Banjos vs Bagpipes: Oban Live 2019

I first came across Oban Live (7-8 June 2019) founders Skerryvore at Shrewsbury Folk Festival last summer and as I was moving to Scotland shortly after I was excited to hear that they had their very own festival. The sold out two day event (capacity 5000) has been taking place in the beautiful seaside town of Oban on the West Coast of Scotland since 2016 and has been going from strength to strength ever since.

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(photo courtesy of Oban Live/Stephen Lawson)

On Friday morning I hopped on a very crowded (as way too short) train from Glasgow and arrived three hours later in Oban together with lots of other excited, mostly repeat, festival goers. And yeah, despite having had some terrible weather all week, the open-air festival stayed blissfully rain-free during the whole weekend.

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Oban Live takes place at Mossfield Park Stadium, a short, well-signposted walk from the town centre and unlike most of the other festivals I usually attend there is just one big stage. This meant there is no difficult choices to make or music schedules to plan. We could simply enjoy all the bands without having to worry about missing any of the live acts.

Both days’ line-ups consisted of six bands. First up on day one was young local trad musicians Argyll Ceilidh Trail, followed by JigJam from Ireland and Be Charlotte, an up and coming Dundee-based artist. After sampling the festival food on offer, which included wood-oven pizza, Asian noodles, Mexcian food, fish & chips and a stall with some traditional Scottish dishes, all of which had veggie options, plus a coffee, tea and ice cream stall, it was time for the evening acts starting with popular trad fusion band from the Highlands, Elephant Sessions.

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(photo courtesy of Oban Live/Stephen Lawson)

My favourite set of the night was billed as Celtic Brotherhood, which in fact consisted of festival bands We Banjo 3 from Galway and Skerryvore joined by some additional local pipers for extra oomph. The Friday headliners were Red Hot Chilli Pipers with dancers of Flings & Things, an appearance by Soul Nation choir and of course bagpipes galore.

Day two started out with Edinburgh based rock band DMS followed by Scottish trad virtuosos Talisk and spirited singer songwriter Lucy Spraggan. The Caman Connection, a super group of Scottish musicians with an association with the Scottish sport of Shinty brought together by Gary Innes and included band members of Runrig, Capercaillie and Manran. The rest of the night was another energetic set by Irish ‘Celtgrass’ band We Banjo 3 and a fabulous closing set by Skerryvore, who had everyone up on their feet for the last hour and a half.

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Besides the main event there was also a varied programme of Fringe happenings taking place from Thursday onwards and both the main festival as well as the fringe had informative little print-out programmes with all the info needed. From daytime pub sessions to a craft market and two after parties at the View Oban late into the night, there was something for everyone whether you are a morning lark or a night owl.

I was very impressed with the organisation of the festival on the whole. The security checks at the entrance were thorough but not over the top (it is OK to bring in food, just no liquids) and there were clearly layed out areas for putting up your own camping chairs with a great view of the stage, while most people opted for dancing right in front. There was also a VIP ticket option with a separately cordoned off area, their own bar and perks like food vouchers and priority entry into the after party each night. The entire festival was very relaxed and had a mixed age audience from families with children to groups of local teenagers and lots of Skerryvore fans of all ages from around Scotland and beyond.

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As there is quite a demand for local accommodation during the festival weekend, I would highly recommend booking your hotel or B&B as early as possible. Having initially thought I would be camping (around £30 including a shuttle to and from the festival), I opted for a hostel in town instead, Oban Backpackers, which was walking distance, comfy, very clean and, of course, full of other Oban Live folks, so a very pleasant base for the weekend.

In terms of eating out, Oban has plenty of options for everyone: fresh seafood from a stall by the harbour, trying local delicacies at the Food From Argyll café in the ferry terminal or starting the day off with a sweet breakfast at the airy Chocolate Café with a waffle & ice cream special (see pic below). There are also a Tesco, Lidl & Aldi on the way to the festival for supplies and some cheap camping chairs (Tesco), which came in handy as my friend had hurt her foot just a few days earlier.

