In June 1990, the first Arran Folk Festival was held and a new Scottish phenomenon was born. In the preceding year, an erstwhile group of enthusiasts had organised themselves; rallying support and commitment from locals, musicians, public bodies and businesses to make the dream happen - and it did!
At that time, the Folk Festival was a very bold statement about Arran and our community - it linked us in a vibrant way to the raw essence of traditional music, which thrives not only in Scotland but in all the Celtic nations and beyond. It brought together the finest and most renowned musicians from the international scene; from stalwarts of the 60s revival to young passionate players, who continue to enchant and inspire their audiences.
The Festival was an instant success and it grew. Carefully placed in the first week of June, it was designed to attract visitors to the island at a time when the weather is often at its best but the place is not busy - local businesses saw a great benefit from this and many reported the Folk Festival to yield their best takings of any week in the year. It was big, it was ambitious - a full seven days of concerts, workshops and spontaneously flourishing sessions, which lent a warmth and a great welcome to everybody who came. For those who were involved in those early days, there was a huge sense of excitement and achievement. Arran was suddenly host to some of the greatest traditional musicians alive and the best thing was that they all wanted to come here and play! The Island's accessibility, the hospitality, efficiency of the committee and quality of audience were a great formula which culminated in several years of the main weekend concerts being held in big marquees, with an electric atmosphere.
Like all living entities, the festival had a cycle - the ambition of the initial committee and its incredible popularity started to cause difficulties - each year became harder to live up to. Fire regulations reduced capacity in the marquee, which made it too costly and from this point, however well supported, the festival seemed to wind down; the main concerts moved back into village halls and the committee's natural enthusiasm began to wane.
The unfortunate fact for the Arran Folk Festival and its committee of volunteers was that commercial reality was beginning to dawn. Operating costs were increasing; bands were becoming more professional and commanding higher fees. At the same time, audiences were becoming more demanding - there was a growing expectation of credit card payment and online booking which was at that time out-with the scope of a voluntary organisation. There was also a withdrawal of public body support. The week became a weekend in an attempt to become sustainable but in June 2003, Arran saw its 14th and (apparently) final Folk Festival concert in a capacity filled Brodick Hall.
The committee elected to mothball the festival on the grounds that it was about to lose its final cash reserves and it placed the PA system and bank account in trust until such time as a worthy successor was found. At this time the Folk Club was born with the aim of keeping things “ticking over” and it has successfully promoted acoustic sessions throughout the year although it has no ambition to resurrect a festival.
After several years of contemplation, two individuals who have been very closely involved with the festival at different times, have decided to create a new Arran Folk Festival and to do it in a way which is sustainable in the increasingly commercial world in which we find ourselves. Terry Stevens is known to most islanders and a great many perennial visitors, for his ceilidh work with the "Boguillie Band" and a variety of folk lineups which can be found playing in all corners of the island at all times of year. In a former life, Terry was a director of a marketing company and brings a clear business approach to music - he was also a long-standing Arran Folk Festival committee member. Donal Boyle has been at the forefront of traditional music on Arran for nearly 20 years, having started his musical apprenticeship in the Kiscadale Hotel at the tender age of 14. He has played with Arran Folk Festival founder members, Iain & Maggie Frame in the “Angels' Share” and Glasgow Bluegrass band the "Moonshiners" before joining Terry and his various bands. Donal was also a long-standing committee member and latter day chairman of the festival.
The idea is to run the Arran Folk Festival as a business and to relaunch it with a very high, international profile. Celtic Connections has provided a tremendous model, which demonstrates that it is possible to run a successful, fully commercial enterprise without losing the essence of the tradition with its informality, spontaneity and great sense of humour. The Festival will also establish a trust fund to assist the many community groups, which are involved in music and the performing arts generally.
Website: Arran Folk Festival