It can be hard to know what to say when tragedy strikes, but Angus MacPhail found the right words.
In the wake of the Manchester bombing on May 22, 2017, Angus wrote ‘Wishing Well’, in tribute to Barra teenager Eilidh MacLeod who died in the attack.
As the first anniversary of the atrocity was marked, the song was re-released as a charity single and reached No 24 in the main UK charts. The lines ‘Your spirit was strong, now silent your song, but your soul with the Pole Star shines on’ were also projected on to buildings at St Ann’s Square in Manchester during the There Is a Light event.
Proceeds from the single will go to the “Team Eilidh” fundraising group which hopes to raise £5,000 to support the funding of a permanent memorial to the 14-year-old.
Angus is the accordionist and a founder member of Scots band Skipinnish who played to one of their largest audiences in the Usher Hall in Glasgow recently when their gig included the first live performance of the charity song.
He said: “The reaction of the live audience was immense. The whole of that huge concert venue was singing along and there were a lot who said it was the highlight of their night.”
He went on: “We are so happy with the reception we have had from the public to ‘Wishing Well’. Folk have really got behind the song and had been so supportive with the download launch.
“It reached 24 in the UK singles charts and hit the Scottish mainstream Top Ten, coming in a Number 8 for the whole week. And even more important than the chart success for us is that Eilidh's family really like the song and have been involved and supportive throughout.”
The band, formed in Tiree in 1999, will give what is sure to be an emotional rendition of ‘Wishing Well’ to an island audience at the Hebridean Celtic Festival in July.
“Performing the song in Stornoway will feel particularly powerful as Hebrideans as a people are a very close community”, said Angus. “The loss of Eilidh MacLeod was felt sorely far and wide but nowhere more so than in the Western Isles.”
Skipinnish will headline the festival’s opening evening on Thursday, 19 July at a time of unprecedented success for the band.
They rocketed to the top of the Scottish music scene recently and were named Live Act of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2017. They have also released four consecutive chart-topping, self-penned singles and enjoyed a 3,000-seat, sell-out concert in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, while the first 600 tickets for a Barrowland gig sold out in under ten minutes.
“We are so grateful to our fans who have shown such strong support”, said Angus. “And the numbers keep growing all the time. For whatever reason, people seem to be really enjoying what we are doing and we hope that will continue.
“There is no better feeling that playing a gig and people leave on a euphoric music and song-fuelled high! But I don't think you can create that consciously. We just have to do what we do and hope for the best.”
Skipinnish’s growing success is notable, coming after the loss in 2016 of their lead singer Robert Robertson, who left to form Tide Lines. He was replaced by former Manran frontman Norrie MacIver, from Lewis.
“We've been so lucky with everyone we've had in the band over the years and the timing of Norrie being available just when we needed a lead singer was amazingly good luck”, said Angus.
“He is such a good fit and within a few gigs it felt like he had been in the band for years. Robert was a very hard act to follow but Norrie has an incredible combination of charisma, ease of confidence on stage, a great voice and great talent in being able to deliver a song from within the lyrics.
“My favourite memory of HebCelt is playing there for the first time with ‘Local Hero’ Norrie as our front man. It was a great experience, you could feel how excited the audience were and we hope this year will feel just as special.”
Returning this year to the multi award-winning HebCelt is also something Angus is excited about: “Of all the festivals we have ever played at, HebCelt is consistently the best organised and easiest to perform at.
“Although it is a fair journey to get there, once you arrive on Lewis everything is organised to perfection. It makes a huge difference as a band when, from the top down, those running it are so professional, friendly and just good at what they do. The audience at HebCelt is always amazing too.”
The rest of the year looks just as exciting for Skipinnish, as a group and as individuals says Angus: “We have a few big gigs planned and we will be starting another album at some point.
“Norrie will also become a dad for the first time and that is more important than any gig or song or album. We are all very excited for him and Catriona.”
And the countdown has already started to next year when the band mark their 20th anniversary: “Aye it's hard to believe we'll have been at this for 20 years next year”, Angus concedes.
“I dare say we'll be doing something to celebrate it, but I have no idea what yet though. It could be a big gig or maybe a few tunes and drams in the Park Bar!”
This year’s HebCelt runs from 18-21 July with headliners Deacon Blue, The Fratellis, Eddi Reader, Skipinnish and Roddy Woomble.
Day tickets for HebCelt are available exclusively from the festival website. See www.hebceltfest.com