Double anniversary at HebCelt

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The award-winning Hebridean Celtic Festival is sharing its 20th anniversary celebrations with a band that has become an audience favourite.

The Afro Celt Sound System, which has featured a wide range of guest artists, including Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant and Sinéad O’Connor, is also marking its first two decades in 2015.

After a hiatus in 2007, the band re-grouped in 2010 and played a number of shows, including a return to WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance and this year announced the upcoming release of a new album, “Born”.

HebCelt runs from 15-18 July.

Grammy-nominated James McNally, musician, composer and producer of Afro Celt Sound System answers our questions.

Q: How are the anniversary celebrations going? Does it feel like 20 years?

A: The celebrations are going great. We’ve just played at our first headline show this year at Bearded Theory in UK and some of the organisers and reviews have said it was the best live performance they’d seen since the festival began eight years ago.

With twenty years of live performances under our belt it is still a great encouragement to be creating that kind of reaction whenever and wherever we perform.

I think the secret lies in the energy and spirit within the music and not hacking ourselves around the world at every opportunity.

ACSS shows are currently few and far between, but that’s what makes every one of them a unique and special event. 2015 signifies twenty years since our first performance at the Whirly Gig, which was a new part of the UK WOMAD Festival back in 1995.

We were just a sound system back at that point, but it was the pivotal moment when we first realised that a concept could actually become a live band.

This year, to commemorate that, we are playing a few specially selected live shows around the world, and are very pleased that HebCelt is going to be part of this plan, particularly as it is such a special year for the festival and everyone involved in it too.

Q: Anything special planned to mark both your and HebCelt’s 20th anniversaries?

A: Yes, we are excited and honoured to be back performing for the HebCelt audience. It’s always been a very special festival to us. The atmosphere is spine-tingling and it carries you the whole journey of the show.

This year we will have a very special guest artist with us, the amazing Rwandan vocalist, Dorothee Munyaneza. Martin (Russell) first discovered her back when we were commissioned to work on the soundtrack of the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda.

Her spellbinding vocals led us to invite her to join us on our subsequent album “Anatomic” where she collaborated on two of our all-time favourite songs, “Mother” and “When I Still Needed You “. We are really looking forward to performing those songs on the night.

Q: When exactly will the new album be out? How was the process of making it? What’s the story behind the title “Born”?

A: We are extremely excited with the way Born is shaping up. We’re planning to release it next year to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the release of our first album “Sound a Magic” in 1996. The title “Born” represents quite a significant point in our history.

The idea initially was a natural follow-on process from the cover of our last album, “Anatomic”, which was centred around the image of a foetal baby and the spark of life and energy that begins to happen within all of us at that time. “Born” signifies the coming of age of that process - a beginning, not an ending.

What we feel is that the band and its music has been developing constantly for 20 years.

Different sounds, different influences, different people, but always with a main core of two or three writers with the same fascination. Twenty years is our gestation cycle and now we are ready for “Born”.

Q: What can everyone expect from “Born”?

A: More surprises, of course, along with some familiar sounds and bursts of energy, and hopefully another amazing journey to share.

Q: The band are big favourites at HebCelt. What are your own favourite memories of the festival?

A: The festival is also a big favourite of the band. The audience’s reaction towards us has always been uplifting and unforgettable, even to the point of being dangerously so!

My most memorable moment will not be forgotten easily - back in 2001 the audience whipped us into such a frenzy that some of us overdid it on the energy front.

Having pushed myself to the extreme, the next morning I was carted off from the hotel in an ambulance to stay for a further five days in the company of the lovely doctors and nurses at your local hospital.

I think the most memorable moment was the daily appliance of the surgical stocking. I blame the audience at HebCelt wholeheartedly.

This year’s HebCelt will also feature acts including Idlewild, Treacherous Orchestra, the Karen Matheson Band, Shooglenifty, Chastity Brown and Salsa Celtica.