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During the day you can explore the town itself and for instance enjoy the fantastic view over the bay from McCaig’s Tower, hike or cycle to one of the nearby beaches (can recommend Ganavan (see pic below), about 2 kilometres along the seafront with a food stall and public toilets) or take a 1-2 hour wildlife spotting boat trip from the harbour.

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Oban really is a beautiful corner of Scotland and Oban Live a festival which is big enough to have an excellent time listening to top Scottish and international musicians while being small and friendly enough to have a relaxed holiday weekend. Best of both worlds!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2019 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival apart from those labelled courtesy of Oban Live/Stephen Lawson.

 

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City of Bridges: 24 Hours in Newcastle

After moving to Glasgow last autumn I had a long list of places to visit in Scotland, but things don’t always turn out the way you think. I have always been fascinated by the history of individual buildings and the people who lived in them. When I was watching the BBC documentary series ‘A House Through Time’ the other day, which portrayed a home in the English city of Newcastle, it seemed like an intriguing place to visit: industrial history, a vibrant cultural scene and many beautiful green spaces, very similar to Glasgow.

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About a week before the trip I booked a train ticket and found a good hotel deal. I decided to stay one night only and see how much I would manage to discover in 24 hours just by walking a few different neighbourhoods and soaking up the local atmosphere. I made a shortlist of things I absolutely had to see and usually group those by area with spots for lunch or coffee preselected, which gives me a few things to aim for along the route without restricting me too much in terms of spontaneity. It also really helps working out beforehand when certain attractions are closed, so you don’t end up missing out on them. Here are a few of the things I especially enjoyed:

The Lit & Phil

On my travels I often visit beautiful cities and buildings, but not many have the kind of wow factor the Lit & Phil has for me. Fairly unassuming from the outside, you walk up a flight of quite dark stairs until you emerge into the most brilliantly designed (by John Green 1822-25), large yet cosy space every booklover would want to never ever leave again. Give me 180k of books to browse, a cup of coffee and a comfy chair and that’s me sorted. Apart from its undeniable instagram appeal, it was the friendliness and uncomplicated feel of the library that made it even more enjoyable. I was made feel welcome by an enthusiastic volunteer (who worked as a librarian for 40 years) and while it is an independent members library, everyone is encouraged to browse and explore the space. It has always been a place to discuss books, not just for quiet contemplation, so if you want a guaranteed good experience on your visit, even just 10 minutes in here will lift your spirits. The Lit & Phil is a mere 5 minute walk from central station, so no excuse, plus they have lovely souvenirs to take home to those unfortunate ones who missed out on experiencing this amazing library in person.

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The Bridge Views

Even if you only have an hour in Newcastle, walk down to any of the bridges and look across the river Tyne and you won’t regret it. The city’s 7 stunningly different bridges spanning the Newcastle Northern side of the river and the Gateshead side on the south are a sight to behold and you’ll never get tired of those fabulous views. In fact, I dare you to walk across any of them and not feel like wanting to take hundreds of pictures from the many possible angles. Once you’ve crisscrossed them to your heart’s content, grab a sandwich, take a seat somewhere by the Quayside and indulge in some people watching. Newcastle is a lively city with a large student population and as I was lucky to have excellent weather during my visit, everyone was out and about enjoying the rays and a relaxed drink by the water. Bliss.

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The Ouseburn Valley

I often find the best places to visit by simply opening Google Maps and zooming in on individual neighbourhoods. When you type in things you enjoy doing or spending time in like (in my case) vegan cafes or charity shops, you often find the best places for a nice walk. I therefore quickly worked out that the Ouseburn Valley (once the cradle of the city’s industrial revolution) east of the city centre would be a fun place to explore and I wasn’t disappointed. After enjoying the views over the city centre from the top floor of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art I crossed the river and walked east along the water until I got to the Cycle Hub (bicycle repair and great coffee with a view). I then followed a footpath next to the Ouseburn (pronounced ‘use-burn’, a small tributary to the Tyne), which took me past Seven Stories and to Ouseburn City Farm. There is even a horseriding centre just up the road. The Cluny pub right opposite and the Tyne Bar (a bit further south) are both great for live music, so I guess I’ll just have to come back another time. It’s an area that won’t appeal to every first time visitor with its rough charm and mix of old and new, but to me it’s just perfect.

