Festival review: Skye Live brings a mix of music to a dramatic location (4 stars)

Festival review: Skye Live brings a mix of music to a dramatic location

credit: Iain Smith, Skye Photo Centre

The small but well curated Easter event fills the gap left by the Isle of Skye Music Festival

It’s a little unfair on all the other festivals in the UK to hold one on Skye. As locations go, it’s pretty dramatic, and if there was an award for best-looking festival site, then Skye Live would surely walk it.

The festival takes place in a red tent on top of the Lump in Portree, the traditional site for the town's Highland Games. The event follows in the footsteps of the Isle of Skye Music Festival, after it went belly-up in 2008, owing debts of around £500,000 to bands and contractors.

If that festival overstretched itself, then Skye Live has been very conscious to do the opposite. The small, curiously curated lineup opens on the Friday with a more dance and EDM-based lineup, while Saturday’s music is more traditional.

The first night is the main attraction for the out-of-towners. Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston seem to be having the time of their lives with the crowd pushing them on to more and more. Even a brief interlude as the generator goes kaput – leaving the tent musicless and dark – does not dim them.

Weatherall and Johnston seem reluctant to hand over the stage to the night’s headliner, Hot Chip’s Felix Martin, while an already enthusiastic crowd find more to get excited about. It is, as one reveller describes it the next day, a riot.

The Saturday starts with the young team of Skye’s pipe band, who walk us from the Square in Portree to the festival site. Although mostly traditional, it is a mixed bill. East Lothian’s Amy Baillie with her covers of Amy McDonald and Ed Sheeran seems an odd fit. Fat Suit – who, in terms of members, must be the biggest band in Scotland – make a great sound, but fail to hit with their tight, funk numbers. It’s Sink Ships (a band who previously went under the name Islands) and their charismatic frontman Donald Mcdonald who get the crowd going with songs that fall somewhere between Mumford and Sons and Slow Club, but who are much better than that may suggest.

By the time Niteworks come on, the majority of last night’s crowd have returned to the tent. The expectation for the band, who hail from the island and mix traditional Scots and electric music, is palpable. Despite the pressure, they ace it. Here is a band destined to headline festivals like this.

And sure enough, when Shooglenifty start they are playing to a near empty tent. But this is a band who have been about long enough, and know exactly what they’re doing. By the time the first song is finished the tent is full and jumping. It remains so for festival closers, ex–Runrig frontman Donnie Munro and The Peatbog Fairies.

During Niteworks’ set, Innes Strachan asked the crowd to pay tribute to the festival organisers Niall Munro and Ali McGregor, ‘This is something we’ve been lacking in Skye for years,’ he says, ‘and they’ve nailed it.’ They’ve certainly come pretty close.

Skye Live took place on Fri 3 & Sat 4 Apr

Carboni's Farewell - Shooglenifty


Funky ambient folk band from Edinburgh.


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