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There was a sense of anticipation hovering in the air at The Bell Hotel in Driffield this afternoon as Fraser West, Skerryvore's drummer, went through his sound-check in the main concert room just over the courtyard in the Town Hall. Although the room was pretty deserted save for the drummer and one or two sound technicians, each busying themselves with the usual pre-gig routine, the rest of the band were mingling with regulars in the bustling hotel bar, an extraordinarily welcoming haven with an impressive whiskey collection on display and some of the best beer around. It was only 4pm, yet the place was already buzzing, largely due to the singers and musicians session that had just started in the bar. Skerryvore were not due on stage until around 9.30pm, over four hours later, but that sense of excitement was already permeating the winding corridors throughout the hotel. When it comes to Scottish Celtic Rock in these parts, the healthy music community of Driffield doesn’t hold back on its enthusiasm.
Arriving at the venue a little earlier than usual, specifically to interview the band in front of a live audience, I have to confess, I was myself in the early stages of excitement. Then there was another surprise just around the corner as Leila Cooper, our host for the evening, sprang this one on me: “I’m going to ask Skerryvore to be the patrons of the Moonbeams Festival tonight” going on to ask “what do you think?” Well I thought it was a very good idea and fortunately the band thought exactly the same as they graciously accepted the invitation later in the evening.
All seven members of the band joined me in one of the hotel’s cosy lounge areas, a room that had recently been furnished with a fully decorated Christmas tree just in time for the festive season. A small audience of fans as well as curious visitors also joined us for the informal pre-gig chat, which was intended to give the audience something of an insight into the almost ten-year career thus far of one of the Isle of Tiree’s most famous exports. The band, consisting of singer/guitarist Alec Dalglish, brothers Daniel and Martin Gillespie (accordion, pipes respectively), fiddler Craig Espie, drummer Fraser West, bassist Jodie Bremaneson and keyboard player Alan Scobie, soon relaxed into their comfy chairs as I fired a bunch of routine questions at them, before inviting the audience to fire one or two of their own questions at the band.
Formed in 2005 on the Isle of Tiree by the four original members Dalglish, West and the Gillespie brothers, the band are hardly an overnight success, having worked hard over the last nine years to get to this stage in their career. Their star is now certainly on the rise, particularly in Europe with a touring schedule that has taken the band literally all around the world, which of course includes this side of the border. Five albums into their recording career, the band have progressed from a standard issue Ceilidh band to a world class Celtic Rock band, with more influences than you could shake a stick at. Through all the changes and refinements during the band’s development, they have always maintained a strong commitment to their Scottish roots, which comes over in their music loud and clear. If their songs at times veer off into pop-infused anthems, the highland bagpipes soon bring it all back home and this is precisely what the audience seems to like the most. Having recently signed to the Adastra agency who specialise in folk, roots, acoustic and world music, the band are hoping to further expand their popularity in this part of the world with a return to the Moonbeams Festival next summer.
The concert opened with performances by three local acts, Jasper Bolton, Dogfinger Steve and the five-piece band Under the Bridge, each taking to the smaller stage opposite the main stage, which was all suitably set up for the headliners. All Moonbeams events, whether it's the main summer festival, the March Folk Weekend or any of the other seasonal gatherings, provide a platform for local singers and musicians and tonight was no exception. The three support sets had a dual role, that of showcasing local talent and to effectively warm up the audience for the main event with some familiar songs such as Tom Petty's Free Fallin', CSN's Teach Your Children and The Band's timeless The Weight, as well as a few self-penned numbers, in the case of Dogfinger Steve performed on a homemade cigar box guitar.
The sold-out concert continued with Leila Cooper introducing the headliners as succinctly as possible, simply by announcing "are you ready? ... SKERRYVORE" as the band walked out onto the dimly-lit stage and into the spotlight. The welcome was both loud and enthusiastic, with just about everybody in the room out of their chairs and on their feet. Opening with the lively Oblique Blend, an instrumental piece from Skerryvore's brand new record CHASING THE SUN, the band delivered the sort of set designed to keep the audience on their feet for the next 90 minutes or so, which they did. Selecting songs and tunes from the new album, including By Your Side, Here I Am and Moonraker, the band also drew from their back catalogue with such inclusions as We're the Lucky Ones, Angry Fiddler, Clueless Wife and Simple Life.
There's little doubt that Skerryvore made new friends in Driffield tonight, as well as maintaining the strong following that is already there. This is largely due to the band's credentials as a first rate live band. If you're out and about in and around Driffield during the run up to Christmas and you see the word Skerryvore on chunky hoodies, boarder beanie hats or woolly pompoms, you'll have a good idea where they came from. Catch Skerryvore at the Moonbeams Folk Festival at the Wold Top Brewery in July.