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Green Spaces & Cosy Cafes

City trips don’t need to exclude spending time in nature. On the contrary, many modern cities have a wealth of green spaces, which are well worth enjoying, promoting and saving for future generations. On my second day I walked from the city centre north towards Jesmond, turned right on Osborne Avenue and continued north along the river for a little while, then turned around and walked south on a forest path to Heaton Park, ending up on Heaton Road. I had a chat with dog walkers, European visitors who used to live in the city and locals along the way and one of them recommended The Butterfly Cabinet for brunch. It turned out to be a good tip. After a morning’s brisk walking, I enoyed tucking into a yummy veggie burger and then still had some time left for more sightseeing in the city centre, including the intriguing historic Bessie Surtees House. The day before I found Super Natural Vegan Cafe (see their amazing food below), which I managed to visit twice, as there always needs to be time made for cake.

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The Sage Gateshead

The large and modern Sage Gateshead music centre and concert hall on the South Side of the Tyne (easily walkable from city centre accommodation) was designed by Norman Foster and opened in 2004. I had been aware of it for a while as they run a fabulous sounding Americana festival ‘Summertyne’ in July (on my list!). So it was very lucky that the one night I happend to be in town an absolutely wonderful special event was taking place. ‘Modern Fairies’ an enchanted mix of folk myths, ancient and modern instruments, storytelling, illustration and film making was simply beautiful and it somehow summed up my whole Newcastle experience for me: it’s a city that manages to marry the old with the new in a vibrant, down to earth way, which is really inspiring. Having scribbled down the dates of lots of upcoming festivals and other cultural events in my notebook, I’m certainly planning to be back fairly soon. I hope the above gives you a few additional reasons to visit this Northern City with its friendly vibe.

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P.S. If you’re a bunny lover like me or even if you’re not, don’t miss the Vampire Rabbit, you’ll have fun hunting down this bizarre over a century-old gargoyle with a mysterious history in the city centre.

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Booklovers Unite: Aye Write Festival 2019

When I talk to people who have never been to a book festival about what an exciting experience it is, they often don’t believe me. The truth is, however, that literature festivals capture the experience of any topic worth writing about, which means there is a huge array of events on offer from nature writing to politics, fiction to poetry, geography, history, travel and many, many more.

Aye Write (14-31 March 2019) was founded in 2005 and has since grown steadily as more and more people flock to the festival year after year to meet their favourite authors and to find some exciting new reading material. The two main venues used are the iconic Mitchell Library, one of Europe’s largest reference libraries, and the Royal Concert Hall, both in the city centre of Glasgow. This means that you can easily attend a few events in a row with a nice coffee break in the library or concert hall cafes in between.

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Apart from the main venues the festival also offers free events in the community and a special mini festival for younger readers called Wee Write, including an exciting family day on 2 March at the Mitchell Library packed with fun activities and appearances by much-loved authors for all age groups. Workshops for budding writers were also worth signing up for, a series of creative writing workshops from creating believable characters for your first novel to learning how to write poetry. Alas, as is usually the case with larger festivals, there were several events on in both venues at any given time, so it was partly quite tricky to decide which events to go for.

After attending just a handful Aye Write 2018 events last year when I wasn’t living in Glagow yet, I managed to fit in four volunteer shifts beside my day job this time around. One was the opening night of the festival with one of my favourite sessions this year: a sold out reading and talk by Gina Miller, which took place in the RCH (see pic above). While her appearances on TV and radio tend to be on serious political topics, the festival talk was a chance to meet the person behind the news. We learned that death threats and racial and sexual abuse are sadly not uncommon when you stand up for what you believe in. However, having been inspired early on by her solicitor father her memoir ‘Rise’ is an inspiring account of how overcoming obstacles definitely makes us stronger.

