All roads - and rails - lead to Girvan

Pictured left to right at Girvan station are Pat Lappin, Stevie Neil, Anne Hogg, John Geller and Robert Charlton.
Pictured left to right at Girvan station are Pat Lappin, Stevie Neil, Anne Hogg, John Geller and Robert Charlton.

All roads – and rails – lead to Girvan for the Mayday holiday weekend as hundreds of folkies descend on the town.

The 45th Girvan Traditional Folk Festival is set for May 3-5 with another fantastic weekend of folk entertainment promised. everything from concerts to pub sessions, dance ceilidhs, workshops, competitions and childrens fun.

Girvan folk festival was promoted at Ayr Railway Station.

Girvan folk festival was promoted at Ayr Railway Station.

Plus this year, a traditional market and art exhibition make Girvan the place to be over the Mayday holiday.

Watch out for the inaugural performance of ‘Jock Tamson’s Ideal Band’ and explore the story behind local minister Jock Tamson and his bairns!

Some of the festival committee and guests were on the Ayr to Girvan railway line on Tuesday, April 23 to promote the festival.

The performers for 2019 promise lots of great musical experiences from people firmly rooted in the tradition. This year happens to have many more solo performers that formally established folk groups – but there is a plan behind this. Many people see Girvan as a ‘meeting place’; a chance to see old friends and to rub shoulders with traditional musicians from all ‘airts and pairts’ so there will be lots of opportunities for people to share in performance for some unique experiences.

The performers include Cathal McConnell, a founder member of Boys of the Lough – and a member of the group to this day. Expect pure-drop music and inimitable craic.

Cathal now also plays with fiddler Kathryn Nicoll and harper Karen Marshalsay as The Cathal McConnell Trio. Cathal McConnell (flute, whistles, song). Karen Marshalsay (Scottish harp). Kathryn Nicoll (fiddle, viola)

Bob Fox has been one of the most popular performers of the folk revival for many years and his relationship with Girvan Festival goes back almost to its very beginning. His is one of the great voices of the folk revival. For the last few years Bob has been in the spotlight in the National Theatre’s production, Warhorse.

Jock Tamson’s Ideal Band needs a bit of explanation. The phrase ‘We are all Jock Tamson’s Bairns’ is well known in Scotland. This is interpreted in a metaphorical sense as a statement of egalitarian sentiments equivalent to “we’re all the same under the skin” or “we are all God’s children”. There is a Girvan link in that Jock Thomson was a minister from Dailly in 1800. He later moved to Duddingston near Edinburgh and became the most famous minister of the local Kirk, holding the post from 1808 to 1840.

One version attributing the origin of the adage to Thomson is that his first wife died after they had five children, he then married a widow who already had five children, and this second marriage produced another four children. When his wife then made introductions to visitors and tried to explain which family the various children belonged to, Thomson would interrupt her with the statement that “They’re a’ Jock Thomson’s bairns”. In folk music circles there is an obvious similarity in name to the much loved and missed folk group, Jock Tamson’s Bairns – but Girvan’s ‘Ideal Band’ will bring together musicians and singers from our extensive guest list as part of the ‘Kist of Riches’ concert. It will be a unique gathering.

James Patterson and John Dipper have played together over many years, including a period in the highly regarded band Patterson Jordan Dipper. James Patterson’s singing is legendary on the folk scene; John Dipper is a respected and established performer, composer, teacher and instrument maker who grew up steeped in the traditions of Southern England.

Rosie Stewart is a singer and ambassador for traditional Ulster singing. With a style that is entirely her own, she picks and chooses her repertoire from songs that might be 200 or 20 years old. Born Rosie McKeaney in the townland of Cashel in the parish of Garrison, Co Fermanagh, Rosie has music and song in her veins. ‘I think you absorb the art of traditional singing through listening. I had been listening to my grandfather, my father and my mother since I was a baby.’ Her mother, Lena Fox, was a well known singer and her grandfather, Edward Keaney was a talented singer and fiddle player.

Brian Miller is one of the stalwarts of the Scottish Folk scene coming to prominence initially as a member of The Laggan, and still a member of The Stars Band with Arthur Johnstone and Charlie Soane. Brian has worked with Fiona Ross in the past as members of the folk group Handsel. He will be accompanying Fiona Ross at Girvan as well as contributing in his own right.

Dave Goulder is a master songwriter, almost everyone will be aware of his song The January Man which is one of the classic songs of the folk revival. There is much more of course, including a song The Pinwherry Dip which is set very close to Girvan.

A member of the internationally renowned Sands Family from County Down, Colum Sands is an exceptional songwriter with a depth that few can match. Immersed in rural traditions in Ireland, his writing is very much in the tradition of Irish storytellers who spun yarns, believable because they were rooted in real life.

