Final preparations are underway for Stramash this weekend (August 9 and 10), now based in Willowglen after it became clear the festival could not use the Castle Green as usual this year because of the condition of the Castle Green.
The ground on Castle Green was saturated before the Hebridean Celtic Festival after heavy rainfall which also caused a massive overflow of water from ancient storm drains deep in the foundations under Lews Castle. This led to extensive surface damage before, during and after Hebcelt.
Stramash organisers are now all set for two days of free music and family fun, including another likely episode of ‘Peatlemania’ as local music phenomenon Peat and Diesel are on stage on the Saturday afternoon.
And they were delighted to see their tent go up, complete with new extension, for the first time.
The extension is thanks to a five-year sponsorship deal from community wind farm Point and Sandwick Trust. The Trust, which runs the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm for the financial benefit of the community, is giving £7,000 to Stramash – £2,000 towards the tent extension and another £1,000 every year for five years to help towards running costs.
Held annually in Stornoway’s Castle Grounds, the main aim of Stramash is to provide a platform for local musicians and artists to showcase their own material and entry is always free, to be fully inclusive.
Organisers have also been gradually buying all the equipment they need over the years, to become fully sustainable, and are delighted they now have a big enough tent to meet their needs. They also support local organisations, with money from the tea bar and donations, and are this year supporting Macaulay College.
Donald John MacSween, General Manager of Point and Sandwick Trust, said: “Stramash is now an important part of the summer event scene in the islands and we’re delighted to be supporting them. We’re sure they will go from strength to strength and it’s important to remember they have raised a lot of money for good causes over the years. Long may they rock on!”
The tent extension is 800sq ft and allowed Stramash to increase their capacity by 20 per cent.
Paul Matheson, chairman of the Stramash Stornoway Community Group, said it had created a much-needed backstage area and a marshalling area for musical equipment, which will allow for bigger musical set-ups on stage and faster changeovers between bands.
It also allows the bands to network together backstage and has freed up the space for a disabled viewing area. Paul stressed that a tent extension had always been part of the plan. Finally getting it though, with nearly half funded by Point and Sandwick Trust, was “a complete game changer”.
Paul said: “It's been a very hectic and stressful week because we’ve had to relicence the whole thing which is a bit of a nightmare. In all fairness, so far all the agencies involved – police, fire, council, licensing – have all been very supportive and very helpful, which we are very grateful for.”
"It’s a lovely area, it’s well sheltered from all angles so wind isn’t an issue for the tent – on the Castle Green you might have to cancel the event at short notice if the wind picks up – and it’s nice and flat, as opposed to a slope. We’ve been busy talking to all the relevant agencies and the Trust have done a fantastic job. They’ve been absolutely amazing. The guys were there for two days. They cut all the grass, strimmed the access behind The Hub and cut the overhanging trees. They made a really usable access for us.
“So it’s gone from the initial disaster of being told we couldn’t use the Castle Green to turning into something that looks really good. Willowglen could be our new permanent base if it all goes well.”
Musically, the organisers believe this could be the best Stramash yet, with big headline acts and a change in musical direction, with Paul admitting they had broadened out and lightened up.
“Generally, this year’s line-up is the strongest line-up we’ve had yet. It’s a fantastic line-up. We’re expecting a wider audience and that’s what we’re looking for. I think we’re broadening the spectrum as well. I mean, Peat and Diesel… when I hear accordions I usually run a mile.
“I think people will be pleasantly surprised at the direction change this year because I think the bands that we’ve invited along this year are not that detailed in a specific genre. It’s not heavy rock. It’s just rock.”
Stramash is comprised of three distinct events – the Friday night, Saturday afternoon and the Saturday night – with each event having a specific focus.
Friday night is the local showcase night and is headlined by Astrid – “a very, very strong pull”, said Paul – with support from Neosa.
Saturday afternoon is family focused and includes a performance from Peat and Diesel – “the only word to sum them up is entertainment” – while Saturday night remains ‘Stramash rocks’. Saturday night is headlined by Twister – “instantly likeable with a feelgood factor” – including support from Anchor Lane, who played Download last year.
“Twister are brilliant. They’re not heavy. We’ve definitely lightened up on the rock side this year. That was a conscious thing. We just felt that it would appeal to a wider audience if we made it less heavy, more popular rock, and Twister is an instant like.
“They really do shine on stage.”
Stramash organisers do not give exact times for performances – only Friday night, Saturday afternoon or Saturday night – so fans are asked to “get in early to avoid disappointment” if they want to see a specific band.
The tent opens on Saturday afternoon at 1pm and can only hold a few hundred people. Once maximum numbers are reached, a ‘one in, one out’ system is in operation.
Big crowds could be a welcome change from previous years, though, as Paul admitted they had considered cancelling the Saturday afternoon because turnout was so low.
Looking ahead, the tent extension and guaranteed funding for five years had helped set them up.
“As the event is coming forward, after all the pitfalls we’ve faced, we can’t stress enough how much Point and Sandwick Trust have turned around the vision that we had set out for the festival. The vision that we had for the festival has now become reality because of that funding.
“With the tent extension, all the agencies pulling together, and with the really strong support from Stornoway Trust, it’s gone uphill very quickly and now it’s really, really good as far as the event’s concerned."