On Sunday 17 March I was scheduled for helping out in the Green Room, welcoming authors and making sure they had everything they needed. While I only managed to attend one event that afternoon, it was a pretty intriguing one. Writer Stephen Millar and photographer Allan McCreadie set out to portray the ‘Tribes of Glasgow’ and came across many subcultures I had no idea existed in my new home city, including pagans, cosplayers and many other colourful groups and clubs.

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My next time at the festival was on 30 March, the last weekend with another bumper list of happenings. I was back at the Mitchell Library and the first event sounded interesting as psychoanalyst and professor of modern literary at Goldsmiths University spoke about his book ‘Not Working: Why We Have to Stop’. Alas, with only an hour available, we hardly got past hearing about his main theory about the reasons for burnout and giving inactivity a higher value in order to live a more fulfilled existence. But I guess taking that one hour out of a busy schedule for such an event already constitutes a healthy awareness on the advantages of taking stock of our wellbeing.

I also dropped into two other events that day, one was an illustrated talk by photographer Alex Boyd on his book ‘St Kilda: The Silent Islands’ a 21st century perspective on past and present in such a beautiful and remote place with dramatic landscapes. Another was a talk by nuclear submarine officer Eric Thompson giving a first-hand experience of working on a British nuclear submarine in his book ‘On Her Majesty’s Nuclear Service’. The event was well attended by both female and male festival goers, and, speaking to a few of them, most had a personal connection to the topic through family members working in the field or simply an interest in British history. My last event that day was the first fiction reading for me this year. Irish author Donal Ryan spoke eloquently and humorously about his experience writing ‘From a Low and Quiet Sea’, a story both set in war-torn Syria and small-town Ireland.

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31 March was the last day of the festival and I was based at the RCH for it. STV news correspondent Mike Edwards discussed his book ‘The Road Home’ an unusual road trip visiting five places named Inverness in the USA, who were all very different in size and character. The other event had an even more local connection. Emily Cutts, a Glasgow campaigner telling us of her lengthy but eventually successful struggle against a housing development in North Kelvin Meadow, known as ‘The Children’s Wood’. The book is called ‘The Dear Wild Place’ and I’m looking forward to reading it. I was amazed at the resilience, positivity and sheer determination of her and the entire community who managed to save this green space through strategic collaboration with other local organisations, businesses and individuals in a constructive way, which is truly inspiring.

If you’d like to volunteer for Aye Write in the future, keep an eye on their website a couple of months before the next festival happens. The shifts I did were between 4 and 6 hours long, which covered about two to three events. You work along other motivated booklovers and we were provided with some coffee and sandwich vouchers to keep us going throughout a busy day.

Arab & North African Womxn’s Arts in Glasgow: Dardishi Festival 2019

I first came across Dardishi (8-11 March 2019) when I attended Document Human Rights Film Festival in Glasgow last October. Having been looking forward to it for months, it was a shame I only managed to make it to two sessions on one day, but it still left a big impression.

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My first event on Saturday afternoon was called ‘Diasporic Daydreams: Storytelling, Solidarity and Survival in our films.’ It was a wonderful collection of short films by Arab and North African female filmmakers living in diaspora creatively and positively dealing with ways how to overcome trauma. The showcase included documentary, animation, fiction and interview and my favourite was probably an animated short film movingly chronicling a displaced young Syrian woman’s dilemma of having to bridge two very different worlds. The pleasure of being at smaller, more grassroots festivals is getting a unique chance to discover cultural jems such as these, which highlight shared human experience and bring us closer together rather than divide us. Even better if a festival champions womxn filmmakers and artists who are still underrepresented in almost all walks of life. The curator of this event, researcher Sumaya Kassim, led an audience discussion after the screenings and empathised the importance of solidarity across cultures and genders in times of rising fascism and xenophobia.

