Brian Ferguson: Food and drink thrives on Scots music scene

I can vividly recall the moment, if not the exact year. A Saturday afternoon lull in proceedings at the Belladrum festival in the Highlands offered an opportunity to properly explore the vast site for the first time.

Healthy T at T in the Park. Picture: TSPL
Healthy T at T in the Park. Picture: TSPL

When I ventured into the tent showcasing an array of food from the Argyll area I was amazed it had taken me so long to discover its sights and smells. At that time, almost a decade ago, it was a minor miracle to discover fresh mussels, oysters, wild venison and Cullen skink on offer at a music festival.

I’m sure it was later the same year, at another festival in the Highlands, Loopallu, that I had my first encounter with a gourmet coffee van at one. It was a far cry from what I had been used to up until then. Festival food was something to be largely avoided – especially if you wanted to reduce the risk of serious discomfort.

I can still recall the error of heading through the hills of Dumfries and Galloway in the late 1990s to one of Scotland’s most remote music festivals, blissfully unaware the on-site catering would consist of a burger and chip van and a stall where every dish seemed to involve lentils.

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    Change was definitely in the air in the music festival scene by the time of my revelatory visit to Belladrum, with new events keen to make a name for themselves and carve out their own niche. Having a distinctive food and drink offer became a key part of the mix, long before the fad for farmers’ markets and the explosion of food and drink events around the country.

    At music festivals I was attending, the queues for local produce were becoming longer than the one at the traditional beer tents – which were facing competition from cocktail bars.

    It was a formula that seemed to work. It did much to generate a more relaxed and civilised atmosphere than events fuelled largely on alcohol sales. It was also a vital shop window for producers and, crucially, let them see the potential of the festival scene.

    Quite a bit of excitement was generated a few years ago when Scottish craft beer firm Brewdog announced it was helping to set up a new festival at Bogbairn Farm, on the outskirts of Inverness. It coincided with the family behind the Monachyle Mhor Hotel in Perthshire, who also run a popular fish and chip shop and bakery in Callander, launching their own festival.

    While some festivals, like Brew at the Bog, Wickerman and T in the Park have fallen by the wayside this year, new ones have not been slow in arriving. The line-up for the Skye Live Festival last year included leading chefs from The Three Chimneys and Kinloch Lodge restaurants.

    Back in Dumfries and Galloway, the relatively new Eden Festival is promising Italian, Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as a “ska cocktail bar” and “chai cafes”.

    And for further evidence of this trend for tantalising the tastebuds this summer look no further than Glasgow Green and the latest event to be announced for the historic park. The West Brewery, which has joined forces with Highland promoter Robert Hicks to launch the event, is bringing in a number of local restaurants for the catering operation.

    The emergence of the partnership behind the “May West” event is intriguing, particularly in a climate of rising costs for festivals, and with no shortage of competition in Glasgow from other outdoor events like the new Trnsmt festival and gigs in Kelvingrove Park. If its organisers can pull it off, and the growing numbers of other events with a strong food and drink strand continue to thrive, I’m sure it will not be long before they are joined by other new arrivals.