Q&A: Robin Dempsey, Innerleithen Music Festival

  • Eddi Reader will make her third appearance at the Innerleithen Music Festival
  • Skipinnish - voted Live Act of the Year at the 2014 Scots Trad Music Awards
  • Local boy Tommy Ashby will be a huge draw at the festival
  • The wonderful Friel Sisters ... the best of the Glasgow-Irish tradition
  • Live and Local ... a festival within a festival at the Vale Club
  • Former Scots singer of the year Shona Donaldson will perform with her fiddler husband Paul Anderson


With just a few days to go until this year's Innerleithen Music Festival, we caught up with Robin Dempsey, a member of the organising committee, to find out what's in store


You all set, or still a few final things to do?

All the main elements have been in place for months – bands, PA, hall bookings, ticket sales etc – so we’re down to the tasks we can only do in the run-up to the festival, including final publicity. We’re now putting up banners, keeping Facebook fed and other last minute bits and pieces.

For those who have never been before, how would you describe the festival?

It’s based in the fine wee town of Innerleithen, so it’s not a greenfield festival site. It features a mix of concerts in the 400-seater Memorial Hall with big names from what we loosely call ‘Celtic’ music to small-scale events such as workshops and informal sessions. We try to fit in musicians with local connections on the big stage where possible both at the Memorial Hall and at Live & Local – our 'festival within a festival' at the Vale Club. There’s also lots more to do around the town, such as visiting Robert Smail’s Printing Works, St Ronan’s Wells, Traquair House, or browsing the many antique shops.

Once again, the line-up looks terrific … what particular highlights can people look forward to this year?

We like to think we’ve got a pretty full programme of great artists with wide appeal, but I guess the two big names – Eddi Reader and Skipinnish – will inevitably be the highlight for most people. This is Eddi’s third visit to the Memorial Hall and once more we’ve sold all 400 tickets and have a waiting list. Skipinnish are not quite so well known amongst the general public and we weren’t looking to sell out, but we are heading for about 300 folk which is more than enough for a terrific atmosphere. But I’d also pick out Tommy Ashby who’s appearing on the Saturday afternoon. Tommy grew up in Innerleithen, immersed in the local music scene, and has gone on to become a superb singer-songwriter with a glowing reputation well beyond the town.

And which acts are you most looking forward to seeing?

Well, I’m excited about all the music, but I have my particular favourite genre: traditional song. I get to pick the artists for the Sunday evening concert, so inevitably I get a particular buzz from this. I’ve broken the mould a wee bit this year by inviting a former Scots singer of the year, Shona Donaldson, with her fiddler husband Paul Anderson. Paul doesn’t sing, but is undoubtedly one of the country’s top fiddlers and I’m confident people will absolutely love his performance.

Might there be some surprises … some lesser-known performers who blow everyone’s socks off?

Of the bigger names, I’ll go for Skipinnish who don’t often perform far from their Highland homeland. I think people who haven’t heard them before will just be blown away. We had a similar situation with Manran when they were working their way up the fame ladder and performed here in 2012. Otherwise, I guess I’ll stay with the Sunday evening and pick Mike Tickell, who is a really engaging Northumbrian performer (and father of the well-known Kathryn).

The Live and Local Fringe has become a popular part of the festival … why is that always such a hit?

Various reasons. It’s allowed us to give a stage to 100s of less well-known musicians over the years, plus it’s friendly, supportive and informal. It's also a small venue. Not every music fan likes the concert hall experience. And it’s free to get in (though we do pass the hat round!)

What other fun stuff can people get involved in this year?

There’s lots more going on – an historical walk, a rock & roll session (a great hit last year), late-night music at the Union Club, and workshops, including a jazz dance one and some great song workshops. There’s also a children’s creative workshop that the committee has been busy collecting plastic bottles and boxes for over the past few weeks.

Finally, what does the festival mean for Innerleithen as a community?

I think it helps put Innerleithen on the cultural map and creates a buzz around the place with lots of visitors arriving in the town. It’s a great wee town anyway with an unusually strong sense of civic pride, and I like to think we make a contribution to that.

Further info

Held in the beautiful Tweed Valley, the 13th Innerleithen Music Festival runs from 21–23 August. For the full programme, ticketing information and more, visit www.innerleithenmusicfestival.org



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