The Gathering: Part 2—a first time for everything, including trad music

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Now it’s always interesting what people first notice about you when you meet them and I know what mine was when I attended The Gathering, a trad (traditional music) festival in the middle of the Highlands—my very distinctive English accent. Imagine Lucinda from love island, but a bit more Midlands. 

I moved to Stirling, Scotland last September for university having visited only twice before. I was absolutely unaware of Scottish history, culture or music. Luckily my flatmates were more than happy to introduce me to the Scottish way of life, particularly my one friend who comes from Oban on the West Coast, who got me involved in trad. Now I’m no expert and I can’t pronounce half of the song titles but I enjoy the music, it was very new for me. 

There was one band in particular I became slightly obsessed with after they played a lot in the run up to my first Burns Night: The Red Hot Chilli Pipers. 

So, when the option came up of seeing them live alongside some other excellent bands at The Gathering, I jumped at the chance. 

Now, being completely candid I was just there to see the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, but my friends loved some of the bands and I was excited to try some new artists and with the past two years we’ve had any live music is a bonus to go watch.

Now this wasn’t a big festival but I was a little out of my depth. I really had just rocked up to see one band and go from there. I was ready to vibe it out with the rest of the acts, so when Torridon came on in full force I was trying to keep up and match the energy of everyone else. The crowds weren’t out in hoards yet but the band were still brilliant interacting with the audience and keeping the energy alive. 

Skerryvore playing live on stage at The Gathering – credit: Charlotte Sutcliffe

Despite coming on late, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers did not disappoint. The stage presence was captivating and considering half of the band members were playing bagpipes the movement around the stage was impressive. It was clear from the crowd reception that the band’s work with their bagpipe covers of popular songs made it easy to connect with and enjoy.

Their nuanced take on traditional music makes it more accessible and enjoyable for a wider audience and the crowd was loving it. The energy was relentless from all the band and their two dancers who put on a spectacular show of Highland dancing throughout the set. Playing fan favourites such as Leave a Light On and Don’t Stop Believing there wasn’t a point when everyone wasn’t singing lead on by Chris Judge. I was slightly disappointed they didn’t play my personal favourite of theirs with their version of Fix You but bar this the set was stunning.

It could have done with being longer. An overall note of the festival was that the artists could have had longer sets so they could have had more interaction with the crowd. Although all the bands did play their fan favourites, no set was longer than 40 minutes so some notable songs were missed out from lots of artists. With shorter sets come artists just trying to cram as many songs in as they can, with a lack of intimacy that is normally so special in festivals. 

Skerryvore was a band I had briefly interacted with previously but will be revisiting quickly. The crowd sang from beginning to end, jumping to each word and song. This peaked with Take My Hand a firm fan favourite and also the emotional rendition Together Again, a song written over the pandemic.

The band was outstanding, watching them play the bagpipes and fiddle was especially impressive with them being performed with such gusto and stage presence. It does really say something about the performers when, even though I didn’t know most of the songs, the electric energy made me feel a part of something very special. 

This was the general impression from my first trad festival. I don’t fully understand the culture and the words and the tunes, but I understand the importance. The energy of the festival showed that. I’ve been to festivals before, bigger ones, but the intimacy and feeling of community at The Gathering was unmatched. It was something different but it was something alive.

Featured image credit: thegatheringscotland.com

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Film, Media and Journalism student who writes about things that catch her interest. Instagram @charlsutcliffe

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