Loopallu 2017

My journey starts with my being handed the keys to a Mercedes instead of the Renault that I had ordered from the car-hire company.

I don’t feel it right to make a fuss about the mix-up and instead slip into the lap of luxury that I am unlikely to ever be able to afford by my own hand.

With the self-righteousness that one deserves as a Mercedes driver I begin the almost five hour journey up the west coast to Ullapool.

I am glad to have the upgraded car, since I expect it to be my home for the next few days.

By the time I reach Ullapool the moon – which as far as I’m concerned is the wrong celestial body – is high in the sky.

I find a free car park, which I’m assuming is to be my home for the next few days.

I navigate with ease into a space between two camper vans, making full use out of the Mercedes on board camera system.

The bright side of getting here under cover of darkness is that I should be able to awaken in Ullapool and see it in all of its splendour.

That, however, is many hours away.

I get my pass and make my way into the marquee – one of two stages at the festival, the big one.

I catch Tide Lines, who sing simple songs of dancing with highland lasses and feeling the breeze of the Hebrides (those are references to lyrics by the way, I’m not being glib).

The performers are in their 20s and they are having a good time by all accounts – as is the crowd.

People are dancing and singing and generally speaking having a good one, which is what it could be argued a thing like this is all about – they seem to be something of a local treasure, they are good fun.

I had to abandon my big city sensibilities fairly quickly when I arrived.

I was asked how I was thrice on the way from the campsite (that is to say, the car park) to the arena.

After Tide Lines I catch five minutes of a band replete with fiddle and saxophone on the other stage – which is roughly the size of a large transit van.

I check the prices at the food and drink stalls; it is only six-fifty for a Hendricks gin and tonic, so naturally I don’t get one.

I was given to belief that there would be live musical performances in local places of business, so I endeavour to ascertain whether this is to be the case; that is to say, I go to the pub.

There is no music, but there is beer, I ask for a pint of the local ale, The Bombadier, the next guy asks for a pint of the Bombardié, we get the same beer but with different looks.

“The difference between something like this and the likes of T in the Park is that someone’s not just waiting to glass ye”, I’m told by a local named Stuart.

I say “that’s good”, he turns his head to look at me and says “aye, that is good”, as if he’s waiting to glass me; we have a friendly conversation about rural life before I take off back to the main stage.

I push past some people on the way in to the venue, a younger guy who is walking out sparks his cigarette at what appears to be the first mathematically legal opportunity to do so – The Pigeon Detectives are in full swing, so I don’t blame him – that being said, they aren’t bad.

I was ready in my hard earned cynicism and bus exhaust-pipe leathered city skin to make fun of the line up, since it seems like it was relevant in 2006 and not a moment after (see, I can’t help myself), but damn if The Pigeon Detectives don’t put on a good show and play a host of catchy, fun songs.

The singer implores everyone to go on one another’s shoulders, which works well enough to avoid embarrassment.

He then clambers atop the bass drum – emblazoned with the name of the band – with his back to the crowd and asks if everyone can please give it up for The Pigeon Detectives “if only because we have our name on our drum skin”, which everyone does.

The song kicks off and he leaps upwards and backwards off of the kit and kicks both legs out in opposite directions, landing on the stage, spinning round and carrying on with gusto, in a move that would have caused many much younger knees to explode into the crowd causing widespread bloodshed.

During their host of catchy indie-pop crackers the singer throws his microphone with gay abandon into the sky and catches it multiple times.

Each time he does it I think to myself that it is gone, and what a stupid thing to have done – that could kill someone, but then he catches it as if he never let it go; good for The Pigeon Detectives.

I head out to get a drink, the secondary stage seems only to host acts in between the acts on the main stage.

This is a local festival, people know each other and are getting drunk with one another, there doesn’t come a time when I feel intimidated or uneasy.

I have seen some of the same faces a good few times by this point, and I don’t see anyone else with a camera, a bum bag and writing in a little notebook, so I assume that my presence hasn’t gone unnoticed; the band plays ‘Bad Moon Rising’.

The View takes to the main stage; they get a good reception for a good performance.

The singer has a very versatile voice, the songs are catchy and the bass is audible.

The drum work is quite boring and repetitive, but that doesn’t stop the drummer from losing his shirt five minutes into the hour and a half performance.

