Nov 192015

ChristmasFestivalWith thanks to Jessica Murphy, Senior Account Executive, Citrus:Mix.

Preparations are now underway to create a festive winter wonderland in the heart of the Granite City.

Led by Aberdeen Inspired in partnership with Aberdeen City Council and Codona’s, the Aberdeen Christmas Village will open to the public from November 26 to January 03.

Union Terrace will be closed from November 21 to January 8 to accommodate the village, while the slip road between His Majesty’s Theatre and Union Terrace was closed from November 16 to allow construction of the open air ice rink to begin in the pocket park.

The spectacular rink will provide the focal point among a variety of fantastic attractions, ranging from festive fairground rides and a German style market to an entertainment marquee and festive food and drink stands.

Gary Craig, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said:

“The Aberdeen Christmas Village will be something unique and fantastic for Aberdeen and excitement is mounting as its opening draws nearer. Work will begin on Union Terrace on Saturday (November 21) and it will be great to see the village start to take shape. We believe that it will offer something different for residents and visitors to enjoy and create a wonderfully festive atmosphere in the heart of the city centre, enhancing Aberdeen’s Yuletide offering.

“Part of Aberdeen Inspired’s remit is to increase footfall within the city centre and we are sure that the Aberdeen Christmas Village will certainly help towards that. As well as building on the attractions we have put on in previous years, we wanted to create something that people would enjoy while also bringing in benefits to local businesses, restaurants and shops. It will be bigger and better than ever before.

“As with any major city centre event some traffic disruption will take place throughout the duration of its stay and plans are in place to minimise inconvenience to the public. We are looking forward to welcoming people to the village from November 26 and hope they enjoy the great variety of attractions and entertainment that will be on offer.”

Aberdeen City Council Deputy Leader Councillor Marie Boulton said:

“Excitement is really building now for the start of the Christmas Village with people from all over the city and further away having told us they’re thrilled about coming to see this unique event.

“The build for the ice rink is already taking shape and people will see a lot of work happening on the Union Terrace site to turn it into a winter wonderland. We look forward to welcoming people to our beautiful city with all the winter activities on offer.”

The line-up for the entertainment marquee has been organised by Breakneck Comedy and includes a host of talented comedians, bands, singers and choirs who have been booked to entertain the crowds. These include Best Girl Athlete, The Rock Choir, The Lorelei, Iron Broo and Dirty Shoes as well as Gary Meikle, Jordon Young and Jamie Dalgleigh among others.

The Aberdeen Christmas Village is part of the Winter Festival, which is being organised by Aberdeen City Council. A number of traffic measures will be in place for the duration of the village. Please ensure you plan ahead and for more information visit

Aberdeen Inspired is the banner under which the Aberdeen BID (Business Improvement District) operates. It is a business-led initiative within the city centre in which levy payers within the BID zone contribute. Proceeds are used to fund projects designed to improve the business district and driving footfall to the zone.

For further information on the work of Aberdeen Inspired visit

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Nov 122015
A young musician plays an instrument made from recycled garbage, in Landfill Harmonic.

A young musician plays an instrument made from recycled garbage, in Landfill Harmonic.

With thanks to Barbara Holligan.

Take One Action! will open its first ever Aberdeen Film Festival on Fri 13 November with an exclusive screening of Landfill Harmonic, the inspiring story of a youth orchestra from the slums of Paraguay whose choice of instrument – recycled garbage – blazes with hope.
The festival will close with The Price We Pay, Harold Crooks’ acclaimed new documentary about international tax avoidance, it was announced today.

Landfill Harmonic, which won the audience award at Take One Action’s film festival in Edinburgh and Glasgow this September, follows the journey of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, a youth music group from the slums of Paraguay who build classical instruments out of garbage from the giant landfill site that towers over their homes – a story that captured the world’s imagination and featured in Time magazine and on Fox News.

The Take One Action! Film Festival sees thousands of Scots each year experiencing cinema with a difference, actively engaging with filmmakers, activists, politicians, journalists, and other audience members to explore new ways to create a fairer, more sustainable world – and to take action themselves.

Other festival highlights include a preview of The Divide, based on Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s bestselling book about social inequality, The Spirit Level and The Price We Pay, which has won rave reviews in Canada.

The Price We Pay examines the dark history and shocking present-­day reality of big business tax avoidance, which has seen multinational companies depriving governments of trillions of dollars in tax revenues by harbouring profits in offshore havens – originally created by London bankers in the 1950s. As well as tackling big issues, the festival tells fascinating human stories from across the world.

Stories of Our Lives is a series of moving vignettes about LGBTI people from Kenya, while Casablanca Calling introduces us to the women leading a spiritual revolution in Morocco by becoming Muslim leaders in a country where 60% of women have never been to school – part of a national response to a series of suicide bombings in 2003.

Festival screenings will take place at Belmont Filmhouse.

A special, free screening of Ivory Tower, an examination of the rising cost of higher education will be presented at the University of Aberdeen on Thursday 12 November. Every screening at the festival is accompanied by discussions with campaigners, artists and activists. Guests include representatives from Big Noise Torry (Sistema Scotland), Aberdeen Climate Action and SHMU Radio. Audience members are encouraged to get involved in the issues raised by the films.

“We want people to feel empowered to help make the world a fairer, more sustainable place by taking practical action alongside others in Scotland,” says festival director Tamara Van Strijthem.

