Highlands & Islands

Back to front: Loopallu the festival 'that shouldn't work'

Image copyright Handout
Image caption Twin Atlantic will perform in Ullapool later this month

Loopallu - Ullapool backwards - takes place in the village later this month.

The music festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, will feature Utah Saints, Twin Atlantic, Shed Seven, The Undertones, Alabama 3 and Public Service Broadcasting among others.

But Robert Hicks, the festival's founder and director, says it is an event that almost defies logic.

The odds of Loopallu being a success are stacked against it, according Mr Hicks.

It is held in autumn - placing it outside the traditional summer festival season - in a location on Scotland's north west Highland coast and with just 2,500 revellers on each of the two days it is held.

"On paper, it is an event that should not work," says Mr Hicks, who lives in Ullapool. "But here we are 10 years on.

"I think we now stand alongside Scotland's other festivals - T in the Park, the Wickerman, HebCelt and Belladrum," he adds.

Image copyright Hayseed Dixie
Image caption Hayseed Dixie at the time of the first Loopallu

Hayseed Dixie, at the time enjoying a huge public profile, promoted and headlined the first Loopallu.

The Tennessee-based group, which continues to tour in the UK and recently finished a new album, had previously played in the village hall at Ullapool.

In the build up to Loopallu's debut, Hayseed Dixie plugged it at every opportunity including during an appearance on BBC Radio Two's Jeremy Vine show and from the main stage of Glastonbury.

Mr Hicks drew his inspiration from Glasgow band Belle and Sebastians Camber Sands Weekender, where the band took over a holiday camp for the weekend

Mr Hicks says: "The first festival was very much about Hayseed Dixie and Ullapool.

"While they did not have a financial input in it, they promoted the festival throughout the UK in the build up to the first event, coupled with incredible support from Radio Two's Janice Long. The rest, as they say, is history."

He adds: "The festival is held at the end of September to avoid clashing with the height of the summer tourist season.

"Ironically it is now one of the biggest weeks in terms of income for the village. Many of those going to the festival start arriving on the Wednesday and stay until Sunday."

About 30% of the revellers are from the Highlands, 50-60% from the rest of Scotland and the rest from other parts of the UK and abroad.

In the past, an economic impact study showed the festival generated between £600,000 to £700,000 for the local economy.

Mr Hicks adds: "Pretty much the same people have been involved in running Loopallu since the start.

"We have people who down tools to come and run it. There is a joiner who becomes the site manager, another joiner who manages the bar."

Tickets for this year's festival sold out before any of the acts were announced, a cause of delight but also concern for Mr Hicks.

Image copyright Handout
Image caption Utah Saints will play at this year's Loopallu
Image caption Mumford and Sons have previously performed at Loopallu
Image copyright Handout
Image caption Public Service Broadcasting are returning to Loopallu after previously playing at the festival
Image copyright Handout
Image caption Hunter and the Bear are another act due to reappear at the event

"It was incredible. It was the quickest ever we have sold out," he says.

"On one hand I was really, really chuffed, on the other hand I was really nervous. I thought 'oh god who do they think we have got?'"

Headline acts in previous years have included Franz Ferdinand, Paolo Nutini and Mumford and Sons.

Mr Hick says: "People's expectations are high.

"Fortunately, when we announced this year's line up it was again well received. I think we have built up a trust with our audience that we will deliver."

Acts, as well as festival-goers, have also shown a willingness to come back year after year.

They include Hunter and the Bear and, making their second appearance at Loopallu, Public Service Broadcasting.

Mr Hicks says one of the biggest complements has been Mumford and Sons being inspired to set up their own mini festival, Gentlemen of the Road Stopover, following their appearance at Loopallu.

"I'm flattered that we've had that little bit of influence on a global act," he says.

Loopallu takes place on 26-27 September.

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