The bassist takes over the vocals for a few songs and brings something a bit more manic, unpredictable and interesting as far as I’m concerned.

His voice doesn’t seem as good technically, but it is much more honest and relatable.

I get to know a couple of locals, which was easy, because everyone is so drunken and talkative – this is a good move because the show finishes at half-past eleven.

We head to The Arch, a pub with live music until two, there are so many familiar faces on account of their festival presence only – I feel like the new kid at school.

A band plays traditional Ceilidh music for about two hours.

The bar is packed and people are dancing about all over the place.

The atmosphere is really convivial and inviting; it’s a nice place.

When the bar shuts, I head back to my luxury accommodation, roll the seat back, use my jacket as a pillow and slither into my sleeping bag.

Unless you have the keys in, the sophisticated Mercedes alarm goes off whenever you roll over, which I figured out the loud way.

The next day, I rouse at about eleven and need to drag myself out of bed – that is to say, seat.

After a trip to the en-suite bathroom in the Tesco whose car-park I’m sleeping in, I go back to the hotel (car) for a shower (a rub down with two Huggies baby-wipes); fresh, awake, smelling fantastic and ready to hit the town, I walk into Ullapool.

I enjoy a nice walk around the art gallery – which is hosting members work this month and displayed a vast array of very warm, technically excellent and notably local feeling work.

After that, I take a nice walk along the beautiful beach.

Then, I headed to the Ferry Terminal where Ian Rankin was talking to Vic Galloway, it is very interesting to hear them talking.

They are talking about riders when I arrive, Galloway said that Mogwai always want a “painting by a local gifted child” and they always get it.

They talk about how the music industry is changing, and about how big names used to be gargantuan, but now they meet and greet their audiences and are otherwise categorisable as normal human beings.

“They used to be like gods to us, but they’re human beings, not superheroes. It’s a bit sad, I like the image.” Rankin says.

He tells us that he is recognised sometimes but not a lot of the time, which he likes: “writers want to blend in because you’re loitering with intent, you’re sucking peoples souls out”.

He describes the myriad ways in which his work has been influenced by real life events, people and places, and how it is necessary for him to “loiter with intent”.

They go on to mirror things I’ve heard Grant Morrison say; like that you’re not you from one minute to the next.

Rankin goes from the guy whose doing book tours to the guy whose writing reviews for the Guardian.

What is important is the underlying structure, but on top of that, you can do whatever you want and you don’t have to be too bound to any one thing in particular.

They talk about how it’s not very impressive if someone comes to your house and you show them your iPod or your Kindle, whereas having a physical collection gives a snapshot of who you are.

This, on top of the tactile nature of feeling and holding the physical, is bringing about the revitalisation of that form.

I had time to kill before The Rezillos, whom I had never heard of, but of whom Ian Rankin speaks highly.

I take to the pub in which I had spoken to Stuart the night previous – I think, foolishly, that I might find a table to write at in the middle of the festival.

Luckily, you can take drinks outside here, so I bought a nice pint and came outside with it to write on a wee wall, I’ve certainly sat down to write in worse places – the weather is tremendous and the location is stunning.

The Rezillos bring oodles of what this festival is brilliant for, spirit, fun and joy.

They put on an energetic show, which stays true to their sound, whatever that is.

The band is full of energy and they really get the crowd going.

Before I went for dinner I went into the Ullapool Community Trust to buy a book because I had left my own with my bag in my car/house.

I ended up buying three, a Filofax and a new wallet, taking my grand total to five pounds – which was well worth it, although now I was significantly weighed down.

I got speaking to a few of the managers of the shop, they tell me that it is entirely run by the community, and that the charity being helped changes often, they help out with numerous projects locally and also internationally.

At the moment, the shop is raising money for Gino’s Cantina, in Valea Reve, Transylvania, which feeds kids left behind after the fall of communism in 1989 and the subsequent lack of development since.

A few ladies are sitting talking in the shop on couches as I wander around; it is a community hub it seems.

It certainly seems a more beneficial model than the general charity shop one, in which people regularly need to take time off for stress.

It’s a great little shop supporting a number of good causes.

There is not a stupendous amount on apart from live music across the various establishments and in the festival grounds themselves, Loopallu looks to me like an excuse to get drunk and/or have fun, which seems in line with the purpose of most festivals.

