Highlands & Islands

Bear naked: Uncovering the story behind a rising band

Image copyright Handout
Image caption Hunter and the Bear's Jimmy Hunter, Gareth Thompson, Will Irvine and Chris Clark

The band Hunter and the Bear started out as a duo that used to rehearse in a soundproofed shipping container in a London car park before becoming a four piece that supported Eric Clapton this summer.

Ahead of their appearance at Loopallu in Ullapool, lead vocalist Will Irvine tells of growing up in Achiltibuie, listening to his parents' 1970s American rock music and the challenge of coming up with a good band name.

Hunter and the Bear say they can chart their progress by where they are on the bill for this month's Loopallu music festival.

The first time they played, they were on the fringes performing small gigs in Ullapool's Arch Inn and Argyll Hotel.

"This year we've been invited to play on the main stage," says Irvine.

"That is a real step up for us and a good reference point, letting us see how far in a year we've come."

Hunter and the Bear started out as a duo, Irvine and long-time friend Jimmy Hunter, who hails from Glasgow.

The pair ended up at the same university in Newcastle where Irvine studied English with drama and Hunter a business course.

Irvine says: "I was interested in the singing and song writing side of music, but Jimmy taught me to play guitar.

"He coached me through to a point where we could play together."

Later, after university, the pair headed north to Irvine's family home in Achiltibuie in Wester Ross to write songs, before travelling to London in pursuit of gigs.

"Ideally we would have liked to have stayed in Achiltibuie, but we felt we had to be somewhere we could be frequently playing live," says Irvine.

"We felt we had some songs that weren't terrible. We had a few friends in London and were able to get a few gigs, and get invited back to play some more."

Hunter and Irvine decided the next step was to add a drummer and bassist to their outfit.

"We managed to do this reasonably quickly," says Irvine.

They spotted drummer Gareth Thompson, from Brighton, playing in Ronnie Scott's Jazz Bar in London's Soho.

Thompson was asked to an audition where, at that time in 2012, Hunter and the Bear were regularly rehearsing.

"It was a rehearsal studio inside a shipping container in a car park," says Irvine. "It had been soundproofed and had an old drum kit and a couple of amps in it.

"We had really good times there."

Image copyright Handout
Image caption The band has been playing as a four piece for about a year

Chris Clark, from Shrewsbury, a bassist with a love of heavy metal, joined the band next.

Irvine says: "Our musical influences are all different. It is a real mixture and I think that is reflected in our music and song writing.

"I grew up listening to my parents' old rock music, bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Van Morrison. Lynyrd Skynyrd's Simple Man was usually playing in the car on the way to school. And, of course, there was lots of exposure to traditional music."

Earlier this summer, Hunter and the Bear played support to Eric Clapton at his performances in the SSE Hydro in Glasgow and the Leeds Arena.

Irvine says: "Before the performances we would go to a sound check and the lead sound guy would ask us to play a little bit. The sound in those enormous arenas was amazing. It was something I had never experienced before."

At the end of this month, Irvine will be back on home turf playing at Loopallu.

The London-based band has already been up in Wester Ross this year playing at the Summer Isles Festival in August. Irvine has played solo at the small festival in the past.

During the summer, Hunter and the Bear also played at Scotland's T in the Park and Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival.

"We come up to Scotland as often as we can," says the lead vocalist.

"Coming home to Achiltibuie is somewhere I can always come up with ideas, away from the busy schedules down in the city.

"It is somewhere you can clear your head, see the sea and get out for a walk if the writing isn't working out."

So was it in the far north, under its dark skies - light pollution is not a problem in a community of about 300 people - and seeing the constellations of Orion the hunter and Ursa Major, the Great Bear, that Irvine and Hunter drew inspiration for the band's name?

"We came up with some terrible names for the band at first. I'm too embarrassed to mention them," says Irvine, before revealing the answer.

"Jimmy's surname is Hunter and when I was at school I played a lot of rugby and my nickname was the Bear, so we thought Hunter and the Bear was a good name.

"However, because of Jimmy's beard and hair people always think he's the bear in the name.

"The name means a lot of different things to us as a band," Irvine adds. "And we hope it is one that people remember."

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