Well-known folk musician and radio presenter Bruce MacGregor isn’t holding back when it comes to telling the world about this weekend’s Northern Roots Festival in Inverness.
“You just won’t find a better mix of folk and roots artists in one weekend this year,” said Bruce.
While it’s a bold claim from the director of the festival, it’s one he’s happy to back up, as he knows a thing or two about music.
He has been presenter of BBC Radio Scotland’s award-winning Travelling Folk show for the last four years and the frontman of Scotland’s own Folk Band of the Year, Blazin’ Fiddles.
“As a festival organiser, I’m really lucky in my role at the BBC, as it gives me unlimited access to new releases and up-to-the-minute news as to who is working with whom,” said Bruce.
“Hopefully. it means that this festival has its finger on the pulse.”
The festival has grown so much that it needs more room to breathe, which is why it’s now being held at Eden Court Theatre and a number of other city-centre venues.
The festival takes place tomorrow on Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31 and has two headline gigs at the theatre, each featuring a quite amazing depth of talent.
Friday sees BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year Bella Hardy headline a show that will be in the rather unusual setting of a fictitious radio show.
“One thing I always thought would improve the running of a show was for the MC to get a bit more from the artists themselves, maybe get them out of their ‘performance shell’,” said Bruce.
“So instead of the MC wittering on in between the bands’ changeover, I’ll be interviewing the other acts, maybe even having a tune with them.
“It’s like a cross between Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion and our own Travelling Folk shows at Celtic Connections.”
The show is to be set with all artists on stage with the ambition that there will be spontaneous collaboration.
“The great thing is I kind of know what the personalities of the bands are and I think if we create the right setting we’ll get something magical,” said Bruce.
Sitting onstage in that “green-room” will be BBC Radio 2 Instrumentalist of the Year finalist and harmonica genius Will Pound, Blue Rose Code, an act creating an almighty stir throughout the clubs and theatres of the UK, and The Dirty Beggars, a five-piece hootin’ hollerin’ bag of banjo, fiddle, guitars and sublime vocals.
“We thought quite a lot about how these acts would work together as a show.
“Bella and Blue Rose Code actually toured together earlier this year, so there’s already an amazing connection between them.
“I met the Dirty Beggars at the Orkney Folk Festival last year and just loved their enthusiasm and musicality.
“As for Will Pound, well he can play with anyone – I mean anyone, he’s exceptional.”
So if the spirit of collaboration and spontaneity is alive and well for tomorrow night, it is positively blooming for Saturday night, when the festival launches The Highland Sessions.
The format is straightforward. Take three of the finest contemporary singer-songwriters on the scene today and you give them a house band, and other help.
“I’ve always loved the sessions format on TV and Celtic Connections and wanted to give Highland musicians that opportunity to show their skills at arranging and putting on a special show,” said Bruce.
“The singers were the easy part – Rachel Sermanni, Adam Holmes and Aoife O’Donovan are three of the best, and all incredibly talented songwriters as well as performers.
“Getting the house band was more of a challenge.
“It was more a problem of who to leave out, to be honest. The amount of talent from this region is incredible and it’s getting stronger year on year.”
In the end, multi-instrumentalist Anna Massie and pianist Angus Lyon were taken on as musical directors, along with fiddler Rua Macmillan, Mike Vass and Greg Barry.
Meanwhile, a joint scheme with Feis Rois meant some up-and-coming young musicians were given the chance to work with the house band.
Add to the mix the full choral might of Inverness Gaelic Choir and you have the birth of a major project.
“We wanted to make a statement about Northern Roots and, in particular, the depth of talent right across the boards here in the north, so we’ve gone big,” said Bruce.
Along with shows in Eden Court, performances will take place in pubs and cafes in Inverness.
“We want the folks of Inverness to be able to access the music wherever they go this weekend,” said Bruce.
“There are free performances in Falcon Square at lunchtime, pub sessions in Hootanannys and the Gellions, as well as family-friendly sessions in So Coco cafe, so the music is there and readily accessible. We want folks of Inverness and the Highlands to feel like this is their festival and something to be proud off.”
For more details visit www.northernroots festival.com and Eden Court at www.eden-court.co.uk (Box office 01463 234234).