Fidel Michel at Irvine Harbour

Marymass Folk Festival has welcomed artists from Germany, Ireland, America, France, Norway and Canada. The Festival was also very proud to include in its 1974 programme 60 Dancers & Musicians from Sri Lanka to take part in the Marymass Parade. Multicultural or what! The Sri Lankans also took part in the Marymass Queen Pre-crowning Celebrations along with An Triskell from Britanny and The Sands Family. Howzat for an international line-up! It’s reckoned that Schmeltztiegel, Fidel Michel, Pichtogorn Bourree and The Sands Family all came to play in Irvine as a result of Hamish Imlach’s international travels and contacts.

Was it the females with Pichtogorn Bourree who spent a lot of their free time knitting?  Unpicking such details in a 50 year history can be tricky. Somewhere there is a photo of them at the Harbourside – some playing, some dancing, some knitting.

It was via Artie & Cilla Tresize that Americans Rick & Lorraine Lee arrived here. The four of them played on the same bill one night at The Eglinton and the singing and the terrific harmonies were memorable.  Artie & Cilla were two of Scotland’s finest musical ambassadors and as a consequence, when they visited America, they tended to meet the best musicians the country had to offer. Bob Zentz was in that category and so Irvine was the beneficiary of Artie & Cilla’s travels. Strange to tell, the arrival of Bob Zentz was met with some scepticism by the local Irvine Press. They suspected that the mischievous Danny Kyle had invented a spoof artist following on from a similar ploy the previous year when Stan was sent to Prestwick to welcome the arrival of a non-existent American Blues Band!! And anyway, what kind of name is Zentz? Danny on this occasion was in the clear.  Bob Zentz duly arrived, took the place by storm and happily is still alive and well in Norfolk, Virginia.

Boys of the Lough had played in Irvine a number of times and were undertaking regular tours to the USA. It’s believed that it was on one such tour that they came in contact with the fabulous Fiddle Fever who in turn enquired about playing at Marymass. They were duly booked for the 1981 Festival. They were beyond terrific and the Festival audience knew that these musicians were something very special.

The Norwegian link is kind of boomeranged shape. Richard, the Band leader, hails from Irvine and used to go to The Eglinton.  He went to live in Norway and some years later, a kind of casual, session Band was formed in Stavanger and thus the Stavanger Harbour Band was formed. Richard wondered about taking part in Marymass and for the last wheen of years, it’s become something of a pilgrimage for umpteen Norwegians to come to Marymass in support of the Band.

And sometimes, Floor singers at the Irvine Club could go under the ‘export’ heading – but not the alcohol variety. Some are rarely heard of again – like Dougie Bell who went to Australia. Others like Accordion player, the late Bobby Rogerson who emigrated to Canada but used to come back fairly frequently to renew his acquaintance. Although known as a fine Accordionist, Bobby was also known for rattling change in his pockets when artists were on stage at the Club – to the amusement / annoyance of many!

Some leave for foreign climes and news is heard of them only occasionally and then, as if by magic – or maybe social media – they announce they are coming for the 50th Marymass Folk Festival! Once such person is Mary Stewart. Mary lives in France and is one of Irvine’s best ever exports.

The Irish connection has seen a veritable conveyor belt of excellent Bands. As mentioned before, it was Hamish Imlach who mentioned to Stan Robertson about The Sands Family. They first appeared in Irvine in 1973 and brought the place down. Since then they have appeared on umpteen occasions at the Festival and the Irvine Club – as the original Family, as soloists and then a few years ago their ‘children’ topped the bill. Firm friendships still endure almost 40 years on. And Tommy, Colum and Ben have also been used to source other Irish musicians for the Festival and the Club. A kind of Folk Music Consultancy has emerged!

Planxty of course didn’t need an introduction. When they played in Irvine’s Ravenspark Academy as part of the 19xx Marymass Festival people came from all over Scotland and the North of England to hear their magical playing. Since then, Andy Irvine played a solo gig at the Irvine Club and those who were there at Ravenspark Academy still get goosebumps.

The Buskers through all their line-up changes were a regular feature at Marymass for many years – the one constant being Badger i.e, Brendan Leeson. In later years, Brendan’s son Stephen played solo at Marymass. He may even have been a competitor in the Whammy-Diddling Championship.

And did we mention De Dannan playing in The Magnum Theatre, or Cathal McConnell, or Upstairs in a Tent, or The Outside Track, or Drantan or Crawford Howard or Gerry & Donal O’Connor or…. you get the drift.