The second event was a screening of Mai Masri’s award-winning feature in Arabic with English subtitles called ‘3000 Nights’. Its female protagonist, a pregnant Palestinian schoolteacher serving time in an Israeli prison, took us into a world that is as cruel as it is intriguing. This film definitely didn’t make for easy viewing, but another example of how such stories can help cross cultural barriers and remind us of our shared humanity where mainstream media or politics often fail.

Other events included a creative writing event, a children’s art and activism workshop and even a session on learning to DJ all of which gave anyone identifying as a girl or womxn plenty of opportunities to express themselves creatively in a welcoming and safe environment. For those of you not from Glasgow, the venue, the CCA right in the centre of Glasgow (including a veggie cafe), is a wonderful incubator of cultural events and there is guaranteed to be something interesting on if you are visiting.

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Apart from film screenings (including a queer movie night), music and talks, there was also a lovely quiet space to hang out in between events, which required no ticket, was open to all and provided a respite away from the noisier aspects of the festival. A real effort had also been made to make the festival accessible in various ways: financially via sliding scale ticket options as well as in a physical sense to people of all abilities, including providing sign language interpreters.

I was delighted to hear that the volunteer-run festival has secured further funding for events throughout the year. You can also support Dardishi by getting on their mailing list, attend events and purchase some of their lovely and creative merch and zines, all created by womxn. Oh and if, like me, you had never heard of the Glasgow Zine Library before, do check out their events as well as the fabulous Glasgow Women’s Library.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with tickets for the 2019 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

Transcending Traditions: Celtic Connections 2019

I’ve been coming to Glasgow for Celtic Connections every January since 2016 and ever since first arriving in the city I felt it might be a good place for me to live. So last autumn I finally made the move from London and it was fantastic to be in town for the whole 18 days of the festival (17 Jan – 3 Feb 2019) for the first time!

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Being the largest winter music festival in Europe, the event has been a success story for many years now. It not only attracts a huge number of locals who enjoy outstanding music from different parts of the world, it has also become a magnet for visitors from other countries who brave the winter weather in order to experience the unique atmosphere of Glasgow city.

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This year was no different and the festival boasted a bumper programme of acts from the worlds of folk, Americana, classical, Indie, roc & blues, spoken word and many exciting cross-over collaborations.

Week 1

The festival started for me with a celebration of Tiree music festival (see pic above) at the Old Fruitmarket including Trail West and Skerryvore. On Saturday I was looking after two very different bands as a volunteer artist rep, May Erlewine, melodic Americana from Michigan, and the Como Mamas, three fabulous gospel singers from Mississippi, at Mackintosh Church (one of my new favourite buildings in the city, well worth a visit). On Sunday I was at King Tuts for the first time for an afternoon session of up an coming artists part of Hazy Recollections. Later that night I popped into a couple of gigs that were happening around the corner from each other: Irish trad musician Daoiri Farrell and friends playing ‘The Dublin Session’, Charles Esten of the Nashville series fame, sold out, but alas not my kind of thing and a bit of The Roaming Roots Revue at the Royal Concert Hall including the always excellent KT Tunstall. After taking a much needed break for two nights I was back on Wednesday with a session of lovely Welsh music including songwriter Gwyneth Glyn in the Strathclyde Suite of the RCH. On Thursday I very much enjoyed seeing Americana artist Caroline Spence again who supported US musician Steve Forbert at St. Andrews.

