Lochaber trad music star Gary and Mànran to headline new Fort festival

Gary Innes, back in the stand at An Aird this week, and from where festival-goers will be able to watch his band, Manran, and other local traditional groups play at a new festival at Easter. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F49 Gary Innes concert 01
Gary Innes, back in the stand at An Aird this week, and from where festival-goers will be able to watch his band, Manran, and other local traditional groups play at a new festival at Easter. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F49 Gary Innes concert 01

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It’s been a good few years since Gary Innes wielded a caman on the Fort William shinty pitch at An Aird, but the local traditional music star will grace the ground once again come Easter when he and his band, Mànran, stage a special two-day music festival to celebrate the group’s 10th anniversary.

Mànran have been in high demand as a live act across the world with shows in over 30 countries recently, but the seven-piece, which includes Gary’s fellow native Lochaber lad Ewen Henderson, are coming home to host the star-studded two-day 10 by the Ben Festival in Fort William on Friday and Saturday, April 10 and 11, next year.

Joining the band to celebrate a decade at the top will be Skerryvore,  Caledonia legend Dougie MacLean, Breabach and local singer-songwriter Keir Gibson. Donnie Munro will play on the Saturday night as well as instrumental group Flook, and local superstars The Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band.

Mànran will close the festival by using the performance to also launch their new album as well as playing a host of material from the past 10 years.

In a special interview this week with the Lochaber Times, Gary revealed just how much he is looking forward to being back on home soil.

‘To be honest, I’ve always felt Fort William has needed a flagship music event in traditional music for a number of years. We used to have Lochaber Live festival but that hasn’t been going for nearly 30 years,’ he told us.

‘So, when putting together our 10-year anniversary celebrations for Mànran, both Ewen Henderson and myself, both from Lochaber, and because of my own affiliation with Fort William Shinty Club over the years, felt this would be perfect opportunity to collaborate together and put an event here in Lochaber, in Fort William, and incorporate the shinty club committee as well.

‘We’re looking at a 3,600 capacity over two days. So a lot of fingers will be crossed for good weather!’

Asked if the intention was to stage the festival annually, Gary explained: ‘The idea is very much to grow it. My own thoughts are we are dipping a toe in the water with Mànran and the 10 By The Ben event for our big celebration year and, if it is a success, then the following year we will look to create a new Lochaber musical festival again.

‘It would have new name, new branding and  won’t keep to strictly traditional music and we would look to open it up to various genres and try to incorporate more local bands and have wider appeal for people.’

Asked if he thought weather-wise, Easter weekend could be a bit risky in this part of the world, Gary laughed: ‘We wanted to stay away from the stereotypical summer festival because there so many.

‘We felt Easter was a nice time, and the weather can be quite nice then in Lochaber, plus a number of people are traditionally off on the Friday and Monday of that weekend.

‘I think Lochaber has been screaming out for event like this for years, and I’ve been keen on doing something but the time has never felt quite right, though it does now.

‘So we really hope the people of Lochaber get on board and come and enjoy it because it will be brilliant. It’s going to be a magic event in terms of the bands and the craic.’

Asked if it felt like a decade he and the band had been playing together, Gary said it did not feel as long until he looked at photos from the early days.

‘The photos don’t lie! We’re all just fresh-faced young boys in them. When we put band together it was a bit like a Big Brother [the reality TV show] experiment because we didn’t know each other.

‘The whole idea was we felt there was a gap in market for a band with Highland and uillean pipes, Gaelic and English singing, and with drum and bass as there was no band out there like that – and there’s still no band with that combo. That was the thinking alongside Ewen Henderson.’

Gary always wanted to make a living playing traditional music and has been doing so since 2003.

‘From playing pubs and clubs, ceilidhs and weddings, to travelling the world with Mànran, plus various other projects and my own solo stuff, it’s been amazing.

‘But if you’d asked me 10 years ago if I thought all that would’ve been possible, I wouldn’t have said so back then.

‘It’s something I have worked very hard at, but there’s always an element of luck in who you meet and who you end up playing music with.

‘I feel very fortunate to be playing music with, and travelling with, such  a great bunch of lads with a common goal – we love it and want to play music together.’