“This programme was put together with the direct involvement and support of a great group of Aberdeen residents. We also want to encourage audiences in Aberdeenshire and beyond to organise their own Take One Action film seasons in their own communities.”

Tickets can be booked in advance via Belmont Filmhouse (01224 343 500) Some of the films are available to view in advance of the festival. For information, and to request interviews and images, please contact Tamara Van Strijthem, Executive Director on 07876 612 334 or

You can watch trailers for festival films on our YouTube channel.


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Oct 152015

With thanks to Graeme Forbes, Account Manager, Tricker PR

SOSWF Whisky 1

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival has become one of the leading events of its kind over the past 17 years

Speyside’s leading malt whisky producers will unite on their own doorstep for the first time – to launch a brand new ‘dramfest’ organised by the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.

Brand rivalries will be put to one side when Spirit of Speyside brings distillers from all over the region together under one roof in celebration of the area’s most famed product – malt whisky.

Plans for the first event – to take place in September 2016 – were unveiled at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival AGM on Tuesday.

It will offer an alternative weekend devoted to Speyside whisky in its home and heartland and complementing the internationally-renowned Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival held annually in May.

The September whisky weekend is being introduced to sate the public’s thirst for whisky-themed events in the area that is home to more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries.

Elgin has been chosen as the central location for this Speyside showcase, which as well as whisky, will feature other drinks – including local gin and craft beer – along with fine food and produce from the region.

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival has become one of the leading events of its kind over the past 17 years. It attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world to Speyside during the May Day weekend to savour a selection of more than 400 events, from tastings to ceilidhs, food pairings to comedy.

Many events are sold out within hours of tickets going on sale and accommodation in the region reaches capacity. Festival organisers could see scope to introduce a second – but distinctive – event to its annual calendar, which will allow people to celebrate Scotland’s national drink in its spiritual home without the need to plan a five-day itinerary.

The event will be held from September 9-11, 2016 at Elgin Town Hall, drawing visitors after the summer season and helping provide an economic boost for the area.

As well as tastings, cocktail making, a food court, and masterclasses will be part of the offering. Distilleries, businesses and partners will be encouraged to develop themes to add to the visitor experience.

Festival chairman James Campbell says,

“Our annual whisky festival has grown in size and stature to become one of the leading events of its kind in the world.

“We are now creating a brand new weekend event with the big difference that the distilleries will be together, under one roof, and that’s something that doesn’t normally happen on their home territory.

“We’ve chosen Elgin for the venue because it is central, with good transport links, and we’ll be encouraging businesses and other partners to get involved too. Further announcements on what people can expect from the new event, including its official title, will be made in the coming weeks and months.

“This is a great opportunity for distilleries and food and drink producers of Speyside to showcase their products and share what they do.

“While the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival has an international audience, and overseas visitors may be among the contingent, we expect our September event to have a particular appeal to the home market, including people from the local area.

“We look forward to developing our plans and helping keep one of Scotland’s most famous whisky producing regions well and truly on the map, inspiring more visitors to develop their interest and knowledge of our national tipple.”

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival’s position as a major tourism attraction in Scotland was underlined again this year when it attracted 26,389 visits to events from a record 34 different countries.

The 2016 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival – and its traditional musical arm the Spirit of Speyside Sessions – takes place from April 28 to May 2. For further information about the event visit with tickets on sale from January 2015.

The Festival is also active on social media – and @spirit_speyside on Twitter.

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Oct 082015

With thanks to Paul Smith, Managing Director, Citrus Mix.

Amanda Parer giant rabbits (1) The arrival of one of the world’s most eye-catching art installations will help underline Aberdeen’s credentials as a cultural hub, according to the organisation which has secured the acclaimed display for the city.
Aberdeen Inspired has worked closely with artist Amanda Parer to enable the striking public light installation Intrude to be brought to the north-east.

The mesmerising work will be unveiled in December in Union Terrace Gardens as part of this year’s expanded Winter Festival. It will serve as a precursor to SPECTRA, the increasingly popular Aberdeen festival of light.

Intrude has been showcased in high profile festivals across the globe – with New York, Paris, London and Sydney all included on an impressive list of host cities.

The installation features a collection of giant inflatable illuminated rabbits which stand up to seven-metres tall.

Gary Craig, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said:

“Amanda Parer has earned wonderful reviews for Intrude, which is a truly stunning piece of work and one which has won international acclaim.

“Aberdeen Inspired has worked hard to bring this installation to the city centre and we’re delighted to be preparing to welcome Amanda and Intrude to what we feel will be a stunning setting. It will bring a real sense of fantasy and intrigue to the heart of an area that will be a hive of activity during the festive period.”

Amanda Parer said:

“The whole idea of having these giant pieces on display is that they don’t fit in. It is a playful art work that evokes fantasy and wonder. It has been designed to give the sense that five giant glowing white rabbits have just hopped in and intruded on a given environment, in this case the Aberdeen’s wonderful Union Terrace Gardens.

“With this art work people find a wonder associated with similar childhood events such as Christmas. Yes, there is a dark element to the work, as with many childhood stories. An element of darkness is required to show the light and my rabbits do glow so very brightly. 

