Get yourself to Darvel’s musical anniversary

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by Elizabeth Young

The Darvel Music Festival began as part of Darvel’s 250th anniversary celebrations and 10 years later it has gone from strength to strength and placed Darvel firmly on Scotland’s cultural map. 

Showcasing the finest musical talent from both established and up and coming acts, the festival is now a well-known stop on the music circuit playing host to artists such as Eddi Reader, Hue and Cry, The Bluetones and Attic Lights in previous years.

However, this level of success was not always on the cards for the festival.  Run completely by volunteers, the event relies on funding from bodies to secure its future from year to year.

The current team took over in the festival’s third year (the credit for staging the first two festivals goes to original director and fellow music loving local, Lynn Brown), and is led by wife and husband duo Sheila and Neil McKenna along with a supporting cast of local volunteers.  Organisers Sheila and Neil explained to me one sunny Sunday afternoon that it’s been a long road to build the festival up into what it is today.

“The festival has faced so many challenges from year to year.  Initially there was a difficulty in attracting interest in and artists to a festival in the small and relatively unknown town of Darvel.  When asked “why Darvel?” our simple answer was why not!  The town and festival has so much to offer both artists and festival-goers and we began to cultivate and sell “the Darvel Experience”.  We pride ourselves on offering a warmer and friendlier service than anywhere else and try to welcome and accommodate people wherever possible.”

This openness has manifested in a number of ways from helping gig-goers with taxis at the end of the night (or hitching them a lift on a tour bus!) to having bands round for tea and giving them a bed for the night.  Truly a unique experience!

The word soon began to spread along the festival circuit and the team’s optimism and perseverance paid off; by its fifth year the festival had really started to take off.  The tables had turned with bands like Capercaille who had previously turned the festival down now getting in touch to secure their place on the line-up.  Although still struggling to secure funding from year to year, the next few years saw the festival continue to grow and refine their line-ups culminating in 2011’s 10th Anniversary Festival.

To celebrate 10 successful years the organisers promise the biggest and best line-up yet with gigs on over the four weekends in May.  It all kicks off with some post-election festivities on Friday 6th May with a weekend of traditional music from the likes of Drever, McCusker & Woomble, Wolfstone and Session A9.  Following that is a country themed weekend with music from Friday night headliners The Coal Porters and Justin Currie of Del Amitri fame on the Saturday.

Soul, Blues and Funk is the theme for the 20th, 21st and 22nd which sees Maggie Bell and Dave Kelly, the Hamish Stuart Band and Hamilton Loomis all take to the stage with support from some outstanding acts including “the man who created funk” Pee Wee Ellis who co-wrote James Brown’s first hit Cold Sweat as well as a string of other well-known hits.  Rounding off May is the festival finale which sees Aberfeldy, The Phantom Band and Skinner take to the stage on Friday 27th with The Silencers, Kassidy and JJ Gilmour completing the 29 act festival on the Saturday night.

The festival also sees some of the finest new Scottish talent take to the stage – winner of Channel 4’s Orange unsignedAct 2008 Tommy Reilly, festival favourites First Charge of the Light Brigade and Glasgow-based singer songwriter Roddy Hart to name but a few.

All promise great things to come for the future of Scottish music, although they already boast some significant achievements to date; Hart having toured with the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Eddi Reader and Reilly boasting a top 20 single.  Incidentally Hart also produced Reilly’s 2010 released second album “Hello! I’m Tommy Reilly” – small world!

Hard to believe then that this could be the end.  Like so many other important organisations, the Darvel Music Festival faces funding cuts going forward that may make it almost impossible to continue.  Organisers are hoping that a successful 2011 will help to secure the festival’s future.  So a word of encouragement from this writer – get yourself to Darvel, soak up the Darvel experience and support the festival!