Jun 302014

It’s not every gig where the promoter greets you, does the sound, gives you dinner, drives you to the quayside pub and back, puts you up in the house, serves a delicious breakfast, takes you out fishing, fries up the freshly caught mackerel for lunch and sends you on your way with directions for a drive that takes in some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see.

Well that’s how Duncan and Polly treated Anto and myself for our show at Sabhal Mor Ostaig in Sleat on the Isle Of Skye on Saturday.

The Highlands are an expanding universe. The more we see and learn, the more we realize we don’t know and the more we want to find out. Both Davie Gardner, our man on Shetland, and Duncan on Skye have described other, more out-lying gigs that myself and Anto could come back and do. Our gig in Shetland’s capital, Lerwick, and this gig here on Skye are really just scratching the surface of the possibilities that the highlands and islands offer as regards small, well-established gigs for all kinds of acts. There’s a solid sense of a vibrant artistic community and a circuit that is both well run and well supported.

After the soundcheck, Duncan brought us over across the road to his and Polly’s house, set in an idyllic situation looking across to the mainland over Sleat Sound. The sunshine is on the mountains across the way and it truly is divine on this Summer’s evening. Theirs is a fine house, about a hundred and fifty years old, spacious and airy and comfortable and as welcoming as could be.

The sea is down the bottom of the garden and Anto wants to go for a swim. I’m a little more reticent – while the sun is present alright, there’s a biteen of a nip in the breeze. Anto is determined though and leaves me standing with my trouser legs rolled up in the cool water amongst the rocks and the weeds while he goes up to the house to get shorts and a towel. While I’m standing there motionless for a few minutes a tiny flat fish, like a little flounder, about an inch and a half in diameter, scoots over my foot and lands on a stone. Not to save my life would I see this lovely little creature if I hadn’t seen it move. Then a little crab scuttles sideways across the same foot and small fish swim around the weed and between my ankles.

Back down from the house in his shorts, Anto is gung-ho and in no time he’s on his way out past the hard-on-the-feet rocky bits towards the sand, up to the hem of his shorts in the cool salty water of the North Atlantic. Good man Anto, but I can’t let it be said that I let him be in there on his own. As soon as he’s down swimming I’m on my way out to join him. The water is cold, but not shockingly so and it’s gorgeously refreshing – it’s both our first dips in the sea this year. Skin freezing cold and my insides roasting with coursing blood – ALIVE!

Anto Pint

Showered and dried, Polly cooks us up a lovely seafood pasta and we’re well fed and ready for the show by the time we get back over across the road to the centre. There’s about fifty people at the gig, mostly locals but also some long-time supporters and friends of ours, the Blogg family, from way down in the South of England who coincidentally are starting their holiday in Portree this very day.
The acoustics in the venue are easy and pleasant on the ears and coupled with Duncan’s warm sound it all adds up to a well-appreciated and a pleasure-to-do, gig.

Duncan kindly offers to drive us to the pub, Am Praban, about four miles up the road at Isle Ornsay. Standing outside the front door in the mid-Summer twilight, looking across at the moored boats in the sheltered sound with a pint of eighty shillings in my hand, I’m thinking – this is it.

We arrange to rise at nine for a small bit of fishing and when I arrive down the stairs Polly already has the table outside set for breakfast. Grapes, oranges, apples, cereal, tea, freshly brewed coffee, croissants, bread and jams and butter and scrambled eggs on toast with a couple of rashers. What a start to this Sunday.

Duncan goes out in the kayak and brings in his boat for Anto and I to board with the mackerel in a bucket for bait that Polly has prepared. He takes us West up the Sound, we pull in to say hello to a couple of the neighbours, who were at the gig, fishing from their own back garden and then on to the local seal colony where Duncan is careful not to go too close in order not to make the residents leave their restful perches and slither in for a swim.

Lobster Leo

We throw out a line each to see if there’s any sign of mackerel today and while myself and Anto get not a nibble, Duncan pulls in four silvery-green swimmers in one go. Then we go over to check the crab pots. Anto hauls up the first – only one small crab – and I haul up the other two with the same result. Duncan reckons he didn’t have the right bait in this time and he re-baits the pots with the mackerel from the bucket and we head back to shore.

Back on dry land, Polly puts out the freshest of the fresh mackerel fried in oatmeal on the al-fresco table and the lunch is fairly perfect as we chat for ages about all sorts of things. In the early afternoon we hit the road, taking directions from Duncan and Polly for the breathtaking drive towards the back of the island and onwards towards Ullapool.

What a stay we’ve had in Sleat – a huge thanks to Duncan and Polly for everything. It’s not every gig…….