Dick Gaughan is a legendary figure within the folk revival in Scotland. Many people will now be aware that Dick had some health issues in the last couple of years which have prevented him from working at a professional level. But – the good news – Dick has been performing over the last year, singing his classic song Childhood’s End as part of the Far, Far from Ypres WW1 related show. Dick’s agreement to come to Girvan has been in his words ‘subject to circumstance’. We look forward to Dick contributing to the songwriting part of the festival with both words of wisdom and the odd song or two. Beyond that, we don’t know, but we look forward to his presence.

Gary West learned his piping with the acclaimed Vale of Atholl Pipe Band with whom he played for 18 years winning both the Scottish and European Championships. In the late 1980s, he began to play a prominent role in the folk music scene, joining Ceolbeg in 1988, and becoming a founder member of the Scottish ‘supergroup’ Clan Alba in 1991, playing alongside such luminaries as Dick Gaughan and Brian McNeil. His first solo album, The Islay Ball, was released in 2001 on the Greentrax label. Gary is a full time lecturer in the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Sandra Kerr has had a long and distinguished career in folk music, beginning with her training in the acclaimed Critic’s Group (1963-72), under the tutelage of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. Here she received a strong grounding in the folk arts, including song, instrumental music, folk and agit-prop theatre. She developed her song-writing skills here, and did much research, becoming familiar with all the works of the great folklorists such as Sharp, Child, Bronson and so on. This research resulted in some ground-breaking recordings including Sweet Thames Flow Softly, A Merry Progress to London and The Female Frolic, possibly the first album to explore the folk repertoire in its relation to women’s experience.

Mike Vass is one of the most creative forces on the Scottish music scene. As a musician, composer, producer and arranger Vass has amassed a body of work that encompasses early appearances as a livewire young fiddler, collaborations with many of the leading voices among today’s Scots and Gaelic tradition bearers, delivering multi-media performances, overseeing critically acclaimed recordings, and scoring for prestigious ensembles.

In 2008 Mike joined Malinky, the internationally respected champions of traditional Scots song. He played fiddle and tenor guitar on their Flower and Iron album, toured regularly with the band until 2010 and following their five – year hiatus, he returned to record Far Better Days and play further concerts with them in 2015 and in 2018 he was part of a new Malinky recording which is shortly due for release.

Heather Yule is a long established accredited member of the Scottish Storytelling Directory and has travelled all over Scotland and abroad, including Iceland, Norway, Poland and North America, performing, teaching and leading workshops.

Aly and Maggie Macrea are mother and son. Maggie is a fine singer and best known to most Girvan regulars as the Artistic Director of the festival for over twenty years. Her whole family have been steeped in traditional music and have played together for many years as members of The Tattiehowkers Ceilidh Band. It would have been inconceivable that Aly would not have grown up with a love of folk music and he was recently placed 1st in the Border Ballad Competition at Newcastleton Festival. Other aspects of his musical upbringing include experiencing some of the great communicators and showmen of the folk revival which perhaps explains his professional work in Theatre. Alasdair is an actor, sound designer, musician, musical director and composer. He trained in Theatre Arts at Langside College, Glasgow and has now won several awards for his work.

The Barrstools are a local six piece band with their roots, as the name suggests, lying in the Village of Barr in South Ayrshire. Originally the founding members of Dave Sherry and Quentin “Cutty” Fyfe shared vocal duties along with their guitar, banjo and whistle. The subsequent additions of accordionist Stewart Robertson and multi-instrumental piper Hamish Denham,and latterly the rhythm section in the form of percussionist Kevin Borland and the double bass of Harry Sheddon, provides the Barrstools with their unique take on drinking songs from pubs across the Atlantic and closer to home, alongside traditional tunes with modern twists. Taking liberal inspiration from everything from the likes of Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen, Fred Morrison to Skippinish and the Dubliners to We Banjo 3, The Barrstools blend of musicianship and craic has quickly become a music festival mainstay.

Artie Trezise brings his Artie’s Tartan Tales show to Girvan – the festival where some of the ideas for The Singing Kettle first formed through Cilla & Artie’s meeting at Girvan with Major Mustard’s Travelling Show.

Girvan folk festival is pleased to be in collaboration with the south west Scotland community rail partnership and Scotrail in promoting the 2019 festival. Other funders include South Ayrshire Council, Foundation Scotland, Carrick Futures, Falck community fund, Kilgallioch community fund, William Grant distillers and Glasgow TMSA. Check the full programme and the timetable for buses serving the outlying villages for festival events at www.girvanfolkfestival.org.uk .