Solas is a small festival (1000 folks), held on the Blied estate in the beautiful Perthshire countryside. It has a distinctly Scottish flavour. It grew out of the Greenbelt Festival (I remember being at a very early meeting to discuss such an idea!) and seeks to remove the lines between the religious and secular. Though the majority on the Board come from a Christian tradition the festival is about the conversation in culture and politics, listening as much as pronouncing. So Liz Lockhead and journalist Iain McWhirter will sit alongside Rev. Doug Gay and Pádraig Ó Tuama from the Corrymeela Community.
If last year’s Solas was predominantly about the, then, forthcoming Independence Referendum, this year’s festival was a looking back at what happened; a what next? I sensed in the field that this community were prominently YES voters. There might even been a little bit of catharsis.
Yet there was much more than Scotland going on. Betlehem and Belfast were being talked about. The Vox project that uses songwriting for the rehabilitation of prisoners worked the weekend. There were stories from the Travelling community and music form Glasgow’s Roma community. The role of Sport in Scotland was discussed. My highlight was Doug Gay’s talk on Has The Kirk Got A Future: insightful and applicable to anyone involved in any Church.
Musically the diversity was at its most acute. From the guitar instrumentals of RM Hubbert, who also had Emma Pollock singing, to the experimental rap of Hector Bizerk, to the indie sounds of Honeyblood. Highlights for me were Raghu Dixit who sounded like Ravi Shanker would have, had he been as charmed by George Harrison’s guitar as Beatle George’s guitar has been with the sitar; a bit like Indian reggae and festival perfect. The Vaselines were a slice of rock history. They were loved by Kurt Cobain and it was lovely to see why; the catchiest of indie tunes. A weakness might be that the festival needed a Bruce Cockburn figure who can do the spiritual/secular blend in music that the festival does as a whole.
Solas has been garnering much praise in the Scottish media. It is being reviewed as family friendly and laid back festival. It is one almost perfectly organised festival. The setting is perfect. The Barn with its wee bar for the gigs at night, the field with scenic setting and everything handy of the campsite. It’s size is key too. It is small enough to be community and a sense of village yet big enough and well funded enough to have a quality bill and diverse programme. It blends Radio 4 and Radio 1 (well Radio 2 at least) nicely in the same soul space.
A friend’s teenage son came with his parents on Saturday, maybe a little reluctantly. They left on Saturday night without him. He wanted to stay longer. That’s Solas. A place you want to stay a little longer.
For the Stockman family it was a tonic. Small but impacting, laid back but intentional, dealing with the surface but spiritually invisible underneath.