The Scottish Tourism Minister has praised the Hebridean Celtic Festival’s ‘remarkable achievement’ in being selected as one of the top 10 UK Summer Festivals by an influential publication for the fifth year in succession.
HebCelt, which is marking its 20 anniversary this year, is again the only Scottish festival on the list compiled by world music magazine Songlines, which places the island festival alongside the likes of Glastonbury and the Cambridge Folk Festival.
Supported through Creative Scotland’s Open Fund, the four-day event, which is being held from 15-18 July in Stornoway, is expected to attract a multi-national audience of 15,000.
The Songlines accolade is another honour for HebCelt which was named Best Event or Festival in the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards in November.
Fergus Ewing said: “Being selected by Songlines as one of the Top 10 Summer Festivals for a fifth time in succession is a remarkable achievement by HebCelt and everyone involved in organising the festival.
“The fact it is the only Scottish festival to be included in the list makes it an even greater accolade and one that is well deserved for its promotion of traditional music and the Gaelic language and its support of young artists.
“The Outer Hebrides are beautiful islands and a popular destination for many tourists. They have a rich heritage and are full of culture with something for everyone to see and visit. I would encourage those visiting HebCelt to take the opportunity to explore the rest of these wonderful islands.” Festival Director Caroline MacLennan said the five-in-a-row achievement was a great honour and a tribute to the work done by the team behind HebCelt..
She added: “Coming in our 20th year this demonstrates that we are continuing not just to maintain high standards but are growing all the time. This recognition from Songlines further enhances our reputation on the international stage.”
The 20th HebCelt features acts including Afro Celt Sound System, Treacherous Orchestra, the Karen Matheson Band, Shooglenifty, Chastity Brown, Le Vent du Nord, Raghu Dixit and Salsa Celtica on its two main stages.
There are also performances in An Lanntair arts centre and in rural parts of Lewis and Harris, with an integral part of the festival being support for the Gaelic language and young emerging talent.
Meanwhile a duo formed just last year won a prestigious stage slot at the Festival this summer.  Bella and the Bear, formed by Stuart Ramage and Lauren Gilmour, from Ayr, were one of eight finalists in the competition held as part of the Calmac Culture Music contest run by CalMac Ferries Ltd.
The duo, who are in the second year studying commercial music at the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr, play on the award-winning festival’s Island Stage on Friday 17 July.
Lauren said: “We’re so excited to have won the slot at the festival. We first heard of the CalMac Culture competition through social media and we thought it could do no harm to create a video together and apply.
“To be lucky enough to win the slot at HebCelt is just incredible. It’s so reassuring to know our music appeals to a wider audience and we cannot wait to spend our first summer as a band performing at such a wonderful festival.
“We’ve never played at a festival before and it’s beyond exciting. We’ve worked really hard to have our music heard over the last few months and an opportunity like this makes all of that completely worthwhile.”
The CalMac Culture Music contest is aimed at finding the best amateur singers and musicians. This year the search was extended to include bands as well as promising singer/songwriters.
Entrants submitted a video of a performance of an original piece of music to YouTube and then encouraged fans to view and like the video. The eight finalists each performed two live acoustic tracks to judges and a 150-strong audience at King Tut’s in Glasgow.
And Scottish indie rock band Idlewild have joined the line-up for the HCF.  The five-piece, headed by Roddy Woomble, are one of a number of international acts in the line-up.  The group, formed by Woomble and Rod Jones as teenagers in Edinburgh in 1995, began playing again recently after a five-year break.  They also released their seventh studio album, Everything Ever Written, last month to critical acclaim.
Roddy Woomble, who has appeared previously at HebCelt as a solo artist, said: “We are all delighted to be returning to the beautiful Isle of Lewis again for HebCelt’s 20th anniversary.  Idlewild played in Stornoway as part of our Highlands and Islands acoustic tour in October, so it will be nice to come back with the full band in the summertime to play at one of Scotland’s best festivals.”
Festival organisers have also announced three more artists for the acoustic stage, introduced for the first time last year.   Skye musician Richard Macintyre’s latest solo project, Siiga, visits HebCelt as part of a 2015 UK, Ireland and European tour, and teenage singing sensation Eleanor Nicolson, from Lewis, who launched HebCelt’s Criomagan series of taster sessions last year, returns for an acoustic set.  Joining them is Lewis-born Alyth McCormack who has recently toured with The Chieftains and has also sung with greats such as Martin Carthy, Jacqui Dankworth,  Ry Cooder and Eddi Reader.  Alyth is launching her new album ‘Homelands’ at the festival.