invernessGiGs catches up with Yvonne Murray festival organiser of Brew at the Bog
With this summer’s first festival, Brew at the Bog, approaching on the horizon, well the site at least was, as I approached Bogbain, it was time to put a few questions to festival organiser and 2011’s Young Highland Ambassador of the year, Yvonne Murray.
It can’t be easy putting together a new festival so I had to put it to Yvonne that with The Scotsman putting Brew at the Bog down as one of the top 5 boutique Scottish Festivals, there must be some pressure attached?
Yvonne was more than pleased to reply “It was a complete surprise, nobody from the Scotsman had been in touch, I think it’s the people who do Radar Scotland who wrote the piece and you know it was amazing that they listed us and did a wee preview on it. It does put a bit of pressure on, and we’re looking at ticket sales and going “Oh my goodness!” It was a bit odd that they said that considering they we haven’t even had the festival”
The festival name Brew at the Bog slips off the tongue quite nicely but how did the association with Brewdog come about?
“I went to them. When I started working here last year I wanted to change the image of the place entirely, and move away from the kids’ image, get rid of anything to do with any children here! I just didn’t think it was working; it wasn’t profitable. It wasn’t fun to work on, just draining everybody.” explained Yvonne.
Taking it further she added “So I was thinking loads of different ideas, things we could do. Inverness Whisky Festival was the first thing, and I’d been aware of Brewdog before, I’d tried a couple of their beers and I really liked their branding, their marketing and it’s that, that I really wanted to get Bogbain associated with. Something a bit different, quite irreverent and punchy.”
Is there something in common here, I wondered. Brewdog were described by the Scotsman as the “craft beer upstarts”. So you see them as kindred spirits then?
This struck a chord with Yvonne. “Yeah, I think so, and Bogbain really needed that massive departure from what it had been known as before, so that people knew that it had changed, so we couldn’t just do it wishy washy, it had to be a big splash basically in order for the general public to know that Bogbain Farm is a music venue and a festival venue, and yeah, Brewdog is definitely a brand that we aspire to be like. All being well, and the festivals go down well, it’s a brand that we want to emulate in terms of success as well.”
Under Yvonne’s stewardship Bogbain are seeking to be different, and how that approach to being different was my next question. “You’re not afraid to court a little controversy, or maybe be out on the edge. An example being Belle de Jour at the Whisky Festival. Does this have a positive or negative impact?”
This was a question that Yvonne was pleased to be asked, and to answer. “I see that as a positive all the time. Everything that we do is all about trying to attract publicity for the venue and regardless there are going to be people, no matter what we do, that don’t like it. We could have Mumford and Sons here and somebody would say I would rather Kasabian. People are never going to to be happy. There are a lot of people unhappy at the fact that we have changed away from the kids stuff. I’m getting a lot of criticism for the changes that we’ve made here but we know ourselves we are onto a really good thing with these festivals. Courting controversy does not bother me at all. It just boosts us further as we are getting headlines that other venues and festivals don’t get. And because we are trying to change the venue, we need to get headlines, we can’t afford to do it any other way!”
But festivals are ten a penny these day, so to Yvonne I had to ask “So what can Brew at the Bog offer that other festivals can’t?”
Yvonne was quite clear in her answer. “Pop Cop, which is one of the big music blogs, described it as one of the best home grown line-ups in living memory. I think we have got a really good line-up in terms of new talent and the capacity is only 1000 people so you are seeing all the bands that you might see over the course of a year in a bigger venue in town within one day. The beer is fantastic. The caterers are all really cool. We’re only five minutes from Inverness, tickets are cheap, camping is cheap, and so we are just bringing all the good elements of different festivals. Because it is only Bruce and I doing the festivals we have to keep it small, to keep it manageable.”
So, it was getting late in the day and any mention of food was always going to make me change tack. “In terms of caterers, who have you onboard?”
Yvonne reeled off the munchies that matter “Obviously the staple of any festival is a burger van. We’ve got Graham Whyte, the butcher, doing Aberdeen Angus and venison burgers, A sushi company coming to do mobile catering sushi van, Donald Coutts with his churrios, an ice cream van, rissotto, and Woodburn Express Pizza. We also have the Tea Posy from Dingwall to do a vintage tea room, teas and cakes, as well as the bar!”
