XpoNorth Festival Review 2015
@XpoNorth Days & Nights by Jan Patience
First, some XpoNorth Snapshots:
- It's high noon on Tuesday 9th June. I'm squinting into the sunlight holding up a giant polystyrene X by the banks of the fast-flowing River Ness. To my left, holding up a giant P is Ronnie Browne, silver-haired, silver-tongued (with odd slip) remaining member of The Corries, the folk duo which gave the world Flower of Scotland. To Ronnie's left is slightly bemused festival director, Amanda Millen, who has been banjaxed into holding the letter O. "Hold it higher", the photographer shouts. "I'm getting shadows on your face, Jan." It happens.
- In the dark underbelly of Inverness music venue, The Ironworks, Nicola Meighan, music journalist and self-styled Corries Revivalist (see @NicolaMeighan), stands blinking in front of a dozen iPhones for an impromptu photo call with her hero. In her trademark nipped-in 50s retro-esque printed dress and big chunky boots, she has met her match in 77-year-old Ronnie Browne, clad in similarly graphic Moschino jacket. The pair have been discussing his newly-published autobiography, That Guy Fae The Corries for the last hour. Fascinating tales emerge from the front line of Scotland's folk revival.
- A darkened room in the basement of the Mercure Hotel in Inveness city centre. I'm looking through a cardboard visor and experiencing something called Google Cardboard. It's a 360 degree digital kaleidoscope of spectral light and colour. Accompanied by the trippy music of Simon Boswell, composer of film soundtrack such as Shallow Grave and Hackers. Simon is in room as a panellist on Raindance Presents Screenage Hacks Hacks - From Indiegogo to Google Cardboard. Clearly enjoying the surreal sight of delegates spaced out on this head lo-fi/hi-tech mix.
- A random conversation outside the Mercure Hotel with a passing minstrel. He has a lustrous red beard and is sporting a bandana. Seeing my XpoNorth pass, he asks where he can find the new delegate centre to register. We have a bit of a chat. I ask if I can take a selfie with him because he could be a contender for #BestXpoBeard - a bit of social media hashtaggery banter vamped up by Richard Melvin, who is running the festival radio station. (Come to think of it, I'm not sure we claimed a winner... step forward Toby Michaels from The Broken Ravens.
- Towards the end of the festival, looking at the work of 11 top Highlands and Islands designers, showcasing their wares in the delegate centre. I've resisted coming in because, having seen the work on display at a networking party on Wednesday I know I'll want to buy something... I am now the proud owner of a gorgeous dress by Shetland-based defence lawyer turned knitwear designer, Nielanell, and a pair of funky earrings made by Plockton-based Gilly Langton. (Actually, I still haven't paid for it... cheques in the post Niela!)
- Sitting in on Classic Album Playback session of The Delgados The Great Eastern. Three out of four Delgados are on the panel; Paul Savage, Stewart Henderson and Emma Pollock. I feel a fraud because I was having babies around the time The Great Eastern was released at the turn of the century and great swathes of popular culture passed me by, including this incredible album. Stewart talks about a bit in the album where his primary school friend, Camille Mason, played the flute. I sit wrapt as the music starts to play (vinyl, don't you know - thanks to monstrous sound by Scots Hi-Fi legends Linn Products and Glasgow-based Loud + Clear) and I catch the 'flutey' bit in among the soaring orchestrations and balladry.
EVERYONE's XpoNorth is different.
I wish I could wrap it up and present it to you as a neatly-worded package, hand it over and say: 'Come to Inverness for two days in June next year and feel the force.'
As the dust begins to settle on this unique creative industries extravaganza, which took place in the Highland capital of Inverness last Wednesday and Thursday, I want to capture it before it disappears. It's all in my head in snapshot form.
Back at my Kitchen Sync, with kids to transport, dogs to walk, end-of-term school forms to fill in, time sheets to complete and bills to pay, it seems like dream-time now. Even the sun has packed up and left Scotland. But I still have a fresh injection of ideas to mull on, not to mention new books to read (thanks Dingwall 's own Sandstone Press) and new books to write...
This time last week I was bombing around Inverness, jumping in and out of venues and reporting on what I saw and heard for the festival's social media. As I stumbled around, day segued into night and the midsummer light barely seemed to dim. It wasn't all social media; there was also the old school media to see to; newspapers, magazines, radio, TV...
Never mind Sleepless in Seattle, I was sleepless in Inverness, partly due to sensory overload and partly down to the to the yacking seagulls outside my hotel room on the banks of the Ness. Still, appropriately, it meant I could lie in bed and keep track of the XpoNorth Twitter & Facebook accounts; red-hot for the duration of the festival...
Down the corridor, Ruth Walker, my friend and ex-colleague (from far-off days when newspapers were the main method of mass-communication), was similarly engaged. Later, over breakfast, our hands hovered over our iPhones... as we shook our tired heads and marvelled at the sheer volume of tweets raining into @XpoNorth. Changed days indeed for two old-school hackettes who started off working life phoning in our copy to 'copytakers'. Not surprisingly, the sweeping changes in technology seemed to be a theme which ran through XpoNorth like an iPhone charger running on empty.
It was, on the whole, considered 'a good thing', opening out venues for creatives like no other era in history. As the festival's resident PR, I work with its small team all year round promoting not just this two-day creative industries extravaganza, but the work of XpoNorth as vehicle for supporting the incredible range of activity throughout the vast region that is the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It covers screen, fashion, music, writing, crafts, publishing, textiles, gaming and broadcast and believe me, from the Sound of Jura to the tip of Shetland, Britain's most northerly outpost. What's more, thanks to funding and support from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and the European Regional Development Fund, it's all free to access.
By day, XpoNorth boasted over 30 panels, debates and masterclasses featuring creative industry pros at the top of their game. By night over 60 up-and-coming music acts were playing half-hour sets to delegates at venues large and small. There was also a live radio station called XpoNorth Live! operating out of Blackfriars Highland Pub in the heart of Inverness. In this sweaty, heady atmosphere, seasoned radio hacks were training a group of hopefuls and giving them a real taste of what it's like to work in live radio. Bands came and played, panellists pitched up to be interviewed, pints were pulled and pies were consumed.
It was fun - and practical!
My friend, Louise Wyllie (who got me into this whole Xpo gig in the first place), had signed up as a radio trainee. Like her dad, the renowned Scottish artist, George Wyllie, 65-year-old Louise is not one to go gently into old age.
Parked up a side street was The Screen Machine, a Tardis-like 80-seater mobile cinema showing over a hundred short films and showcasing samples of Scottish filmmaking talent. Nearby, The Buzz Project bus, which turned out to be a mobile recording studio, was drawing in aspiring musicians like moths to a flame.
The focus on XpoNorth is firmly on career development, but it's also great craic.
Please come next year - you'd be daft not to...