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‘We felt like we were taking part in something important and special’: HebCelt 2021 helps musicians bounce back from the pandemic

Colin Macleod and band were one of the live acts at this year's HebCelt
Colin Macleod and band were one of the live acts at this year's HebCelt

The importance of this year’s HebCelt to musicians hoping to “bounce back”  from the pandemic cannot be overstated, according to a local artist.

Dubbed the Survival Sessions, the four days of live and pre-recorded performances showcasing music and culture ended at the weekend.

In all, the hybrid event produced 32 hours of content which was watched by an international audience.

The Between Islands project celebrates the musical links between the Northern Isles and the Outer Hebrides.

Live shows were staged at An Lanntair, the Stornoway arts centre, in front of a limited audience who secured tickets via a ballot.

These were livestreamed online along with songs, virtual gigs and specially-commissioned work as a way of supporting musicians and providing an economic stepping stone to a full festival return in 2022.

The hybrid festival was organised after organisers were twice forced to cancel HebCelt’s 25th anniversary celebrations in 2020.

HebCelt is ‘part of the islands’ culture’

Local musician Willie Campbell, who featured in two shows – Between Islands and with the ‘super group’ Tumbling Souls, said: “It’s hard to overstate how important the Survival Sessions have been this year.

“HebCelt is part of the islands’ culture and, as always, I’m delighted to have been involved. The atmosphere had a unique quality.

Sian performed to a limited-capacity audience at An Lanntair arts centre

“We’ve all felt like we were taking part in something important and special.

“It’s great to see how strongly the festival has supported local musicians and creatives. It’s been so appreciated by all.”

People tuned in to the festival from across the UK, as well as from the USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Spain and Scandinavia.

HebCelt director Caroline Maclennan said: “We’re delighted to see that the Survival Sessions have inspired so many musicians, both home-based and from around Scotland.

“It allowed us to produce a high quality event which was essentially a TV broadcast of live and pre-recorded material.

Willie Campbell on stage with the Tumbling Souls

“Livestreaming content from a greenfield site has its challenges.

“But the success of this year’s event has been down to the amazing technical and creative talent that the islands have in abundance, and a first class venue to broadcast from.

“We are deeply indebted to all who have been agile and adaptable to enable us to reach a global audience.

“We are happy that we managed to provide a safe and really enjoyable four nights of live music in-person. I know how much it meant to those who played in the auditorium to have that spark of interaction with their audience.

Creating a ‘fresh legacy’

“We have been humbled to receive the many messages of enjoyment and support from our creative community.”

The festival director also paid tribute to the support from HebCelt’s funders and supporters: “They are absolutely critical to our survival in any year and deserve praise for the roles they play in ensuring we are able to create the annual festival, which is so important to our culture, artists and, ultimately, the local economy.

HebCelt hopes to return to normal in 2022

“They have helped us to create a fresh legacy of content and they are aiding our bounce-back from the pandemic.”

The Survival Sessions can still be watched via the festival website.

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