Review: Lost Map’s Howlin’ Fling

First published in the Guardian on 21 July, 2014

Could there be a more magical setting for a music festival? The little Hebridean island of Eigg is a gem: tucked between Skye and Ardnamurchan, flanked by craggy Rhum and tiny Muck, topped by its iconic knobbly An Sgurr. The ferry trip involves whale and dolphin spotting; the campsite is a white sandy beach, perfect for morning swims among the seals. In recent decades Eigg has become famous for its progressive collective land ownership (it was bought by its residents in 1997) and that community spirit was everywhere about this festival, from locals giving punters lifts on the back of pick-ups to headline acts taking voluntary shifts on the bar. It’s a cliché but hey: the star of the show was the island itself.

Strictly speaking this was Howlin’ Fling’s inaugural year, though the festival has provenance. Run by musician and Eigg resident Johnny Lynch, aka The Pictish Trail, it’s the successor to what was the Fence Records Away Game before Fence imploded and Lynch set up his own label, Lost Map. Mercifully, the weekend bore few vestiges of that acrimonious split, the odd cheeky quip aside.

The programme was lower key than previous Away Games but worked on range and plain good will. Lynch evidently has an ear for fine voices, from Rozi Plain’s wholesome croon to Steve Mason’s laddish husk; Kid Canaveral’s raucous whoops to the twisting, tugging, compulsive glitches of impressive newcomers Adult Jazz. Friday opened with Sam Amidon’s slow, cracked-edged drawl; later he duetted with Beth Orton, her voice high and brittle against his. Jens Lekman charmed the bobble-hatted hipster crowd into giddy grins with his smooth, happy pop songs. A mellow Sunday afternoon set from cellist Olly Coates included Messiaen’s Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus – no instrumental piece is more vocal, and he made it sing.