Aberfeldy Festival becomes ‘a big throbbing beast’

YOU’LL find several quality music and arts festivals in picturesque rural towns around Scotland, but few with quite as unusual an organisational makeup as Aberfeldy’s.

King Creosote are just one of the delights of the big throbbing beast that is the Aberfeldy Festival. Picture: Contributed
King Creosote are just one of the delights of the big throbbing beast that is the Aberfeldy Festival. Picture: Contributed

The Aberfeldy Festival was founded in 2010 as a small-scale community endeavour by Ryan Hannigan – Northern Irish visual artist and singer with Aberfeldy alt-country band The Star Wheel Press. But since locally rooted multi-national Dewars Whisky last year threw their financial and promotional might behind the event, which is co-curated by Ian Rankin, it’s burgeoned into what Hannigan describes as “a big, throbbing beast”. 2012 was sold-out, and 2013 sees the festival expand from two to three days.

Star Wheel Press – who launched their debut album, Life Cycle of a Falling Bird, at Aberfeldy in 2011 – will headline a Friday night bill in the town hall that also includes Conquering Animal Sound and Randolph’s Leap. Across Saturday and Sunday, highlights include King Creosote, James Yorkston, Rick Redbeard, Meursault, Suhail Yusuf Khan and Saint Motel.

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Its autumnal timing, when Perthshire’s trees are at their most spectacular, is one of the festival’s key non-musical selling-points. “Let’s not have it in the summer when people are doing different things,” Hannigan said in his initial pitch for the festival to the local businesses association. “Let’s do it in November, when the colours up here are amazing.”

The festival fits into a wider picture of a town on the cultural up-and-up after decades of decline. This will be the first instalment since the reopening of the refurbished Birks Cinema – a beautiful 1940s art deco building which had lain in disrepair for years, and which will host the festival’s poetry and spoken word strand. Elsewhere, businesses such as artisan coffee shop Habitat and Hannigan’s art studio/shop The Temple Gallery, as well as book store, café and exhibition space The Watermill, evidence a small town unusually well stocked with urbane attractions.

Hannigan admits to behind-the-scenes struggles with the Aberfeldy Festival as it grows, in satisfying the demands of a local committee on one hand and a big sponsor on the other. “You feel a wee bit owned,” he jokes. But he’s glad of the extra support Dewars have brought to an event which in its first year, he recalls, left him so exhausted he was in bed for a fortnight afterwards. Even if some of the extravagances of last year, which culminated with an after-party in a castle, will be reined in.

“There’s that kind of madness going on, I quite like it,” Hannigan reflects. “Sometimes these things just grow bigger than you.”

• The Aberfeldy Festival runs from 1-3 November, www.aberfeldyfestival.co.uk