“I am very much looking forward to bringing Intrude to the north-east of Scotland this winter and I thank Aberdeen Inspired for asking me to present my installation and Aberdeen City Council for having us.”

The arrival of Intrude is part of a packed Winter Festival programme, which will also feature the new Aberdeen Christmas Village on Union Terrace. Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen City Council and amusement specialists Codona’s are working together to bring the village concept to life from November 25 to January 3.

Gary Craig added:

“Aberdeen Inspired is striving to make the city a more vibrant, attractive and appealing place to visit, live and work in. Art is an incredibly powerful way of doing that and particularly when it is an installation as vivid and as high profile as the one Amanda Parer has created. To be able to bring this as a free outdoor exhibition to a north-east audience is tremendous.

“Of course art of any type has the power to spark debate and divide opinion, but we have been incredibly encouraged by the excitement which is already building. In recent years SPECTRA has brought a real buzz to the city centre and captured the imagination of thousands of people. We view the arrival of Intrude as the perfect way to set the scene for what I’m sure will be another successful festival of light.

“In the past Aberdeen has been criticised for its commitment to the arts. In my view that is unfair – there is a very healthy cultural scene which can grow and thrive with the right support. Aberdeen Inspired has an important role to play in that and we are prepared to continue to invest to bring the best, most captivating and thought provoking work to our city centre.”

Aberdeen Inspired is the banner under which the Aberdeen BID (Business Improvement District) operates. It is a business-led initiative within the city centre in which levy payers within the BID zone contribute. Proceeds are used to fund projects designed to improve the business district. Further information on the work of Aberdeen Inspired is available at

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Oct 012015

With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates

Food and Fiddle Fortnight 2015

Perfect accompaniment: Royal Deeside serving up third Food and Fiddle Fortnight next month

Royal Deeside will again provide the scenic backdrop as the area serves up another helping of its annual Food and Fiddle Fortnight, which begins this Friday.

Taking place in venues throughout the Aberdeenshire valley, the initiative brings together local food producers, businesses and musicians to showcase the area’s culinary and musical talents.

The celebration of food and music has been organised by Visit Royal Deeside and runs from Friday, 02 until Sunday, 18 October.

Now in its third year, the two-week festival is expected to draw visitors from across Scotland keen to experience the area at the start of one of its most spectacular seasons. A programme of around 60 events has been put together to cater for all musical and gastronomic tastes. Additional events are still being added to the festival’s programme.

The cultural and culinary celebration includes food demonstrations, farmers markets, live music sessions, special afternoon teas, exhibitions and concerts. Many of the area’s cafes, restaurants and inns are also creating special menus for the festival to showcase the breadth and depth of produce available locally.

As Royal Deeside begins to display its autumnal colours, visitors can explore its farmland, forestry and moorland aboard a Land Rover Safari organised by Glen Tanar Estate on Sunday, 04 October, which includes a venison barbecue lunch.

Those wishing to discover the area on foot can join local historian Ian Murray on a guided walk on Saturday, 17 October. Acclaimed local fiddler Paul Anderson will provide live fiddle music along the route, before participants enjoy more music and a two-course dinner at Ballater’s Riverside Cottage Cafe. The venue will also host an opera dinner on Saturday, 10 October.

For foodies, Glendavan House at Dinnet is serving up a Highland hamper and bagpipe breakfast on Saturday, 03 October, while on the Tuesdays and Wednesdays of the festival Cambus O’ May Cheese will open its factory doors and allow visitors to see its award-winning artisan cheeses being made.

Wark Farm at Cushnie, an organic farm butchery and meat retailer, will be holding food and farm experience days on Sunday, 04 and Monday, 05 October. The sessions will include a farm walk followed by an informal lunch of meat reared on the farm and vegetables grown in its kitchen garden. Visitors will also get the chance to learn some butchery skills during an afternoon demonstration.

Art and food will combine throughout the festival. On the opening night, Friday, 02 October, the renowned Butterworth Gallery will host an artistic taste evening. The event will feature local produce including local cheeses from Cambus O’ May Cheese and beers from Deeside Brewery. Meanwhile, on Thursday, 08 October, the 230 ceramic fish exhibits from the much-admired River of Fish installation, created by the Heckleburn Quines, will be auctioned off at Banchory’s Woodend Barn.

Festival highlights include two concerts featuring some of Scotland’s leading traditional musicians.

Celebrating the Hairst takes place on Thursday, October 08, in Tarland’s MacRobert Hall, with renowned local musicians, fiddler Paul Anderson and singer Shona Donaldson, performing a lively programme of traditional tunes and bothy ballads to mark harvest time.

The fortnight-long celebration will draw to a close with a concert performed by the Rua Macmillan Duo at the Woodend Barn, Banchory, on Sunday, 18 October. Award winning Scottish fiddler Rua Macmillan will be joined by pianist Suzanne Houston, with the duo performing a range of music from across Scotland and further afield.

Moira Gash, Visit Royal Deeside project co-ordinator, said:

“Royal Deeside is an area steeped in a rich musical and culinary heritage and the next two weeks will showcase the best of this. The 2015 festival programme features a diverse range of events, with things to appeal to people of all ages, interests and musical tastes. Local businesses have fully supported the Food and Fiddle Fortnight once again and have created some fantastic events.

