The Newton Stewart & Minnigaff Traditional Music Festival began life as a garden party organised by my partner Rhona and I at our home in Minnigaff, Wigtownshire. Friends and family were invited to join us for good food, a few drinks and to play music together - invariably into the wee small hours! As each year passed the party grew and, evenutally, a small marquee was even required to accommodate everyone.
At this stage I began toying with the idea of inviting professional musicians to perform at the party with a view to attracting some of my, and my family's, favourite musicians down for a weekend of music, to enjoy our hospitality and to also experience this beautiful part of Scotland for themselves. The garden was never going to be large enough though and so the idea of having a music event in the town started to take shape.
After much deliberation but buoyed by local support for the venture I decided to take the plunge and put in some money of my own to pay for two acts with the hope that the support would be there from the public, in terms of ticket sales, to cover all other expenses.
Discussions were had with local hotels, pubs and accommodation providers who were more than happy to help with logistical and even financial support which was hugely encouraging. A large debt of gratitude will always be due to those that supported, and continue to support, the festival.
Having a website and graphic design background I designed some posters and tickets which were printed, at a discounted rate in support of the festival by local printers J&B Print I should add, and distributed across the region. I also put together a small website to advertise the event as widely as possible.
One regret, and it was only realised after the posters and website had been done, was that the Newcastleton Folk Festival, in the Borders, was also the 4th & 5th July 2014. I was disappointed when I realised that because not only have I been to, and have enjoyed, Newcastleton Folk Festival - and therefore obviously couldn't go! - it also meant that those attending Newcastleton couldn't come to us and I know many of those that attended Newcastleton festival would have thoroughly enjoyed the Newton Stewart event.
One of the first things I did after our festival in 2014 was to establish when Newcastleton was taking place in 2015 and I changed our dates accordingly so that we wouldn't clash. I'd definitely recommend that you go to Newcastleton by the way; it's held over the first weekend in July and is one of Scotland's oldest traditional music festivals - www.newcastleton.com.
Anyway, festival weekend arrived and we were all very excited about the programme of events which included two concerts, a harp workshop, tune and song sessions and pipe band.
The weekend kicked off at the Cree Inn, Minnigaff on Friday 4th July 2014 with an opening concert that featured Greg Quiery from Liverpool who very kindly stood in at the last minute, Zoë Bestel a local singer/songwriter with a beautiful voice and ukulele playing and the fabulous Scots singer, winner of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2014 award and local lass too, Robyn Stapleton accompanied by Hajime Takahashi on guitar.
The event was a sell-out with standing room only and if you know the Cree Inn you'll know how cosy that was! The performances were superb and the concert was quickly followed by a tune and song session with family, friends and festival goers until closing time.
Saturday's programme was opened by Rhins of Galloway Pipes and Drums with a unique performance in the Earl of Galloway Gardens and it really drew a crowd. It was the perfect opportunity to hand out flyers and promote the day's events. Pipers from the band then moved down to The Belted Galloway where they facilitated a free piping workshop - you can see clips of that in our video review of the 2014 festival.
As that was taking place people were also gathering at the Creebridge House Hotel for a harp workshop facilitated by the wonderful Scottish harper Wendy Stewart who followed up her workshop with a concert performance - a real treat for everyone present.
(To be continued...)
2014 couldn't have gone any better and it was a complete no-brainer as to whether or not we should have an event in 2015.
We formed a non-profit organisation, the Newton Stewart Traditional Music Festival Assocation, in November 2014 and submitted a bid to the Regional Arts Fund who awarded us £2500.00 towards our 2015 event which, whilst it wasn't fully what we applied for, was a huge step forward for us and has given us the freedom to put on a much larger programme in 2015 - we are extremely grateful for their support.
We have lots planned for the 2015 festival and this year, and also in line with the Newton Stewart Traditional Music Festival Association's key aims and objectives, we have a real focus on traditional music learning with 6 different traditional music workshops available - mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bodhran, pipes and groupwork.
We are also hoping to encourage traditional and original music composition with the introduction of our new tune and song writing competitions which we hope will give local musicians a platform to be creative and to promote their music.
Both the 2014 and 2015 winners of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year award have been artists from Dumfries & Galloway which really demonstrates the wealth of musical talent that we have here in Galloway. That is something that really should be encouraged, developed and promoted as much as possible as it's great for the region but also great for the artist's involved, some of whom may well go on to have careers in the music industry. They are also keeping alive - recognising, acknowledging, appreciating and developing - a very important tradition.
Our two evening concerts are not to be missed this year - we begin on Friday 10th July 2015 with our opening night at The Belted Galloway, Newton Stewart, which features the brilliant duo of Laura-Beth Salter & Jenn Butterworth, BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2015 finalist Ryan Young accompanied by the superb Craig Irving, himself a BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award 2015 nominee and Jonathan Henderson, Glasgow based singer/songwriter who was brought up in Newton Stewart.
The Saturday night finale concert will take place in the newly renovated McMillan Hall this year and I am absolutely thrilled to have secured the musicians that we have - world famous, award winning talent in the shape of the Máirtín O'Connor Band from Ireland, BBC Radio Scotland's Young Traditional Musicians of the Year for 2015 and 2014 respectively - Claire Hastings and Robyn Stapleton not to mention our very own Jones family featuring Claire Mann; themselves extremely well known musicians on the traditional music scene.
There will, of course, be the usual tune and song sessions throughout the weekend in venues in both Newton Stewart and Minnigaff and I'd encourage you to bring your instrument/s and voices and join in as there were some mighty sessions last year with players from all over the region as well from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Belfast, taking part.
This is a beautiful part of Scotland to visit, particularly in July, and that alone should be temptation enough - some of most beautiful hill-walking in Scotland, 2 world famous mountain bike trails, Scotland's National Book Town nearby, castles, lochs, no traffic lights!
If you're into good music too then this is the weekend for you - we'd be delighted to welcome you to Newton Stewart and Minnigaff for the Newton Stewart & Minnigaff Traditional Music Festival 2015.
You can purchase tickets online via this website and we'd recommend booking early to avoid disappointment, particularly for Saturday night. If you have any queries at all though you can call us on 01671 404924.
I'm really looking forward to the festival in July and I hope to see you there too.
Thanks to everyone for your support.