HebCelt Festival 2018 – A Students View

Main stage during Skippinish


Back in June of this year we announced a new partnership between the Sound Production Department here at NCL and the organisers of the HebCelt festival. This partnership was to provide student volunteers to help with the day to day running of the festival and  in turn provide them with invaluable industry experience. Click here and here for a wee reminder of  that announcement. Also, check out this article, which highlights the economic benefits the creative industries and festivals such as HebCelt can bring to the local community.

Anyway, our first involvement with the festival was a great success with feedback from both the organisers and students being all very positive. Dont believe me? Here’s a student’s view of the festival:

All roads lead to HebCelt!

HebCelt 2018 saw huge names like The Fratellis, Deacon Blue, Skippinish, Niteworks and many more incredible acts grace both the Main & Island stages at this traditional music festival in Stornoway.

HebCelt has been running for over 20 years with the help of volunteers from all over the world. This year Sound Production and Music Business students from New College Lanarkshire had the amazing opportunity of volunteering as part of the Tech crew (not to mention backstage passes to all the awesome music on offer). I was one such lucky student!

From the moment we arrived on the island, everyone was so welcoming and friendly. We got off the ferry just in time for Tech team drinks at McNeil’s (where all roads lead back!). This gave us all a great chance to get to know the rest of the volunteers and chat about what we were going to be doing at the festival. I say all roads lead back to McNeil’s because there are literally only three streets you need to navigate during the festival, and most of them end up back at the pub! Not that we encourage this sort of thing or anything…

The day after we arrived, we got stuck into loading in all the audio gear for the festival and during the week we were given sound experience, working alongside a professional audio company: shadowing sound checks, setting up microphones, cable runs, stage decks and instruments.

One of my main roles during the festival was assisting the Stage Managers with artist changeovers and audio setups on the Main Stage on the three performance nights. This meant I got to see The Fratellis who headlined on Friday night, chat with their crew and help set up, which I’ve got to say was all pretty sweet. One of my mates on the Tech crew actually chatted to John Paul backstage during soundcheck and punted him a cheeky wee demo CD of his band’s debut album…and why not eh?! Genuinely nice guys though! Just getting to be in amongst all the instruments and gear was a dream come true for any wee audio geek, trust me!

I feel like the experience I gained was really relevant to my course overall but myself and the other Sound Production students would like to get even more involved in the engineering of the festival next year, maybe even getting some time on those tasty Midas Pro X desks…

After the final headliner on Saturday night, the whole Tech crew pulled together for the monumental de-rig of both stages. De-rig is not for the faint hearted but honestly, with sound, lighting and AV all working hard together, we got the job done fairly quickly (took hours still but I swear that is quick!!!) and had many hilarious, delirious moments in the process!

As well as sound engineering and stagehand experience, we got to learn all about the running of a professional festival, its organisation and the process of the festival build from start to finish. Other volunteers who weren’t engineering said they also really enjoyed this aspect of being on the crew and I can vouch for how much this knowledge comes in handy if you want to work in the music industry or at any festival. Personally, I never realised just how much work goes into a 3-day festival and how hard everyone works so we can all get merry and enjoy ourselves!

As you may have caught on already, the Tech crew work very hard but we party even harder! Aye, I did just say party and no I’m not that ancient…after work each night, we enjoyed going out with the team to An Lanntair for a wee dance at the ceilidh, to McNeil’s for a hard-earned beverage or, dare I say it, to Era – the local nightclub (think 90’s dance music & glow sticks). All I can say is make sure you bring your kilt and dancing shoes next year!

If none of that’s your scene, then don’t fret: there’s opportunities for downtime too. I had the full day off before de-rig on Saturday so myself and other folk from the course got a chance to wander round Stornoway, meet a lot of the lovely folk in town, shop, eat and fend off some seagulls whilst scranning our chips!

We also got to explore the festival itself with all the different food tents, traditional music going on, circus shows even! Later, we got to go to the Niteworks gig in the Island tent, which was a great gig! I mainly listen to indie and alt rock music but I’m partial to EDM, and Niteworks basically combine traditional, Celtic sounds with dance music and groovy synths which was an unexpected musical match made in heaven! An eye and ear opener for loads of folk on my course, myself included, being exposed to new genres of music, artists and experiences. Amazing memories and friends were made there that night and I’ve been truly converted to the dark side, that is, the ‘trad’ side…

Stuff you should probably know if you fancy volunteering next year? Travel to HebCelt is via bus or car to Ullapool and then the ferry to Stornoway. There are pretty affordable accommodation options whilst volunteering at the festival: you can either stay at the local campsite (twenty minutes’ walk from the festival) or different hostels nearby in the island’s town centre. You also get grub provided for you whilst you’re on shift…those meatballs eh!

What you really need to know though? The Tech crew is an absolutely cracking team to volunteer with. We all pitch in, we’re all like-minded but unique with our own passions for music, sound and business. We all gelled really well and just had a genuine sense of comradery during the whole week. Friends have been made for life, with a lot of them from different parts of the globe.

And of course, we helped pull off the most successful HebCelt to date!

An experience none of us will forget!

See you all at Heb 2019!



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