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Week 2

My second festival Friday was a night of old-time and more modern Appalachian tunes and songs with Canadian trio The Lonesome Ace Stringband. On Saturday I was looking after two more bands for the day: Andrew Combs & Charlie Whitten from Nashville and Amy Helm from New York. They played Oran Mor and both were excellent, Andrew & Charlie complemented each other perfectly while Amy and band played an energetic set for an enthusiastic audience. The day after I went to see Madison Violet form Canada at the Fruitmarket and then headed over to St. Luke’s for Tennessean Ashley Monroe. On Monday I was at the Rhiannon Giddens show at the RCH (with surprise support by Kaia Kater). With such an outstanding voice she can really sing anything well, but although the orchestra arrangement was fascinating, it didn’t touch me as much as her other work usually does. Midweek I caught Canadian Leeroy Stagger at King’s Theatre (a new venue for both the festival and me) and then headed over to the Mitchell Theatre for Emily Smith and her husband Jamie McClennan, who I hadn’t seen for years and who was as good as I had remembered, a more Americana sound this time around. I only caught one of the BBC Seirm recordings at Hillhead Bookclub this year, but it was again a wonderful line-up including Tim O’Brien and Blue Rose Code, one of my Scottish favourites of recent years.

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Week 3

The third Friday of the festival I was so tired after a long week at work and constant concert going that I just wanted to get some sleep, but a friend abroad messaged me to say check out the line-up at St. Luke’s tonight. So I reluctantly ventured out into the cold and was pleasantly surprised the venue was seated for the night, hurrah. The first band up, Pretty Archie from Cape Breton pretty much woke me up within five seconds and I also really enjoyed Chance McCoy’s first solo set at the festival. Nashville-based headliner Nicki Bluhm and her band were excellent, but I was too sleepy by then to really appreciate it. Saturday was my last time looking after festival bands this year and I was at the Old Fruitmarket (see pic above) again for a very exciting collaboration by Karine Polwart and a selection of other musicians (Shetlander Inge Thomson, Graeme Smilie, Louis Abbott of Admiral Fallow etc.). Her ‘Scottish Songbook’ consisted of a diverse selection of popular songs by Scottish bands of the past and present from Annie Lennox to Frightened Rabbit with a lot of humorous banter thrown in. My final gig of the festival was at the O2 Academy across the river, another great listed building and impressive former cinema. The show started with Canadians Pretty Archie (see pic below), followed by the very rocky Hooten Hallers from Missouri (both bands’ first visit to Scotland) and the popular The Dead South, Canadian bluegrass with an edge.

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You might be reading this and wonder if you have been to a completely different festival. Around a dozen different musical offerings on many nights make it a tough choice for festival goers. This year I often simply went by what hadn’t been sold out yet or was easy to get to if the weather was particularly adverse (it was in fact, fairly OK for this time of the year, phew). I also tried to make it to a few venues I had never been to in the years before.

You don’t need to move here like I did to enjoy what Glasgow has to offer, but this exciting Scottish city is definitely worth a visit, especially during Celtic Connections. Read more about previous editions of the festival (2016, 2017, 2018) and a guide to Glasgow during Celtic Connections. Hope you’ll join us next year!

Shared Experience: Document Human Rights Film Festival 2018

With all the political upheaval going on in the UK at the moment, it is tempting to want to just hide under a duvet and sleep throught it all. However, once we look outward and explore people’s lives outside our own living environment, we will often find astonishing parallels and might discover a shared human experience we didn’t realise existed.

Document Human Rights Film Festival Glasgow has been around for a decade and a half and this year’s edition took place from 30 November until 2 December 2018 at the Scottish Youth Theatre in the heart of Merchant City. The festival presented 40 feature length and short documentaries – many prize-winning and all inspirational – from around the world plus a number of intriguing discussions with international filmmakers. As every film was only shown once, it was a tough choice, but I still managed to make it to a good range of screenings, which were all fascinating in their own way.

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On Friday night I picked a special screening curated by Creative Interruptions of restored films from the time of the Palestinian revolution, which was followed by a Q&A with Iraqi filmmaker Kassem Hawal. My own knowledge of this part of the world is fairly limited and it was interesting to see that the PLO with their generally military approach to conflict also worked on preserving the local culture, which included a filmmaking unit, aiming to keep alive a collective memory, so important to the survival of any culture. It was a glimpse into a world which the other side tried their best to hide from the people and the wider world. Listening to Hawal talk about his own experience trying to make and distribute films about difficult or controversial topics and a limited budget reminded me how little we really know about non-Western cultures unless we really do our own research. Document Film Festival was therefore a welcome window into an often hidden, multifaceted world.