Glasvegas – who seem like an odd fit – give an emotional and impassioned performance.

“Ullapool’s a really nice word in’t it? Ullapool…” they start another song.

The drummer – Jonna Lofgren – manages somehow to remain standing for the entire performance and still play the drums well.

I hope that this is a stylistic preference rather than that there was no drum stool and she was too polite to say anything.

The abject cynicism and pessimism of the band are I think somewhat out of place two hours before the end of what is, after all, a party in a tent in a beautiful part of the world; but the music is great.

The bass is massive but not overpowering, echoing from your chest outwards throughout your body.

Their music is multi-faceted and dense whilst the lyrics are intelligent, but not difficult or obtuse.

Youngsters spark cigarettes indoors like I suppose they might suppose Glasvegas might want them to.

Their sound is broad and distinct and their performance is tight while they play songs marked with integrity and soul.

There are revellers from seven to seventy inside, with some of the older people looking like they’re under the influence of more than just sleepiness.

Two people dressed as idiotic aliens with massive, invasive heads make their way into the crowd.

It’s a pet peeve of mine when people in novelty costumes look at you as if you find their current condition as hilarious and wacky as they do.

“Are we the last band to play this thing?” asks frontman James Allan, Glasvegas’ frontman, he’s told “no” by the crowd.

“Na, that’s fine”, he says, “because there’s a couple of ways you can look at it. I didn’t want to be the one who killed it”.


The band that kills it is The Vatersay Boys, who I am given to understand are a rarity, and celebrities of high calibre round these parts.

The band consists of bagpipes, two boxes, a drum-kit with seven cymbals (of which I see three used), an accordion and an electric guitar.

If you were forced to classify them, you might call them a traditional ceilidh band.

They certainly arouse the crowd with such well-known chart toppers as Billy Connolly’s “If it Wisnae Fur Yer Wellies”.

There is hurdy-gurdying, shoulder balancing and overall good time having had.

I’ve come to expect nothing less from these people and this place, they play an apparently well-known folk song and the place erupts – iIt’s not really my thing, but I can tell that it is done well.

I leave before The Vatersay Boys finish, somehow it felt like it wasn’t my place to see the festival out – I was just a fly on the wall and I wasn’t even a drunk fly.

This festival is open to anyone from anywhere in the world, but it really seem to be for the people of Ullapool and the surrounding areas.

Beautiful though these places be, they don’t seem to me to be awash with a lot to do apart from go to the pubs at night.

Loopallu is for the north westerners who want to see out the summer with a bang – inviting the best and broadest musical acts they can to celebrate with them.

Charlotte Watters – the curator of the gallery in Ullapool – had told me just how different summer and winter were in the town.

I think something like Loopallu might tide the townspeople over for a few months.

When I saw the line-up for the festival, I wondered whether they were mistaken in trying to get the biggest billed names they could, since these names had been out of vogue for about a decade; the people seemed to love them though.

The fact that The Vatersay Boys saw the festival out rather than Glasvegas was, I think, testament to the uniquely Ullapudlian nature of the event.

They could have killed it with a big name, but they would sooner do it with an accordion, kilts, hats and “Ye Cannae Throw Yer Granny Aff the Bus”.

Although they play second fiddle to The Vatersay Boys, I’m sure Glasvegas would agree that the line-up was appropriate – although they might wonder whey they were on it at all.

I could still hear TVB playing when I reached my car/house/confidant, I realised that I hadn’t had only taken two drinks, and the last one was six hours ago, so I decided to drive on.

I took the car a few miles north to find a more appropriate place to sleep.

I had passed a passer-by during the day on Saturday who had remarked that Loopallu wasn’t really a music festival but was more of a celebration of Ullapool – I couldn’t agree more; I got to know some locals, local businesses and enjoy the unparalleled scenery.

It was all very friendly, all very local and all very nice indeed.

It was a great excuse to visit the town and I’m glad that I went.

It might not have been on the same scale as some other festivals, but it made for a fantastic weekend.

I hope that – although it is supposed to be – this isn’t the last Loopallu, I would certainly be back – although next time I think I’ll book a campsite place or hotel room in advance.

Words/Photos: Paul Aitken


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