Toni James, chair of the festival board, on why you should check out this year’s festival programme.
You can find out just why Toni is so excited on the Tannahill Arts Festival website.
“The experience of Tannahill Arts Festival in 2023 is going to be very different.
“The 2021 Festival was delivered while the pandemic was still altering life, and dictating what we could or couldn’t do.
“I am really quite proud of us. We were among the first arts organisations at that time, to deliver a hybrid festival that included in-person events. The team had to develop stringent Covid protocols of course, but also really embrace the challenge of reimagining what was possible.
“In light of the hardship so many people endured during that time, the work took on even greater significance. The task was to ensure artists could continue doing the work they love for their audiences, who felt safe and could savour the joy of being immersed in live performances again.
“This year’s festival continues to affirm the sense of magic that happens in those live moments between artist and audience; the very first event is a homage to that in a way.
“Saxophonist Tommy Smith OBE is one of the finest jazz musicians on the planet – he’s played with so many greats, from Chick Corea to Kenny Barron. This concert for Tannahill Arts Festival will be a special, intimate, contemplative experience for the audience; the artist will explore the relationship between sound and space, letting the music breathe and develop in the natural acoustics of the cavernous Paisley Abbey. Drawing on tunes from the jazz, folk and praise song traditions, Smith says, “I see [this] as a celebration of melody”. Speaking to London Jazz News, Smith spoke about the chance to experiment with and explore concerts in churches, abbeys and cathedrals, “because they all have different characteristics and that makes every concert unique”.
“Certainly, this festival has a jazz theme running across its opening two nights! However, the programme covers so much range stylistically. Violinist and vocalist Seonaid Aitken’s Ella Fitzgerald homage, exploring the Great American Songbook with her trademark maverick arrangements, will bring distinct glitz, glamour and flirtatiousness to Tannahill. Well-suited to deliver the musical stylings of Jazz and Hollywood’s golden ages, much like the bankable stars of the era, Seonaid has her very own brand of star power. Considered one of the most interesting musical artists working in Scotland today, her composing and arranging credits include commissions from the BBC, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.
“If the 2023 festival feels a bit starry, that’s because it is. This year also welcomes The Whistlebinkies, pioneers of the Scottish folk revival, with an impressive worldwide following.
“That notwithstanding, from its inception, the organisation has cemented the role it considers to be at the heart of its mission: to support the development of diverse talent. The organisation offers workshops and training and gives up-and-coming voices a platform. ‘Script to Stage’ events featured table-readings and performances of new scripts by local writers. This year, Ivor-Novello-nominated songwriter and national hero Boo Hewerdine brings his critically acclaimed workshop to Paisley for the first time, to work with and inspire a new generation of songwriters.
“Artistic Director Alan Fleming-Baird says these types of tailored, bespoke training opportunities are key for aspiring artists: “all developing artists need access to opportunities that develop their professional skills and networks, and who better than someone who has written songs for Sia, K.D. Lang and Eddi Reader”. Hewerdine will also adjudicate the festival’s annual young artist competition, this year open to songwriters and named in honour of Paisley arts supporter and stalwart Corbin Miles.
“One area of its activities the organisation hopes to expand in the coming months, is its programming for children and young people. Acknowledging the critical importance of access to creative learning for wider cognitive, social, physical, and psychological benefits, Tannahill takes seriously its role engaging young audiences.
“This year’s festival will host Hopscotch Theatre Company, an organisation with 30+ years of experience at the forefront of professional contemporary theatre for young audiences. Hopscotch takes its programme of plays, pantomimes and learning projects to communities across Scotland, nurturing young learners and helping them navigate the world. Local children in Renfrewshire, will be enthralled and delighted by an energetic, interactive and original play that takes them on a journey through the life, music and poetry of the bard Robert Burns with the help of some of his friends. Campfire Storytelling Club also returns, providing children with the opportunity to create their own stories and characters in a relaxed, low-key and non-intimidating environment.
“Tannahill Arts Festival helps us brush off the winter cobwebs this year, encouraging us to get out and about. Writer Anne Scriven and her musical collaborators celebrate the new season with their Spring Evening of Word and Song.
“We may need to don winter woollens and bundle up one last time to take The Urban Historian’s new ‘Origins of Paisley’ walking tour, which explores how a once ancient village became Scotland’s largest town!
“Gifted and charismatic wordsmith and Tannahill Arts Festival Makar, Shaun Moore, will bring this year’s smashing festival to a riotous, celebratory conclusion with the hugely popular poetry slam Tanna Slamma Ding Dong 2. In 2021, the event saw participants from far and wide converge on Callum’s Cavern for a truly breath-taking and uplifting evening of original spoken word.
“Playing a key role in Paisley’s ongoing renaissance, Tannahill Arts Festival has the distinction of appealing to visitors and locals alike; it has a relevant, current and international outlook, while being a local festival for local people that celebrates local people.
“Apt for the season and showing signs of things to come, Tannahill Arts is planting seeds for the future and seems set to grow and grow.”