“As Royal Deeside becomes carpeted in its autumnal shades of gold, russet and ochre, the area really is a stunning place to visit. A great way for all the family to discover more about it is to use the Explore Royal Deeside GeoTour to complement any of the Food and Fiddle Fortnight events. The GeoTour is Scotland’s only official geocaching tour and is a fantastic way to get active and hunt out some of Deeside’s attractions.”

To inspire visitors to explore the local area even further during the Food and Fiddle Fortnight, Visit Royal Deeside has put together an A to Z of things to do and places to visit. The list highlights some of the more unusual activities on offer, including lessons in tractor driving, gliding and driving a train on part of the old Deeside line.

Moira added:

“Royal Deeside has a huge amount to offer visitors. Our A to Z aims to highlight some of the more unusual and quirky activities and places to visit, while also reminding visitors about some of the iconic sites and attractions that the area has to offer. We hope it will give some inspiration to those visiting Royal Deeside in the months ahead.”

The Food and Fiddle Fortnight takes place in venues across Royal Deeside between Friday, 02 and Sunday, 18 October. A full programme is available at or by searching for Food and Fiddle Fortnight on Facebook.

Visit Royal Deeside is the destination management organisation established in 2005 to promote Royal Deeside, Donside and the eastern Cairngorms. The organisation works with over 100 locals businesses to enhance the quality and variety of visitor products and services, providing effective training and support where necessary.

It aims to grow tourism in the area for the benefit of locals and ensure visitors have the best possible experience to encourage return visits and recommendations to family and friends. More information is available at

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Sep 252015

With thanks to Annie McKee.

Old Blind Dogs 2

The finale of this exciting Food and Music Day will be a concert with world-renowned, local folk superstars, Old Blind Dogs.

Tarland is well-placed for local produce and a thriving music scene, which will both be showcased in our second Tarland Food and Music Day. This festival will be held on Saturday 26th September (with events kicking off on Friday 25th September), at venues throughout the village, including the wonderful two year-old community garden (recently featured on the Beechgrove Garden).

A weekend of fantastic music is planned, with performances all around the village.

World-renowned local fiddler Paul Anderson will kick off the activities on Friday 25th September with a guided local walk, featuring musical interludes and local heritage tales (2-5pm, advanced booking required by emailing:

Paul will also feature in the exciting evening concert with popular Perthshire fiddler, Patsy Reid and friends, including the pianist Andy Thorburn, Shooglenifty guitarist Ewan MacPherson, and drummer Signy Jakobsdóttir (£12/£10 MacRobert Hall, doors open from 7.30pm; Deeside Brewery bar). Local musicians are invited to join Patsy and friends for workshops in the Upper Hall on Saturday morning (10-12; £5 per hour).

The Food and Music Day itself will open with the established food and local produce market in the MacRobert Hall (10am – 12 midday, free entry), featuring Crannach Bakery, Mortlach Game, Deeside Brewery, Cambus o’ May Cheese, Wark Farm, Tarland Community Garden produce and much more. Morning teas and cakes will be ably provided by Cromar Senior Citizens Association.

An exciting game cookery demonstration will be provided by award-winning Chef Raj from India on the Green, Ballater, sponsored by the Scottish Natural Heritage initiative, ‘Scotland’s Natural Larder’ (2.30-4pm; free entry). Lunch will be provided by H.M. Sheridan Butchers, firing up the barbeque at Tarland Primary School, with India on the Green providing curry, rice and pakora lunch boxes in the MacRobert Hall (12 midday – 2pm).

Visitors can learn to put the ‘oomph’ back into their day with a talk by Torphins-based nutritionist, Dr. Chris Fenn (£3, Upper MacRobert Hall, 1 – 2pm).

Druminaboot workshop - Tarland Food and Music DayTarland Community Garden will be open within ‘Scotland’s Gardens’ scheme, including music by singer/songwriter Megan Albon, plus talks by James Reid from Tap O’ Noth Permaculture and Yvonne Davidson from Tarland Bee Group (£3, 2-5pm).

Aberdeen’s-own African drumming group ‘Drummin Aboot’ will be holding workshops in Tarland Primary School for both children and adults (4-6pm, £5 per hour), preceding a performance in the MacRobert Hall (6.15-6.45, free entry) – not to be missed!

The finale of this exciting Food and Music Day will be a concert with world-renowned, local folk superstars, Old Blind Dogs.

With a current line up featuring Jonny Hardie (fiddle, guitar and vocals), Aaron Jones (bouzouki, guitar, vocals), Ali Hutton (Border pipes, whistles, vocals) and Donald Hay (drums, percussion), the Tarland audience is sure to be in for a musical feast.

Ticket price includes hearty soup supper from Tillypronie-based chef Carol Eagles, and Deeside Brewery will be on hand with their tasty craft beers and ales (£15/£12; doors open 7pm, concert at 8pm).

The full programme of events can be found at (following links to the Food and Music Day) and all tickets can be booked by emailing or bought in person from Tarland Spar and Paper Shop and Strachans, Aboyne, at the Tarland Local Produce Market and on-the-door.

Please note that advanced booking is required for the music workshops and strongly advised for all concerts! The Tarland Development Group looks forward to welcoming you to the feasting and music-making on 26th September!

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Jul 102015
Eilidh Whiteford, Marc Ellington, Portsoy Boat Festival 2015sq

Eilidh Whiteford being interviewed by commentator Marc Ellington.