Well that’s me sorted then!
Turning back to the festival, and in particular the pulling together, I asked “When you are putting an inaugural festival together how easy, or difficult is it to get bands on board?”
Again, Yvonne was clear in her response. “Well, I really think the association with Brewdog helped us a lot. For getting the bands, some of the bands were basically biting our hands off to get onto the bill. It’s difficult to know how it would have been if Brewdog had not been involved. The kind of bands that we have got are the kind of people who drink Brewdog. They were aware of this craft beer, this sort of spiky beer company and so they knew them and wanted to be involved. I think that really helped and so I’d say that it was pretty easy! What has been the most difficult thing is trying to figure out where bands go in the running order. To me when I’m looking to all the bands, I honestly, hand on heart can’t pick out who is the headliner. There are a few headliners in there!”
Confused, I had to interject “So, is there a headliner as such?”
Clarification on this came from Yvonne. “Washington Irving will be closing off the festival, with three acts behind them being Finlay Napier and the Bar Room Mountaineers, Three Blind Wolves and KOBI. Generally we have staggered a range of acts throughout the day so that some of the big bands are playing in the middle of the day, because we basically want people to arrive early and stay, so there are some surprises as to when some of the bands are playing. Also, Tommy Reilly is playing at the Big Stooshie and he’s coming up on a motorbike. Tommy was in touch as he really wanted to play Brew at the Bog, but then a month later his agent came to me and said he’d really cocked up; I’ve double booked Tommy at the Big Stooshie. I had to tell him that I had had the posters printed, and it cost us a fortune, we’re a new festival, so you’re going to have to get him here! And so, they’ve booked a motorbike to take him, with his guitar strapped to his back, and he is zooming up here from Fife.”
I was also noticeable from the line-up that there were a carefully picked number of local acts. “Is keeping a local feel part of how this festival should develop?”
Taking this up Yvonne answered. “Absolutely, I really was quite strong on the fact that I wasn’t just going to have any local acts just because they were local. I don’t have any real loyalty to local acts just because they’re local. They’ve got to be up to the same standard as the rest of the bands and also a lot of local bands are completely overexposed up here, and I felt that they get slots everywhere. I went through all the main local acts that everyone has heard of and I decided that I wanted KOBI because I thought they were the best local act in terms of what my ears were hearing anyway. I picked KOBI, Megan Blyth, He Slept on 57, Graham Brown and Little Things Like Kiwis who were formerly known as Midnight Glory (But now without former front man Graham Brown).”
“We’ve got a good selection. It’s the kind of selection that I wanted. I especially wanted Graham and Megan to be surrounded by the other bands as it might help them the way that Rachel Sermanni was when hanging about with Mumford and Sons.”
It was all beginning to sound very busy! “How is the site going to to be set up in terms of stages. There are a lot of acts?”
Laughing, Yvonne went on. “I keep on losing count! I think there are 33 bands playing. What was formerly the kids go kart track, that is where the main stage is going to be, with the caterers over where the quad area used to be. The Go North stage is going to be the barn where we’ve had Kassidy and Low Anthem gigs. Although I like to think of myself as being really hard, I’m actually quite soft as I kept saying yes to people, and it ended up that I ran out of space, and we had to create a third stage! It’s going to be in the cafe where we have smaller gigs; that’s the bothy stage for soloists, the likes of Megan Blyth and Mike Nisbet. Then in the evening we are having an open mic there with songs from the 90s.”
“Times have been staggered by 15 minutes so you can see at least half of someone’s set. the beauty of having it here is that you can have an undercover venue if the weather is rubbish. The May Bank Holiday though is, as long as I can remember, always been lovely.”
So it’s fingers crossed for the weather! Wind, rain or shine there’s going to be music, and of the acts, I asked Yvonne. “As the organiser, are there any bands that you are looking forward to?”
