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Fifteenth Skye Accordion & Fiddle Festival - 23rd to 25th May 2019

The last weekend of May found Portree’s Royal Hotel awash with musicians and traditional music as the Fifteenth annual Skye Accordion and Fiddle Festival swung into action with capacity audiences throughout. Festival compere Jim Campbell invited popular keyboard player Jimmy MacDonald of Tighnabruaich, to formally open the Festival on Thursday evening. Jimmy, along with his colleagues, drummer Richard Hughes of Tobermory and multi instrumentalist Derek Hamilton of Galston, from the very first Skye Festival have provided superb backing to the many musicians taking part. A Herculean task when this year there were no fewer than forty visiting players, not counting four invited guest bands. From then on it was simply a succession of great visiting players who had travelled from the length and breadth of the country to “have a tune” with friends old and new. Many and varied were the types of accordion in use and styles of playing from the west coast sounds of the two-row button-box of Ali Beag Macleod of Achnahaird to the familiar sounds of the modern piano accordion in the skilful hands of Iain Stewart of Muir of Ord.  

As usual on such occasions, time seems to fly and soon became time to welcome the evening’s special guests, the Morpeth based Robert Whitehead Band who went on to demonstrate just why they are so much in demand throughout the U.K. and abroad by dancers, listeners and broadcasters. The band were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary and were led by Robert Whitehead on accordion who has been playing since his schooldays, achieving a standard which earned him the accolade of Senior Scottish Traditional Accordion Champion. He was accompanied on drums by brother Jon and on keyboard by long time band member Alan Brown. Friday followed a similar pattern to the previous, day full of music and ‘craic’ with the backing band working flat out to support all the willing participants on stage and this time the main event was a cracking performance from the lively Clappy Doo Ceilidh Band from North Berwick who kept the feet tapping and the rafters ringing. Keyboard player Shauna Flockhart and drummer Johnny Bridges gave great accompaniment to band leader, accordionist Graeme Munro and the audience were delighted to be given a taster of the band’s forthcoming broadcast on “Take the Floor”. On Saturday morning there still seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of visiting players to keep the “punters” happy and there was a special treat in the afternoon when talented accordionist Iain Stewart of Muir of Ord took to the stage. He had intended to perform as a trio with a bass player and Derek Hamilton as drummer but unfortunately the bass player had succumbed to illness. However the duo of Iain and Derek performed superbly to the delight of the audience. As an addition to his slot, Iain entertained with two great piano solos in the style of the late Russ Conway…whom he pointed out was “before his day”! 

Saturday is traditionally the night of the Festival Dance held in Portree’s famous Skye Gathering Hall and this year was no exception with music for dancing being provided by the super sound of The Clyde Valley Ceilidh Band led by Allan Smith on accordion, fiddle maestro Roddy Matthews, Ian Murray on mandolin and Keith Lauder on drums. Meantime a crowd of non-dancers back in the Royal Hotel were being well entertained to an evening of music, song and humour from the hard working backing trio of Derek, Richard and Jimmy with input from visiting musicians bringing a great Festival to an official end – but not quite! For the informal music sessions continued throughout Saturday and Sunday to leave happy Festival-goers to make their way homewards carrying many happy memories of their visit to Skye.
John Grundy.

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Isle of Skye (Photograph)