With thanks to Paul Robertson.

Local MP Eilidh Whiteford has hailed another successful year for the Portsoy Scottish Traditional Boat Festival.

The Festival, now in its 22nd year, took place over the weekend of 4th and 5th July.

Visiting the Festival on Sunday with her husband, Eilidh was also joined by SNP Westminster Leader and MP for Moray, Angus Robertson.

Commenting, Eilidh Whiteford said:

“My congratulations to Roger Goodyear and the countless other organisers who have successfully delivered another stunning year for the Boat Festival.

“The rain on Saturday and fog on Sunday did not seem to deter thousands of visitors from the North-east and beyond, who came to sample great regional produce, learn about our heritage and of course see the fantastic skiffs.

“The Boat Festival at Portsoy is now one of the best established events in Scotland’s tourist calendar and I have no doubt that it will continue to build on its strengths in the years ahead.”

Stewart Stevenson, MSP for Banffshire & Buchan Coast, who also attended the festival added:

“Once again, the festival surpassed expectations and put on show the very best that the North-east has to offer. The buzz around this year’s festival was one of the best in several years and will no doubt keep the visitors coming back again and again.”

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]


May 152015

Apologies to those who will (probably) castigate me (I’m used to it) for putting a piece in Aberdeen Voice which is arguably not strictly related to Aberdeen. I hope though that as AV has over the years carried pieces on everything from the history of instant coffee to UFOs that there is room for one more piece tenuously related to the granite city. It’s the absolutely infectious fandom of some Aberdeen music lovers that got me to this event last year, and while I wasn’t going to write a piece on this weekend concert, they asked me to. Turn away now if this piece offends you. Suzanne Kelly reports (unapologetically).

Kirk_Brandon_by_Sue_HarrisonIt isn’t British summertime without a few dozen music festivals.

(Dad) rock fans descend on Glastonbury for several (increasingly expensive and increasingly sanitised) days of events and bands; it’s become a bit like Marie Antoinette playing peasant at her pretend peasant village.

Punk fans converge at Blackpool for four days of ear-piercing, liver-damaging mayhem; sometimes forgetting the festival is over for a week or two after it’s closed (Dod this means you).

Classical music fans recline on blankets on Glyndebourne’s lawn, drinking champagne while Chopin hangs in the air (not literally). Fans of a different sort gather in Crewe for Westworld.

By all accounts this thirteenth Westworld was the best one so far. If it’s possible to have more fun on a £40 weekend ticket anywhere else in the world, I’d be surprised, and I’d definitely be in – let me know.

Westworld is a music festival featuring sets from Kirk Brandon, Theatre of Hate, Spear of Destiny, and support acts. There is something about the musicians and the fans that sets it apart from any other festivals; there is something of the crazy carnival feel-good party that the Grateful Dead and the Deadheads created, only without the LSD, hour long instrumentals, hippies or patchouli.

Westworld and its music is more intimate, friendly, frenzied, electric, gentle, dark, uplifting, and inspiring than anything else. This is not T in the Park.

Fans of Kirk Brandon, Spear of Destiny and Theatre of Hate from all corners of the world make their way to Crewe’s intimate performance space The Box. There is a faithful following from Aberdeen who go every year, and the ranks are swelling. Some people – notably longstanding Aberdonian fans Roddy Kennedy and Steve Watt – have already bought tickets for next year.

This year sold out in record time, and with fantastic video snippets and high praise floating around on Facebook, the demand for Westworld XIV is going exceed capacity. Two hotels for the (unofficial) 2016 dates 6 and 7 May have already sold out. Westworld XIV, I do believe, is going to need a bigger boat.

Here briefly is what we got. We few; we happy few.

The Family:
The Westworld weekend is a sort of family reunion (without the relatives you’d rather not see). Friendships were renewed and made; the conversations were lively and great fun. Musicians mingled with the crowds; if it was a chore or obligation for them, they hid it well. There were a few people down for the first time; they were introduced and welcomed. Strangers went for curry dinners with strangers, and emerged as friends.

Facebook friend requests were flying around nearly as much as the newly shot photos and videos. The newbies vowed to return next year; I know they will.

Aside from risking some serious bruising at the front of the stage, it was all comrades together; there will be people who appreciate this good humoured fellowship nearly as much as they do the music.

Masterpiece Theatre:
The Royal is the bar connected to the venue The Box; it began filling up with loud and happy voices hours before Theatre of Hate were to open the weekend’s bacchanalia on Friday night. Those who had previously met at Westworlds past greeted each other warmly as long lost friends do. Newcomers were welcomed and included in discussions about music, music, drink, football and music.

As if some unseen unheard signal had been given, everyone emptied out of the bar and upstairs to the weekend’s theatre of operations.

Theatre_of_Hate_by_Nic_AttwoodTheatre of Hate’s members are Kirk Brandon (guitar, vocals), Stan Stammers (bass), John Lennard (saxophone), Adrian Portas (guitar) and Danny Farrant.

The opening piece for Westworld was Do You Believe in the Westworld.

This wild west tinged song was flawlessly and energetically executed.. (It put me in mind of a soprano I know who opens her shows by singing Queen of the Night to show the audience just how strong a singer she is).

