A small ceilidh hall in the middle of a remote island. A bearded man, who has already seemingly hugged everyone in the room, materialises on stage to welcome us ahead of experimental electronica sound collagists Devonanon.

"You're ours now. Forget about ferries, you're staying with us forever".

The man is Johnny Lynch, of Pictish Trail, Lost Maps records, and the Isle of Eigg, an island south of Skye in the inner Hebrides. We're celebrating a very special Howlin' Fling, Lost Maps's biannual (ish) festival. It's been twenty years since the island celebrated community ownership, raising the money to buy out the eccentric German laird who was – hopefully – the last of the centuries of landowners to impose their paternalistic whims on the people.

With all this in mind, these words sound more like a promise than a threat.

Johnny has spent seven years living on the island, running his label, and growing a lovely beard. Before Lost Maps, he spent ten years running Fence Collective, with home games in Fife and "Away Games" on the island. With Howlin' Fling, Eigg is very much home.

"The island is so much a part of the identity of the label, and who I am as a musician now, that it's difficult to resist the urge to put it on every six months," he says, after the minor logistical miracle of getting all the bands, punters and equipment to Eigg has been achieved for another year.

Much of the label's roster is on the bill over the course of the weekend, playing either in the small ceilidh hall or the marquee tent erected next door. Need a break from the bands? Visit one the island's three tourist attractions: An Sgurr, a dramatic rocky outcrop that dominates the island skyline, its peak lurking malevolently behind a certain of cloud; head to the quartz beach to the north west of the island known as the "singing sands", with views over the mysterious Rum; or visit the massacre cave, where in the 16th century much of the island's population is said to have been asphyxiated in a clan feud – and inspired the name of the island's metal band.

There's also a tearoom by the harbour and plenty of dogs to spot, but that's about it.

Fortunately, there's plenty of music to have a proper holie* to. The range of styles squeezed into such a tiny festival is impressive: on the Friday there's everything from louche Pavement-style art rock (Savage Mountain), French electro-funk sexpots (François & the Atlas Mountains), gloriously enthusiastic recovering pop stars (KT Tunstall, with all the hits), to nosebleed techno confusion (John Hopkins).

"The Highlands and Islands and Hebrides has traditional music in all its forms, but they also love a fucking party" explains Johnny.

"I'd be going down the tearoom on a Friday night and plugging in my iPod and putting on some techno, and the whole place would be jumping."

Saturday sees spectacular amounts of rain, eventually cutting off the stepping stones leading to the main camping area. But never fear: there's also the uplifting misery of eagleowl, the sax 'n' anti-ignorance poetry of Alabaster dePlume, and the gorgeous folk storytelling of Withered Hand, before Johnny has the pleasure of headlining his own festival, dressed in a silk kaftan and threatening to burn all newcomers in a giant wicker man "as is traditional" and suggesting that Eigg declares independence and rows itself to somewhere near Iceland.

Howlin' Fling isn't the biggest festival in the U.K. but it's probably the friendliest, which is difficult for misanthropes and good news for everyone else. For those of us who have spent too long in London, the willingness of absolutely everyone to talk to you and hear your story moves quickly from suspicious to reassuring to second nature.

By the end of the weekend, we're all getting lifts on farmers' trailers for a party on the beach, celebratory swim/hugs with strange naked men, and burning the pallets that made up the stage as a closing bonfire. The local brewery – Laig Bay Brewing – turns up with its wares in a wheelbarrow.

Forget the ferries. We're never leaving.

Published by jamesofwalsh

My past blogs haunt the internet like ghost ships on a digital sea.

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