, Isle of Eigg, Fri 18-Sun 20 Jul 2014
Beth Orton, Sam Amidon and Jens Lekman impress at this special 3 day festival
‘I want to hear some howling this weekend’, shouts Johnny Lynch as he introduces the first act at Howlin' Fling. 'Ahr-Ahr-Ahrooo', cry back the audience. There’s a heady atmosphere on the first night of this three day festival on the Isle of Eigg, fuelled in part by the exhilarating journey that festival-goers have embarked on to get here. Taking the ferry from the mainland, in glorious sunshine, this reviewer even caught glimpses of porpoises and seals. Howlin’ Fling is definitely not your average festival.
Taking the form of Away Game in 2010 and 2012, Howlin’ Fling is the first version of the festival since Lynch set up his label Lost Map (he previously headed up Fence Records with King Creosote). This year’s line-up includes sets from the label’s roster (Lynch's alter-ego The Pictish Trail, Kid Canaveral, Rozi Plain among others) as well as some guests (Alexis Taylor, The Phantom Band, Oliver Coates and RM Hubbert to name a few). The music takes place in two venues not far from the pier: the Ceilidh Hall, a gorgeous wooden community hall surrounded by trees and with a campfire roaring outside and the Marquee, a spacious blue and pink canvas tent next door.
Friday evening highlights include Beth Orton and Sam Amidon. Both joining each other for a few songs in their retrospective sets (the couple have been enjoying the island with their two children). Sam Amidon's folk songs transport you back to a past era, with tales of heartbreak and hardship. He gets the (rather tuneful) audience to sing part of the chorus of the gorgeously delicate 'Way Go Lily' and interrupts 'Groundhog' with a playful 'jazz solo', his tribute of sorts to the recent death of Charlie Haden ('All the jazz musicians are dying' he laments). An hour later, on the same stage, Beth Orton charms the crowd with songs from her 1999 album Central Reservation (for which, she tells us, she's been working on a re-issue). She's an endearingly modest presence and tracks like 'Pass in Time’ and ‘Stolen Car’, even 15 years after they were first written, completely captivate the audience with their mix of urgency and passion.
After that it's back to the Ceilidh Hall for Glaswegian three piece Tuff Love, who wake everyone up with their Breeders-style mix of thundering drums and contrasting vocals. And the party vibe is continued by Steve Mason who packs out the Marquee around midnight and gets everyone dancing, while a bright yellow half moon shines overhead.
On Saturday, Leeds quartet Adult Jazz surprise with their genre-swerving tracks, all stop-start rhythms and haunting, penetrating vocals. Later Jens Lekman presents an electric set which starts with melancholic indiepop before turning into a joyous dance party. He introduces each song with a story, told in his own deadpan, self-deprecating style which has the crowd in stitches. He finishes with his ode to relationship miscommunication 'Maple Leaves' and a (twee) mosh pit almost starts at the front. It's absolutely chucking it down outside which means a quick dash to the Ceilidh Hall and there's more danceable pop from Boxed In and later on Kid Canaveral.
But Howlin’ Fling isn’t just about the music. Eigg is a key player in the whole experience and is ripe for exploration. There are numerous beaches (with their unique, white and black streaks); caves on the southern coastline (including the mysterious Massacre Cave, with its gory history) and towering above the island the Sgurr, a 400m volcanic pitchstone peak which offers views across the Small Isles and over to Skye and the mainland.
It’s clear that Johnny Lynch and his team have thought about the little things when creating this biennial event. The music is scheduled so that you can see one band after the other so there's no stress deciding what to catch. Even the printed programme is a delight, with surreal and hilarious band write-ups penned by Lynch himself (example text: ‘Crawl into the ceilidh hall, roll into a ball in the corner and suckle on the lactating teet of chill’). Other special moments that stick in the mind: the human chain of festival goers that formed from the ferry to help get all the luggage on land and the piper that appeared to see off the ferry laden with departing festival-goers heading back to Arisaig. Even a swarm of flying ants and a water shortage which closes the showers (unfortunately these happened too) doesn’t dent the experience. Howlin’ Fling was a weekend to treasure, ahr-ahr-ahrooo.