ToH recently released a stunning four track EP, Slave; their first new material for some time or so I understand. The song Slave is a hyponotic, intoxicating entrancing piece which was beautifully performed; it’s one of those pieces of music which makes you wish it went on for far longer than it does. In fact, the song order for the rest of the weekend is kind of a blur that comes and goes out of focus in my memory after this piece, which I can practically hear in my head now.

Also from the Slave EP is a powerful political piece Eyeless in Gaza. (Over a curry with a dozen fans later in the weekend we discuss Eyeless in Gaza and the need for musicians and artists to comment on the world’s problems. Over the naan bread we wonder about the freedom an artist has over their work if they’re independent as compared to being signed to a record label. We decided very few labels would have happily released and promoted works like Eyeless or Spear of Destiny’s newly-released single, Fascinations).

The set seemed to be over before we knew what hit us; everyone wanted more. But that was it for Friday.

Also on the weekend bill were two brilliant, individualistic support acts. The Death Valley Surfers provided speedy rockabilly punk (or something to that effect). Without much persuasion I picked up their CD ‘Last Dance Saloon’ which has a left of centre cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues.

When Folk Grinder took the stage everyone sang along with them; and cries of ‘Heave Ho!’ bounced off the walls. This trio mixes folk, sea shanties rock and commentary with great effect. Kirk Brandon has produced their new album, The Devil’s Mariner; a single has been uploaded to youtube, which you’ll find here: .

Kirk Brandon Acoustic Set:
Accompanied by a cellist and keyboard artist Steve Jones, Saturday afternoon’s performance was elegant. This was music to tame the most savage of punk breasts. Roddy and I stood near the merchandise stall. A man on my other side and I started talking before the set; he was from Newcastle and he was built like a particularly large rugby player.

After Kirk’s performed ‘I’m So In Love With You’ the guy turned to me and commented:

“That’s given me goose bumps that has.”

Him and a few hundred other people. Sam Sansbury’s cello brought a warmth giving some of the music new nuances; the keyboards were nearly as expressive as Brandon’s voice and playing. This set probably deserves a full in-depth review on its own. Suffice it to say if someone had dropped a pin we’d have heard it. The audience was rapt. Here’s to next year’s acoustic set.

Spear of Destiny:
Spear went onstage Saturday night a little past 10pm. In a set which must have stretched every musician to heroic proportions, an hour and a half set ended in a frenzied fever.

SoD took us everywhere. Early on we heard ‘Walk in my Shadow’ – classic, upbeat traditional rock and roll (Brandon had performed this live on Jools Holland’s radio show some months back; hearing it again was great and great fun). A good portion of material from the (deservedly acclaimed) album XXXI got an airing; my own favourites the uplifting, rejuvenating Here Comes The Sun and Sputnik were remarkable.

This version of Sputnik had an interesting percussion treatment; another reminder why live music can and should throw up surprises subtle and large (the larger ones were still to come). Fascinations, the newly-released single began to steer the set towards darker, deep emotions. Also from XXXI were Failure and Delusion.

‘You could be anything in this life, but you chose every time falling down’ ‘This is the sorry state of our life’ ‘The sunlight’s a happy place, but I guess you wouldn’t know’ – we were in dark waters for a while, with Brandon remarking to the effect ‘this ends the happy part of the show’.

Brandon_and_Adams_photo_Nic_AttwoodThe gears switched violently and swiftly; ‘Once in her Lifetime’ was captured on video by Roddy; as he filmed it he said ‘well, that’s me completely satisfied then.’

He and I briefly said in between songs of course that we were nearly done in just from standing and watching; how anyone could play/sing/drum for this length of time with such precision and power was beyond us.

It wasn’t exactly freezing cold in the Box, and the small overhead fans did little more than mock us.

Perhaps one of the things Brandon’s writing does best is to highlight political and social ills. The video for ‘Fascinations’ features images of bondage and abuse, with the face of a known serial abuser (eyes covered with a black bar) as Brandon sings about power, abuse, degradation and anorexia, leaving you asking more questions about society than can be answered.

Further, and particularly timely social commentary came with ‘Playground of the Rich’ a contrast of the privileged and those who were born to serve them ‘Playground of the rich, you know it’s – it’s kind of sick’ was sung by the audience with a fair amount of understanding. The anti-war anthem Mickey likewise was sung by everyone in the room.

I find myself hoping there will be more social commentary/protest music coming from Brandon at some future point; somehow I am sure there will be.

The venue was filled with energy, cheering, screaming and singing. More was to come. It seemed like seconds later we were all singing along to Rocket Ship. We are at a party; no one wants this to end; no one can figure out where they’re getting the strength to continue with. And then a surprise special guest arrived on stage – Alan St Clair.

World Service pleased absolutely everyone; the entire room was singing every line by this point. The final encore was Liberator and all the players took to the stage. Stanley Stammers shared a mic with Craig Adams; John Lennard’s sax added to the absolute frenzy that had broken out everywhere. Limbs and heads pitched up and down in the pit and I was glad to be far from this mad crowd (a few bruises and bumps are no longer my idea of a great souvenir).

Wrapping up:

That this has been a carefully, precisely, thoughtfully considered weekend is not lost on anyone. Theatre, Spear, Folkgrinder, Death Valley Surfers – each person involved in bringing off this huge success of a weekend deserves serious respect (particularly Vince Davey, who must have nerves of steel). As to Adrian Portas’ guitar; his solos never cease to amaze the audience, and it looks effortless; I remember someone poking me in the ribs during one such passage to ensure I was getting it. I was.

