Global reach for HebCelt's live 'Survival Sessions' a huge achievement given curbs on events - Brian Ferguson

The streets of Stornoway may have been eerily quiet – but inside the glass doors of the town’s An Lanntair arts centre two Orcadian musicians are taking a bow in front of a crowd roaring in appreciation.

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 4:55 am
Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty performed as the duo Saltfishforty at the HebCelt Survivor Sessions last week.

The audience spread out around the venue’s auditorium may have numbered less than 50, but it may well have felt three or four times that figure to Saltfishforty, Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty’s double act, who headlined last Thursday’s concert, my first at indoor venue for a year and a half.

The pair’s enjoyment at being back on stage was only matched by the thrill of the audience members who had managed to secure the handful of tickets available for a series of live shows, created as part of the “HebCelt Survival Sessions”, a radically different incarnation of the Hebridean Celtic Festival, which normally attracts an audience in excess of 18,000 each July.

A full-scale revival of HebCelt this summer following the cancellation of the 2020 event was written off by the organising team in January, at a time when the plug was being pulled on Scotland’s other main island musical festivals due to the country’s second lockdown.

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The Tumbling Souls performing at the HebCelt Survival Sessions.

But the team never gave of hope of achieving what so festivals and events have managed to do this summer – particularly indoors - and actually get live entertainment back on stage again.

Although Covid restrictions have been gradually eased since the spring, the difficulties in planning any kind of live shows in Scotland have, if anything, only been made by more difficult by continuing uncertainty over what restrictions will be in place more than a few weeks ahead, leaving event organisers to play an exasperating guessing game.

Against this backdrop, it is something of a miracle that HebCelt managed to keep its plans for a “hybrid” event intact – after effectively becoming a broadcaster and film commissioner over the last year – and delivering its full revamped festival programme.

This allowed audiences in 12 countries, including the United States, Australia, France, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Spain and Canada, to watch the live shows unfold as they happened, wrapped up with exclusive pre-recorded material.

Securing a global reach for some of Scotland’s first post-Covid indoor gigs from a Hebridean arts centre was a huge achievement given all the circumstances.