Ahead of the Northern Roots Festival at Bogbain Farm in June, Bruce MacGregor chats to Frank Finlayson of IGigs.
Bruce MacGregor is a busy man with irons in many fires at the moment. Whether it be organising his successful radio show on BBC Radio Scotland or preparing for the opening of his latest venture, his pub on Academy Street he always has something on the go.
Today it wasn’t about either of the above but his Northern Roots festival that I came to chat with him. It was a fine sunny festival day when we met at his office at Bogbain. I was a little startled at first by the stuffed animals around me but all for the pub apparently.
For someone who shouldn’t have enough hours in the day Bruce was quite relaxed and taking it all in his stride. He recalls the first Northern Roots back in 2009. Him and Brian ÓhEadhra did a folksy world event with Andy Gunn, Martin Stephenson and as Bruce describes her, ‘the great Shetland singer Sheila Henderson.’
Looking at the festivals that came after Bruce reminisces ‘Through the years we’ve had Le Vent Du Nord from Quebec, we were getting stronger and stronger but with it being a month after Brew at the Bog it was difficult to get our minds on two things. We also moved it to Eden Court where we did it with Adam Holmes and Rachel Sermanni. It was fantastic! The most enjoyable gigs that I have worked on. We reprised it at Celtic Connection. We really built it up.’
But to start a festival in the first place something must happen; a seed needs to be planted to form that initial vision. For Bruce it was this. ‘I looked at Celtic Connections having gone there year after year, saw the great array of talent that was there, and thought Inverness deserved a festival itself. That’s what sparked it. We have an amazing venue here that’s the other thing. Those were the key things.’
Festivals are about acts and who is Bruce looking forward to see. ‘I have the fondest spot for the Elephant Sessions. Alasdair started off as a car park attendant here for Northern Roots, probably the world’s worst car park attendant, busy thinking of tunes as he was doing it but I’ve watched these guys grow up. Alasdair used to play the sessions when we had the kids thing here. It’s amazing to see how well they are doing now, and a new album coming out. They are one of the acts that have been great to watch evolve over the years. They’ve played Bogmanay the last couple of years and had the place jumping. Their new album has so much going on; rock, funk, disco. I’m hearing Daft Punk floating in there. They are the new Shooglenifty’. High praise indeed.
In the past bringing in acts has depended on when bands were on tour. The year there is a definite change in direction as Bruce explains. ‘It’s now all about Scottish acts and it’s taken a bit of the Brew at the Bog stuff on board and celebrated Scottish music in all its diversity. There is actually nobody on the bill this year from abroad.’
Bruce goes on to talk about some of this years acts. ‘We are looking at acts like Justin Currie and Rab Noakes; trailblazers who have gone out there and done it. In Justin you will not find a better songwriter in Scotland. And he’s as mad as a hatter. Rab is just a phenomenal artist. He’s seventy years old and fifty years in the business and still singing brilliantly. I had him on a show a few weeks ago and he sang live. He came back from throat cancer; he’s just incredible.
What I really like about this festival is that we’ve got guys who’ve been in a band for a year playing together and Ran Noakes who’s been 50 years in the business, and he’s going to be here watching all the bands. He’s so excited to be coming here.
I’ve got artists like Adam Holmes who’s going to play the main stage who played previously as a solo artist in I think 2012 and now he’s all over the world. And Rachel Sermanni who is just growing and growing. What I really love is the diversity, we have something for everyone. There is far more swapping of cultures and talent.’
This is a festival for music fans. As Bruce acknowledges music fans come in all ages and for the first time there will be children’s tickets but as Bruce puts it ‘don’t expect donkey rides’.
Bruce sees this as a festival for locals, one which they can see the full diversity of Scottish music in a fantastic setting. Even if the worst of the Scottish summer is thrown at us Bruce has made provision for it to all be under cover should that be the case.
It would be good to see Bruce’s tireless work and enthusiasm for this event replicated with locals making their way to Bogbain for a very rewarding experience and a healthy slice of the best of what Scotland has to offer musically.