My first film on day two was a nearly 2.5 hour long meditative piece by experimental American filmmaker Ben Russell entitled ‘Good Luck’, which explores the differences and similarities of two groups of men working in the mining trade in vastly different conditions in Serbia and Suriname and was shot on Super 16mm film. As there were some tech problems (later resolved) and as I was feeling pretty rotten because of a cold, I decided to leave after about half an hour, but sincerely hope there will be another chance to see this film. It was received very well at the festival.

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I returned to the Scottish Youth Theatre later that night for a screening of Chaos by Syrian filmmaker Sarah Fattahi, who is currently based in Vienna. The film portrays three Syrian women living in exile with very different stories but united in their experience of trauma and all the complexity it involves. Sadly, a workshop with the filmmaker scheduled for the same day had to be cancelled, but we were lucky to have a skype Q&A with Fattahi touching on the topics covered in the film. I was really impressed by Fattahi’s work and approach and will definitely keep an eye out for any future films.

The last film I saw was probably my favourite and was very moving from start to finish. In ‘A Woman Captured’ filmmaker Bernadett Tuza-Ritter had unprecedented access to the life of Hungarian woman Marish for a year and a half and followed her from a situation of what can only be described as modern slavery (like an estimated 45 million people worldwide!) to standing on her own two feet and forging a positive future for herself and her family. I was close to tears several times when I saw Marish getting treated literally worse than any animal and the difficulties she faced escaping this terrible situation. In times where cuts to social budgets are the norm in this country, too, it begs the question what we are doing in our own communities to avoid such terrible abuse. Not easy viewing, but with (luckily) a hopeful ending, it motivated me to keep fighting against injustice. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for all of us to do so.

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After an empowering weekend of films and discussions I highly recommend checking out this small but important film festival, which boasted an incredibly dense programme of brilliant documentaries you won’t see in your local Cineworld. Yes, it can be difficult to take a closer look at issues around the world most of us are lucky not to have to deal with on a daily basis. However, those you care about human rights will instantly find their tribe at events like Document. It was easy to get talking to other attendees and the dedicated and friendly festival producers and volunteers (see pic above), many of them students of human rights and similar degrees. I had never been to the venue before, but will definitely look out for future events there as it is in such a central location and had a nice vibe about it.

I’m already looking forward to Dardishi Festival, a new feminist zine and arts festival happening in Glasgow from 8-10 March 2019. Their fundraising booklet with women’s writing and art (see below) is really beautiful and partnering with Document was a great idea. It’s so good to see smaller festivals supporting each other. They often get less press than bigger events with larger marketing budgets, but like with Document, the programme quality is often at least as high. In fact, finding local festivals and helping them thrive could be your new year’s resolution, how about that?!

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A Honky Tonkin’ Great Time at The Long Road Festival 2018

It’s always exciting to be there for the first ever edition of a new festival and I’m very glad I made it to the inaugural The Long Road Festival (7-9 September 2018) at Stanford Hall, near Rugby. After having been led down the wrong motorway by our Satnav on Friday afternoon and arriving a bit later than anticipated we were joking that the seemingly never-ending road we followed to get to the festival location was surely what it was named after!

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We missed a few of Friday night’s acts, but got there just in time for rocky UK Americana outfit Case Hardin on the Front Porch stage (which looked like a wood cabin including smoke coming out of the chimney!), who I hadn’t seen for way too long. I then headed over to the Interstate stage for London-based country music quartet The Wandering Hearts and finished up inside the Honky Tonk venue for a set by Northerner Twinnie, who I had never heard of before, but who impressed with her voice and positive energy. It had gotten quite cold by then and I decided to call it a night in order to get the best out of the rest of the weekend.

