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Isle of Skye Accordion & Fiddle Festival May 2018


If the old adage “the sun shines on the righteous” was anything to go by, there must have been a fair amount of righteousness on the Isle of Skye as a host of musicians and friends from far and wide flocked to the island’s capital of Portree at the end of May to enjoy the fourteenth annual Accordion and Fiddle Festival based in the Royal Hotel. Having grown in popularity year by year such was the demand that almost all ticketed events were booked out well in advance, much to the relief of the small and hardworking Festival Committee! On Thursday 24th May it was compere Jim Campbell who welcomed a capacity audience in the evening and invited Derek Hamilton of Galston to perform the official opening ceremony in recognition of his many years support not only of the annual Festival but also of the local Skye Accordion and Fiddle Club. This he did with a few well chosen words including a tribute to his two colleagues who have provided backing over the years to musicians at the festival, namely Jimmy MacDonald of Tighnabruaich on piano and drummer Richard Hughes of Tobermory – undoubtedly the hardest working musicians at Skye Festivals over the years. To the uninitiated the trio are affectionately known as “The Last Of The Summer Wine” although Derek maintains they should be called “The Midsomer Trio” in recognition of the number of tunes they have murdered through the years! Then it was on with the music and first band on stage was the ever popular Janet Graham Scottish Band from Cumbernauld to set feet tapping. A young local player from the Club, eight year old Tilly Ng with her fiddle, had the daunting prospect of facing the large audience to play a set but did so with aplomb to rapturous applause from the crowd. Button key music followed with some great sets on his three-row from Sandy Ross of Lochcarron. Another button-box, this time a two-row in the capable hands of Hamish MacDougal of Muir of Ord who was accompanied by Portree drummer Hamish MacKenzie played several sets. A regular Festival goer, Tom Moffat entertained on his five-row followed by Skye Club chairman Ally “K” MacPherson also on a five-row. Back to the piano box with Susan Power, a comparative newcomer to the scene, who acquitted herself admirably to be followed by the legendary Ronnie Easton from Lauder and finally John Omand of Tiree and Glasgow on his beautiful Hohner Gola. Time then for the special guest band for the evening, The Jennifer Cruikshank Scottish Dance Band to fill the venue with the best of music. Very much a family affair, bandleader Jennifer was on accordion, husband Brian and daughter Iona on fiddles, son Calum on keyboard and cousin Ally “K” MacPherson on drums. This versatile band served up a varied programme with something to please everyone in the happy audience and included solos from each member of the band to bring the first night of the Festival to a rousing close.

The following morning the sun still shone throughout the day as many gathered in the function room to be joined for informal sessions by musicians, many of whom had entertained on the previous day, and some who had arrived to join the fun including Caithness couple Elizabeth Mackenzie on accordion and Ian MacDonald on fiddle. This great duo, who have attended many Skye Festivals, are now “Mr and Mrs” so many congratulations to them – they took their time about it! Accordionist Chris Stepein made a fine contribution as did Peter Stewart on his three-row. Cammy MacLean and John MacKay entertained on accordions and from across the Minch it was a pleasure to have “DB” Macleod, chairman of the Lewis and Harris Accordion and Fiddle Club providing music on his box. Self taught fiddler and member of the Festival Committee, Julia Rudram, gave a few sets and Jim Campbell was able to have a rest day by passing compering dutes to Ally “K” MacPherson. Guest band for the evening was the eagerly awaited and hugely popular Willie MacFarlane Band playing to a packed house – and the audience were not to be disappointed! Bandleader Willie with his five-row was backed by Derek Hamilton on piano accordion, Caroline Rae on piano and Jim Dow on drums. So many tempos, so many tunes, kept the audience calling for more and at the close of the evening the band were not allowed to leave the stage until they had given no less than three encores! Saturday morning was a “free for all” session until at lunchtime the Festival was delighted to hand over the stage to accordionist and music teacher Tom Cruikshank from the Beauly area who had brought along some of his young pupils from Inverness-shire whom he named “Tom’s Brats”! Well “Brats” they most certainly were not, but fine musicians they certainly were and entertained the packed audience in fine style for a good half hour, having already been busking around the sunny streets of Portree! The remainder of the afternoon was filled with great music from the guest band of the day, the Martainn Skene Highland Dance Band. Martainn is a fine young accordionist from Spean Bridge who had on stage with him Claire Gullan on fiddle, Matthew Maclennan on keyboard and Neil MacGregor on drums, entertaining the appreciative audience with their great driving sound for the rest of the afternoon.

Finale of the festival was the Festival Dance held in the nearby Skye Gathering Hall. Well attended and not surprisingly as the music was provided by the wonderful Ian Hutson Scottish Dance Band in full flow! No need to cajole the dancers to the floor and local feedback suggested that it was one of the best dances held in the hall in recent years. The amazing sound came from leader Ian Hutson on accordion, Alistair MacLeod on second box, Neil Dawson on fiddle, Gordon Smith on drums, Jim Nicholl on piano and, last but not least Alasdair MacLeod on double bass. A fantastic way to finish the official Festival! However the fun continued that evening in the Royal Hotel for non-dancers who packed the function room for more informal music under the control (?) of Derek Hamilton whose usual composure was interrupted by exuberant bandleader and accordionist Ewan Galloway who, after finishing an eight hour working shift, had driven from the Borders all the way to Portree to buy Derek Hamilton a vodka for his birthday! Needless to say Ewan had brought his box along with him and added greatly to the entertainment. So, was that the finish of the Festival? No chance! Sunday was again filled with informal music from the many musicians who had decided to stay for yet another day to enjoy the “craic” and for two hours on Sunday morning local radio presenter on Cuillin FM, Andy Mitchell bravely invited Derek Hamilton, Ewan Galloway and Ronnie Easton to join him on the airwaves for a chat which, as can be imagined, was informative but mainly hilarious, with Andy barely getting a word in edgeways on his own show! All this added to the local wonderful atmosphere and publicity for the music and the Festival and it was decided at the end of Sunday evening to “pull the plug”, stow away the instruments and say farewell to a magical Festival. And next year – can it be even better? Come along and join us to find out!
John Grundy.

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Isle of Skye (Photograph)