Now in its fourth year, the Aberfeldy Festival attracts some of the finest musicans, writers, artists and food producers from near and far to the Perthshire town. Harris Brine offers five reasons to make the trip.
“Bonnie lassie, will ye go/ Will ye go, will ye go/ Bonnie lassie, will ye go/ To the birks of Aberfeldy!” bleated the youthful Bard of Ayrshire a mere 226 years ago.
Rabbie Burns may be best remembered for Hogamanay anthem ‘Auld Lang’s Syne’, or even his ode to that mysterious creature which lurks as “chieftain o’ the pudding-race” around the Highlands (as some might have it), but it was the birch trees of Aberfeldy during a tour of the nation’s north that inspired him to beg his “bonnie lassie” to accompany him to the beautiful Perthshire burgh.
Spending the start of November anywhere above the equator line may not sound like an appealing adventure, but like Burns, one native has been encouraging people to visit the town, and for the last four years, successfully so.
Two years past, the Aberfeldy Festival’s creator Ryan Hannigan contacted Ian Rankin after the renowned novelist said that Star Wheel Press – Hannigan’s band’s – had produced his favourite album of the year. Within weeks, Rankin was on board to curate the arts festival – which he has done since – personally handpicking a flurry of talented musicians to perform; Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells, The Phantom Band, The Pictish Trail and FOUND, to name but a few.
Home-soil art and literature once again join this year’s soirée of Scottish sounds and scran, and revellers are treated to a simply outstanding line-up of artists: King Creosote, Meursault, James Yorkston, Withered Hand, Rick Redbeard, Conquering Animal Sound, Randolph’s Leap… Even LA’s Saint Motel will jet in from across the pond.
So if Scotland’s favourite poet cannot convince you to make the trip up, and neither can its most successful current writer, what chance do we have? We’ll make a stab regardless.
Here are five enticing things about the festival that might make you venture towards Aberfeldy this weekend…
1. Neu! Reekie!
Burns is revered the world over for his multitude of tender-hearted, often humour-filled poems and melodies, so who better to continue the tradition than the poetry tour-de-force that is Neu! Reekie!?
The formidable and devilishly literate duo of Kevin Williamson and Michael Pedersen will head up the A9 with their rolling circus of spoken word, animation and musical merriment.
An event that normally straddles the Clyde and Forth will take to Aberfeldy awash with endorsements both cerebral and celebrity. Pedersen’s first full collection, ‘Play With Me’, was hailed by Stephen Fry, Irvine Welsh and celebrated poet and playwright Liz Lochhead, yet he’s more than happy to share the stage with other brimming vocal chords.
Before Neu! Reekie’s arrival, Saturday will see Loose Tongues host the young, the old, the Polish and the Gaelic speakers, not forgetting a few familiar with the Scots dialect, all throughout the day.
Neu! Reekie takes place on Sunday (3 Nov) at The Birks Cinema from 1pm-4pm. Tickets free but are limited.
2. Craft beers and whisky sessions
“Gie him strong drink until he wink/ That’s sinking in despair… Till he forgets his loves or debts/ An’ minds his griefs no more”, Burns poured in 1785 poem ‘Scotch Drink’.
With the festival’s main sponsors Dewar’s promising special whisky ‘sessions’ (ahem) on Sunday night, the Bard’s warnings of amnesia will no doubt ring true come Monday morning. The fact they have a distillery in the town might not help matters either.
Two lethal ‘taster’ bars, from the Scotch distillers and Edinburgh’s Innis & Gunn (who are celebrating an extremely successful ten years of trade) are certain to put an end to any plans of temperance, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, is it?
We’ll let Burns have the last words on that one… “Let them cant about decorum, who have characters to lose!”
The Dewarist sessions will take place on Sunday night at Aberfeldy’s Town Hall.
3. Unique collaborations
“That Man to Man, the world o’er/ Shall brothers be for a’ that” are the final hope-filled lines of Burns’ melody ‘A Man’s A Man for a’ That’, a hymn yearning for equality and worldwide brotherhood.
Hailing from a country ravaged with poverty, Suhail Yusuf Khan travelled from a city with five million people packed into a space smaller than his final destination, Edinburgh. Home to only 480,000, Auld Reekie was the final stop on the journey for the Calcutta native who left the unrelenting metropolis of India to collaborate with a slew of universal artists as an experiment initiated by Dewar’s to create an entirely unique album.
From it, the award-winning saranghi player (a short-necked South Asian string instrument) has ended up on a tour alongside James Yorkston, Jon Thorne and Ireland’s Lisa O’Neill. Khan’s traditional Indian music is mashed together with his fellow songwriters to create an idiosyncratic, semi-improvised blend that pulls as much from Yorkston’s folk as it does from Thorne’s jazz-spun double-bass.
Yorkston’s upbringing in Fife’s humble Kingbarns may pale in comparison to Calcutta – even Thorne’s Manchester does – but such vast differences are immediately broken down through the unspoken kinship of sound.
Yorkston, Khan and Thorne play Aberfeldy’s Town Hall on Sunday (3 Nov).
4. King Creosote
You’d be pushed hard to find a Scottish musician as prolific as Kenny Anderson, AKA Mercury-nominated folk singer-songwriter King Creosote.
In a solo career spanning less than 20 years, Creosote has released over 40 albums (really) and watched his own record label Fence grow into a thriving artistic collective.
Creosote is also a member of The Burns Unit, a Scottish-Canadian eight-piece hybrid who actually met during Burnsong – an event celebrating the “powerful wide ranging artistic legacy of Robert Burns”.
Sadly, recent months have been marred with disagreements with Fence co-founder Johnny Lynch (The Pictish Trail), causing the end of the label as we have come to love it. But with King Creosote’s magnum opus – 2011’s joint collaboration with Jon Hopkins, the Mercury Prize candidate Diamond Mine – still fresh in our minds, we’re certain there’s life in the old dog yet.
That Lynch and Anderson did not part with Ae Fond Kiss is irrelevant, as both can be immensely proud of their dynamic careers.
Anderson’s open frustrations with the digital revolution may have seeped through his most recent release, but we’ll plead ignorance at its title – That Might Be It, Darling? – in the hope he continues his regular output.
King Creosote headlines Aberfeldy’s Town Hall on Saturday (2 Nov).
5. Gin in Teacups
Let’s face it, unless you’ve lived on Saturn for the last few years, you’re going to have to wrap up warm. And no amount of whisky or movement to Saint Motel’s funk-tastic pop is going to warm the cockles enough to avoid shivering every inch of your soul away in the wee hours of the Perthshire night.
That’s where the Gin in Teacups market slots perfectly in. If you haven’t prepared for the bitter weather, rest assured, jackets ranging from the warm to the downright weird will be available, as will crafts and vintage bric-a-brac. As Burns cheered in ‘The Jolly Beggars’, “here’s to budgets, bags, and wallets!”
The girls have “conquered Fife… Glasgow” and since captured “the heart of our beloved capital”, and will now curate the market set up between the Birks; stalls laden with jam-makers, jewellery and antique home furnishings.
They even have a miscellany of gifts for sale, obviously to take back home to those “nursing their wrath to keep it warm”. Consider it a peace offering for your weekend disappearance of unbridled hedonism.
Gin in Teacups will curate the market in Aberfeldy Town Square on both Saturday and Sunday.
The Aberfeldy Festival takes place from Friday until Sunday. More info at www.aberfeldyfestival.co.uk