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Saturday started with a real bang as it was time for the Women in Country in the Round slot in the Honky Tonk bar (inside the ‘building’ on the right in the pic below), one of the best festival sessions all weekend. It featured Irish-born but now London-based Megan O’Neill, UK country singer Laura Oakes and Texan country artist and a former ‘The Voice’ winner Danielle Bradbery. Luckily, most of my favourite artists were scheduled inside the cosy Honky Tonk, a brilliantly designed nod to Nashville music city, which just felt like actually being in the States! So while it wasn’t the best of festival weather outside, we had a front row table for a long list of absolutely superb acts, most of whom I’d seen separately on various occasions and are all well worth a listen.

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The Loose Music takeover really made my Saturday with my only complaint being the disappointingly short half hour sets for most artists. We spent most of the afternoon happily cooped up inside the Honky Tonk listening to hours and hours of brilliant live music courtesy of Yola Carter (UK), Caroline Spence (USA), Erin Rae (USA), William The Conquerer (UK), Frontier Ruckus (USA) and Danny and the Champions. I also managed to catch the always amazing Angaleena Presley earlier that day and, to top it all off, listened to a fabulous set by Lee Ann Womack (see pic below), who should have really been one of the headliners, my first time seeing her live.

TLR 18 Lee Ann Womack

Sunday was the only really sunny day and by that time all of us knew the venues inside and out and were just enjoying moving between the different areas. There was again a packed programme from around lunchtime until late. I saw blues duo Andrew Alli & Josh Small (USA), UK Americana artist Danni Nicholls, New Orleans-based Luke Winslow-King (with fab Italian guitarist Roberto Luti) and Ashley Campbell (see pic below), who had some very witty songs and sounded a lot more Americana than I had thought.

TLR 18 Ashley Campbell 1

I also caught Dori Freeman (USA), Charlie Worsham (USA), who made some lovely comments on how appreciative UK audiences are, Emily Barker’s more Americana side, some of Elizabeth Cook’s (USA) set, who was very popular with some of my friends and UK country duo The Shires closing the main stage that night. My favourite set all weekend though, has got to be The Lone Bellow (USA) on the Interstate Stage (see pic below) It never ceases to amaze me with how much energy and fun these guys perform and cannot imagine anyone not getting blown away by their beautiful songs and great stage presence.

TLR 18 The Lone Bellow

Apart from the live music, there was also a film screening, ‘ Born in Bristol’ on the birth of country music, dance classes, stunning vintage cars on display, the family area Possum County with games and music, wild swimming (though with the temperatures we had, I doubt many braved the cold water) and a good selection of food and drink stalls. The veggie and vegan options included burritos (my fav that weekend), pizza, burgers, sweet potato fries and buddha bowls and there were also various breakfast choices and hot drinks until the evening.

TLR 18 Rhinestone Stage

If there was anything the organisers might reconsider for next year it would be the very strict checks at entering the arena. I don’t usually attend festivals where the camping is fenced off and it made it feel a bit impersonal and unnecessary for the kind of crowd this festival attracted. Any kind of food, alcohol and even umbrellas were officially banned, while security searches were minimal. On the plus side, I was delighted to see that dogs, like sweet Roxy below, were allowed (this year only as day visitors, in future, hopefully overnight, just like at e.g. Maverick Festival and Shrewsbury Folk Festival). As far as I’m concerned, four-legged festival attendees always add to a relaxed atmosphere and it was so great to meet so many festival first timers.

TLR 18 Rox dog

What really made the first The Long Road festival stand out was the excellent line-up from the Country, Americana and Roots music scenes, well done Baylen Leonard and team. Yes, it was a little sad that long-anticipated headliner Carrie Underwood had to pull out at the last minute for health reasons, but the huge range of quality acts, great sound on most stages and the beautifully designed festival venue all made for an outstanding event, which is most definitely here to stay! Better get next year’s tickets as soon as you can.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2018 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.