Enthusiastically Yvonne continued. “I get asked this all the time! I honestly am not bullshitting you when I say I am looking forward to seeing absolutely everybody. What I’m trying to do in the run up is ensure that I have absolutely nothing to do on the day, but sure we’ll keep an eye on things. I am looking forward to seeing a band called Bensh, an Austrian/Welsh band. In fact we’ve got three bands coming up from Wales. I really like them a lot, I’ve been listening to them a lot. Apart from the obvious, Washington Irving, Three Blind Wolves, Fatherson, Tommy Reilly and Stanley Odd, there’s Quickbeam, a new Edinburgh band. I think they’re going to make a big splash this year, and are going to be at Go North as well.”
“Basically, the idea for the festival at the beginning was that we were going to have a festival before all the big festivals and we were going to have the bands that would play at Belladrum, T in the Park and make a massive name for themselves.”
“Kassidy played here and then 4 or 5 months later they went on to play festivals and became huge. So it was through that idea we had. It was actually when we had the James MacKenzie single launch with Kitty the Lion supporting. It was their manager who said this place would be a great place for a small festival. I think she meant 3 or 4 bands, and now it’s become this!”
With so many festivals going down the family friendly route, Brew at the Bog is not one for reasons given by Yvonne earlier. Was there a middle ground? I had to ask. “This is an over 18s festival. You’re not looking even at the over 14 market?”
Yvonne was quite emphatic. “No, it’s because it’s a beer festival. We’ll do other events. The idea for Bogbain is that eventually we will have a mini-festival every month, maybe not for the whole year but for 6 months. Something completely different, not even all music, so there will be other stuff going on. For a Brewdog beer festival, it’s too difficult, and also for licensing.”
“Also, for Bogbain, again, and maybe my opinion will change over the years, but I feel there is so much for families. I always hear parents saying “There’s nothing to do for families”, but for me everything is family orientated. You can take your kids everywhere. When you don’t have them it’s nice to go to something for young people under 40, although I’m sure there will be some over 40 there too! (At this point I kept quiet…) It was a proper decision that we were going to have the Whisky Festival and Brew at the Bog for over 18s because we wanted it to be such a departure.”
But it’s not just about Brew at the Bog at Bogbain. “You don’t get much of an opportunity to kick back after the festival because next month is Northern Roots, but that’s more Bruce’s baby isn’t it?”
Accepting this Yvonne continued. “The Whisky Festival and Brew at the Bog were my ideas. I deal with that, but this is the fourth year of Northern Roots and this is by far and away the biggest yet. I have a little input into who plays at it. I pretty much leave it all to Bruce!”
Looking to the future, and trying not to be too presumptuous I asked Yvonne. “So, is this the intention to grow Brew at the Bog like Northern Roots?”
Yvonne outlined the future and the challenges that they must meet. “We’ll see how it goes this year. We kept it at a 1000 capacity, as there are so many rules and regulations if you go beyond that. Even now it’s a totally new world in terms of going to the Council chambers for important meetings. Totally different to what we’ve ever experienced. So we’ve kept it small, kept it quite contained. The idea is eventually that it expands. The land here is vast so we can basically do whatever we like within reason. But as long as the partnership between ourselves and Brewdog develops, and even if it doesn’t, we’ll still keep doing a festival, this kind of indie festival seems to work. It seems to capture people’s imaginations. Also, we are always looking for new ideas for different kinds of festival and events.”
So at that point I took leave of Bogbain and headed back down Drumossie brae, knowing that the next time I’ll be out that way will be at the festival itself. If I can give you a tip, it’s get there early! He Slept on 57 open the Go North stage at noon as do Lost City Soul on the main stage. Megan Blyth is your opener on the bothy (Brewdog Introducing) an hour later. The word is that you’ll get 17th Century on the main stage at 12.45 and Fatherson at 5 o’clock. Go North should have The Little Kicks at 2 in the afternoon. Other than that, just turn up and see for yourself! Oh, but wait, just one thing, Jonathan Powell? Is his girlfriend Charlotte Church? At Brew at the Bog? Well, I’m not one to start a rumour…
Tickets available here.