If you were there, you won’t forget this weekend any time soon

Stan Stammers has truly thrilled the crowd and seems perpetually smiling ear to ear. Steve Jones was perfection for the acoustic session and in Spear; offstage, he was chatty, friendly, and witty.

Craig Adams is a formidable presence and player; I still can’t reconcile the man’s soprano/falsetto vocals with his physical presence. The lynchpin of the weekend is Kirk Brandon; he’s brought 30+ years’ worth of material spanning several acts to us with emotion and energy. That voice. That playing. There is no other combination of people and musical elements that resembles what’s happened here this weekend; it was Avengers Assemble.

If you were there, you won’t forget this weekend any time soon. If you weren’t, best try and get a ticket for next year.

Want to get something of the flavour of what it was like? Get to Facebook or Youtube and find some footage; there is plenty about.

Don’t take my word for it:

Many people feel this year’s event was the best ever; social media sites are filled with fans singings its praises. I’d only been once before, but I’ll agree with the majority that this had to be a new benchmark.

Kirk Brandon posted on Facebook:

“Arguably the best ‘Weekend at Westworld’ ever. The finale to the whole weekend last night at the 100 Club, London. Thank you every single one of you who came! A weekend to remember. Kirk”

Koozie Johns of the remarkable Folk Grinder said:

“I would say that WESTWORLD is an experience like no other. so much love for a common cause the love of great music good people and a lot of respect. Folk Grinder are produced by Kirk Brandon and it is an honor to work we such a legend.”

WW is not strictly a boys’ club either as some might assume; new fan, first-time attendee Cheryl Cotterill said:

“[I was] recently introduced to spear of destiny and thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and the dedication Kirk has to his music.”

Of the Aberdeen attendees, Roddy Kennedy said:

“Ever since I first saw Kirk Brandon’s Spear of Destiny play at the Capitol back in 1985,I’ve tried my best to see them as much as possible and they never disappoint, I’ve seen them play in venues like the Capitol right down to an upstairs room in a Dundee pub with no more than 20 people including the band, the one constant being Kirk Brandon who never seems to give less than 101% to his performance.

“I’d heard about Westworld Weekend a few years back but never had anyone else who’d commit to a weekend of all things Spear of Destiny/Theatre of Hate to go down with,by strange coincidence one of my friends Steve had also fancied the pilgrimage down to Crewe where it’s been held for over a decade.

“Anyway that was back in 2013 and within minutes of the opening song to their first set Steve and I had made our minds up that we were coming back, just an amazing atmosphere in good company, every year has gotten better and better and I’ve yet to see any trouble there, just rock n roll in its purest”

Steve Watt said:

“There is something about TOH/SOD fans that come here that makes it so special, three years ago me and Roddy were WW virgins, but was taken in by the most wonderful ppl you could meet even before we left the hotel to go to the venue. After the first song a cover of Joy Divisions Transmission, we turned around to each other and said we’re back next year.

“I can’t think of any band, except New Model Army have a near cult following like this, and go camping together, drive from all over the country just to meet up for nights out, even if no bands are involved, yes we do like a party. It doesn’t matter wherever everyone comes from, there is no animosity and everyone looks after everyone else.

“Of course it helps that the music is amazing, and Kirk Brandon does try and mix it up every year, and every year I say that it can’t get any better but it does, this one though will take some beating…”

And Phil Beefy Bergin said:

“All I’ll say about Westworld is it was very emotional spent with wonderful people.”

On a personal note:

I’d firmly planned not to write a Westworld review for several reasons. First, I will now confess that since starting (quite late in the game admittedly) to see Theatre, Spear and Kirk Brandon acoustic shows, I’m a biased convert (and I’ve grown respect and fondness for all concerned). I’d question my own objectivity but for the fact every single attendee and musician who I spoke with thinks that all the bands we saw were strikingly, undeniably on top form.

Whether or not this belongs in Aberdeen Voice may be open to debate, but I’d argue that it’s the passion and devotion of Aberdonian fans like Steve and Roddy that help make Westworld such a unique animal, and which drew me in in the first place. I also wasn’t going to spoil my fun by having to write a review; I can’t now remember the last time I’ve tried to have a holiday without some kind writing project being involved or arising.

However, the fact is this weekend demands to be written about. Not to write about what we experienced in Crewe would be like a UFO spotter watching a volcano explode with spaceships landing without bothering to write about it. So, either skip this little review if it’s not for you or thanks for bearing with me.


You’ll find some Westworld photos, comments and video here:

Folkgrinder –

Death Valley Surfers –

May 072015

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Tricker PR.

Michael Owen3

Visitors at Speyside Distillery surprised by Michael Owen

A former England footballer has experienced the world-famous Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival for himself – with a visit to a distillery that has taken part in the dram-fest for the first time this year.

As a global ambassador for SPEY whisky, Michael Owen called in on its spiritual home, Speyside Distillery, on the closing day of the 2015 festival.

Since retiring from professional football, the star – who played for Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United and Stoke City – has been the face of SPEY whisky in the Far East.

But while Michael is familiar with the deluxe malt, he is a newcomer to the whisky festival, just like the distillery itself.

