Marymass Folk Festival has done its damnedest to be a part of the Irvine community and for as long as anyone can remember, free events in the community have been a key element of Marymass Folk Festivals. Making quality music and entertainment accessible irrespective of income was the aim. The idea was that free events should be taken to neighbourhoods and venues – wherever people of any age gather naturally – so that if you couldn’t afford to go to go to an Evening concert, you could still enjoy first class music. This meant that concerts were staged at venues such as Dickson Drive Shops, the Bridgegate and the Harbourside. People loved it and the artists loved it more!
In addition, pupils in Primaries and Special Needs schools have benefited for many years hearing musicians they otherwise might never have heard and for many, perhaps the first time being close to people playing the Bodhran, Small Pipes, Double Bass, Banjo, Harmonica, Fiddle, Harp and Guitar or indeed Step Dancing! And who knows where that first exposure to music, dance and song leads! And it was by no means about ‘being played to’ all the time. The youngsters were frequently invited to sing their songs or, as often happened at Haysholm School, play their instruments.
Taking musicians to Hospitals, Care Homes and Churches have also been regular features in Marymass programmes. And, in what was thought to be a great way to raise the Festival’s profile, it’s not that long ago since The Buskers were persuaded to travel in a Horse Drawn Cart in the Marymass Saturday Parade all the way from The Cross to The Moor…and doing their best to play at the same time. Might not sound like a challenge, but it was really a heroic effort – particularly as one of The Buskers was absolutely terrified of horses! For the Parade, Joyce was given a place in the Cart and all was going reasonably well until she was due to alight at Woodlands where the Marymass Saturday Bash takes place. Alas, the tail-gate of the Cart would not go down and Joyce was required to make an inelegant departure from said Cart. Ask her about it.
Organised and impromptu Festival Sessions in Pubs and Hotels in Irvine are also well established – but of course, reflect the availability of suitable venues and the interest of Mine Host. The Three Craws – properly known as The Ravenspark Arms – was one such establishment which hosted a number of concerts which were always jam-packed and jumping! Mind you, artists and instruments in never mind the PA was always a challenge!
Marymass Saturday being the highlight of Irvine’s Festival, before the Crowning of the Marymass Queen, entertainment has been provided many times by Festival artists. Of late, the Stavanger Harbour Band has graced the stage and do a great job. But without doubt, the one who always wowed the audience – irrespective of the weather – was the late Johnny Silvo. They simply loved him. He was a well-known figure in the town and when he took to wearing the Kilt – well, he was nearly given the vote!
The story starts with Derek Masterton & Roddy Fraser as youths attending Guitar Classes at Ravenspark Academy. The classes were run by Ayr County Council’s Community Development Service and organised locally by Stan Robertson – an employee of the Service for the Irvine area. Having learned to play the Guitar to a ‘reasonable level’, Derek and Roddy were recruited by Stan as tutors when the classes moved to John Galt Primary on Saturday morning. One of the tutors in our photograph includes Dave Loughran, brother of Gerry Loughran, from Stewarton, who had moved to London and had a notable career as a Blues musician. Music is still very evident in the Loughran family line to today. The late Dave King – a really talented Guitarist who sometimes played at The Eglinton Folk Club – also helped out to teach new and improving Guitar players. One such budding Guitarist was Clare Robertson – one of Stan’s daughters – who stuck with the classes and has never stopped playing since! Clare played regularly at The Eg Folk Club and a number of Marymass Folk Festivals and is currently one half of the duo Witches Brew playing original and trad songs with Scottish, Irish and African roots.
Ian McBreen also attended the John Galt Guitar classes. He was another regular Floor Singer at The Eg and was part of a folk group – the name of which eludes us for now. And if memory serves, the aforementioned Derek was another member of the group.
As a sixteen year old, Leo Bingham recalls playing at The Eg when he admits he was too young to do so – but he did so because he was so keen to play his Guitar in front of a live audience. Leo was a regular Floor Musician at The Eg for a number of years before moving on to take up music for the next 40 years of his life.
But back to Derek and Roddy. Journalism was Derek’s chosen career and that was fortunate for The Eg Folk Club and Marymass as he and another local journalist and folk music afficionado Jim Dickson shared writing weekly articles in The Irvine Times. Derek and Jim reviewed the previous week’s artists and promoted who was coming along the following week. Having such support from the local Press made a huge difference to the public profile of The Eg Folk Club and Marymass which has continued since day one.
After his stint tutoring Guitar classes to would-be players, Roddy moved on to establish his own music business, Soundtec, based in Irvine.