The culture minister has led a chorus of praise for the record-breaking Hebridean Celtic Festival which ended at the weekend after its most successful year.

The 23rd HebCelt, headlined by Deacon Blue, The Fratellis, Eddi Reader, Roddy Woomble and Skipinnish, was held from 18-21 July in Stornoway and sold out on all four days.

Fiona Hylsop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, said: “HebCelt is a marvellous example of how a well-organised event, supported by its community, can be an international success economically, culturally and socially.

“It is not only a great success story for Stornoway and the Hebrides, but also for Scotland, as it promotes our wonderful traditional music and culture across the world.”

Festival director Caroline Maclennan said: “This year’s festival has been an amazing experience and the most successful in our 23-year history.

“Selling out all four nights and getting such wonderful feedback from festival-goers and artists is a great tribute to everyone involved in organising the event, our fantastic community and volunteers, as well as the funders and sponsors that make it possible.”

Artists performing at the festival also paid tribute to another successful event.  Dougie Vipond, drummer with Saturday night headliners Deacon Blue, said: “That was an amazing experience. It’s the first time we’ve been, as a band, to the Hebrides and from the moment we walked on stage the audience reaction was extraordinary.

“The way they sang ‘Dignity’ at the end it was almost as I their lives depended on it. It was brilliant, it was beautiful and there was a sense that all of us on stage were part of the audience as well; everyone enjoying themselves and being as one. It was a great experience.” 

Jon Fratelli, frontman of The Fratellis, who headlined Friday evening, said: “We really had a great time. It was kind of awesome. It makes our job so much easier when you have a crowd like that - that’s when you love your job and I really loved my job tonight. The festival has a certain edge to it. It’s edgier than Glasgow and I thought Glasgow was edgy.”

And Norrie MacIver, lead singer with Thursday headliners Skipinnish, said: “We just had the best gig of the year. From start to finish the crowd were singing all the songs and we could not have asked for a better night.”

More than half the HebCelt audience came from outside the islands, and from as far afield as Australia, Canada and the US as well as across Europe, including many returning families.

The multi award-winning festival also provided a huge economic stimulus for the islands, with hotels, guest houses and campsites all fully booked before and during the event.

Elly Fletcher, Chief Executive of An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, one of the festival venues, said: “We are proud to have such a strong partnership with this incredible festival. HebCelt is always the highlight of our year at An Lanntair, and 2018 did not disappoint.

“What a festival. Our building has been jam-packed with happy, smiling, dancing festival goers from morning ‘til night every day.

“This event is so crucial to our island economy, and the team and I at An Lanntair are delighted to have the chance to play our part in supporting its success once again.  Congratulations to the HebCelt team for producing such a fabulous event this year.”

Stallholder Jeanne Ferguson, from Dalbeg Design, said: “Having been coming to HebCelt for years, I was really pleased to be able to launch my jewellery business through the craft tent. It was fantastic to have my work showcased alongside the wonderful work of my fellow stallholders.

“HebCelt attracts a diverse audience, all wanting to have fun. There is an amazing buzz all around the island, not just in the town but out in the villages as well. The islanders want to be part of it and benefit hugely from the increased profile created by the festival. I really hope to have a stall again next year.”

This year’s HebCelt was given UK-wide prime time television exposure with the BBC’s flagship magazine programme The One Show filming live on Friday evening.

The show, which attracts an average daily audience of five million viewers, saw presenters Matt Baker and Alex Jones introduce the show from the festival arena.

Matt Baker said: “I love the islands – we had such a warm welcome. (HebCelt) has a community feel to it. People had such a lovely time- the music is great, it’s real, it’s live, you feel it. You can’t beat this kind of stuff.”

A number of initiatives were introduced to the festival this year as part of the Year of Young People. A series of concerts were held involving young musicians from Lewis, Harris, the Uists and Barra and they also performed a specially-commissioned new Gaelic song. Ten sound engineer students were given the chance to gain practical experience on stage under a partnership arrangement with New College, Lanarkshire. And the inaugural Next Steps contest, to find new young talent, was won by Iona Fyfe, from Aberdeenshire.