It is the first year that the small, boutique distillery, has joined in the five day programme, sharing its secret by opening its doors to a series of exclusive tours hosted by distillery manager Sandy Jamieson.

Michael surprised visitors on Monday (4th May) by dropping in on the celebrations, during which dozens of whisky lovers have been able to get a rare glimpse behind the scenes of the distillery.

He says:

“It was great to be able to visit the distillery and be with my SPEY family as they celebrate being part of the Festival for the first time. There has been a real buzz about the distillery today and I have really enjoyed meeting people who have come from all over the world to visit the Festival.

“You can tell that these people are very passionate about whisky, and it has been a great experience to see them learn more about SPEY and the distillery where it is created.”

Patricia Dillon, Managing Director of Speyside Distillers Co. said:

“Michael has become a familiar Brand Ambassador for SPEY in Asia therefore I am delighted that Michael has joined us during the festival to raise awareness of the SPEY brand among lovers of whisky both in the UK and other parts of the world.”

Michael Owen5aNosings and tastings from four specially selected single malt expressions with varying vintage and cask finishes have been led by Sandy, who has a wealth of experience in the whisky industry.

The distillery has also had Aviemore-based Joanna Miller who specialises in print making and screen painting as its artist in residence, and linked up with the nearby Strathspey Steam Railway to offer visitors on-board nosings and tastings served alongside afternoon tea over the festival weekend.

By joining this year’s programme, Speyside Distillery, located near Kingussie and set against the backdrop of the Cairngorm mountain range, has extended the reach of the festival, becoming the most southerly distillery in the region to take part.

Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival chairman James Campbell is delighted that Speyside Distillery has come on board this year and helped expand the mix of events and establish new partnerships.

James says:

“The continued success and appeal of the festival depends upon being innovative, creative and of course having support right across the industry in Speyside.

“We warmly welcome Speyside Distillery as a new partner this year and look forward to these friendships and links thriving in the future.”

John Harvey McDonough, CEO of Speyside Distillery, is confident that the distillery’s connections with the festival will develop and grow.

John says:

“We are thrilled that Michael, a true icon of international football as well as a great family man, is able to visit SPEY while the whisky festival is in full flow.

“We’re very pleased to be part of an internationally renowned festival that does so much to celebrate the industry and its heritage, its people and of course its produce.”

The 16th annual festival drew to a close on Monday, having featured a packed programme of over 400 events, with music, crafts, food activities running alongside a wide range of distillery tours and tastings. Some distilleries, like Speyside, have been open to the public for the first time in their history.

Speyside Distillery, home of the SPEY brand of malt whisky, has been in production since 1990 and is operated by Speyside Distillers Ltd.

While Speyside Distillery is not normally open to the public it may be familiar to the public as it appeared in the BBC television series Monarch of the Glen as Lagganmore Distillery.

For further information about Speyside Distillery, visit Follow Speyside Distillery on Twitter @SpeySingleMalt and on Facebook at


Feb 272015

Scottish Traditional Boat Festival featWith thanks to Esther Green, Tricker PR.

Aberdeen Asset Management (Aberdeen) has stepped back on board as sponsors of the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival which takes place in Portsoy annually and is worth in excess of £1 million to the local economy.

Last year’s event festival attracted more than 18,000 people, with a significant growth in the number of visitors attending from outwith the region and just under 12% of visitors attending from overseas.

Aberdeen Asset Management’s four year sponsorship deal of the festival came to an end in 2014, but with the flagship event finding it difficult to find a successor, Aberdeen have thrown organisers a lifeline and agreed to back this year’s event, and to provide further funding in 2016.

Festival chairman Roger Goodyear has welcomed Aberdeen Asset Management’s intervention, saying it protects the continuation of the popular event in the short term, while buying more time for organisers to secure an alternative main sponsor for future years.

Roger says:

“We are delighted that Aberdeen Asset Management has generously agreed to back us with this extra support. It comes at a time when we are involved in a number of additional projects that are taking up a considerable amount of time and attention but will bring significant community benefit, including the creation of a boatshed, the building of a traditional salmon coble and, in association with the North East Preservation Trust, the restoration of a listed building to create a bunkhouse.

“Aberdeen has been a generous supporter of the festival since 2011 and that has meant that it is an extremely hard act to follow, but we are pleased to have this safety net in place as we seek other sponsors for future festivals.”

Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management and a keen sailor, says of the sponsorship award:

“The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival is a key highlight of the tourism calendar and, as well as being the largest gathering of traditional boats in Scotland it has an excellent range of on shore activities for all ages.

“When we became aware that the festival was finding it a challenge to secure a main sponsor, we wanted to show support that will help safeguard this vibrant community-run event which attracts a high level of tourists to the area every summer, as it continues to seek a long term sponsorship supporter.”

Scotland’s former First Minister Alex Salmond, a frequent visitor to the festival in Portsoy on the Banffshire Coast also welcomed the sponsorship announcement.

 “The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival is one of the most popular events in Scotland’s tourism calendar and I am absolutely delighted that Aberdeen Asset Management are back on-board for another two years.

“Portsoy welcomes thousands of visitors during the festival each year and during the Year of Food and Drink 2015 there are even more opportunities to promote and celebrate our award-wining local producers.”

The 22nd annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival takes place on 4 and 5 July 2015 and promotes maritime links and heritage, as well as maritime crafts, food, music, traditions and local sports.

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