BOWled over by BOWfest: huge success and major boost for Argyll tourism

BOWfest brochures

[18th September update-  2 new photos] The photograph proves the point – this visitor to Inveraray and to BOWfest was one of the many who collected armfuls of brochures on the tourism offer in Argyll and the Isles.

The Best Of the West event looks to have virtually doubled its numbers on last year’s performance. It has seen local communities take ownership of it – from Oban – with Oban FM broadcasting live from the festival to Kintyre whose pipers were part of the event and whose key business were there on the stalls – Machrihanish Dunes, Kintyre Express and a heart of alliance of gold courses from Kintyre to Islay to Arran, to Ayrshire to Northern Ireland.

BOWfest has attracted visitors  from well beyond Argyll and seen them respond to the static crackle of the event  with a serious interest in what this place as a whole has to offer them.

Alexander Story BOWfestThe weather on the second day, Sunday 16th, was as bad as it could be – the main marquee nearly blew out but the team got it anchored in the nick of time and the throng inside the open plan L-shaped tented area carried on exploring, eating, drinking, buying gifts, talking and listening to the knock out music on the stage by the bar and dance place.

Crerar Hotels sponsored the music on the first day headed by Skerryvore; and CalMac went for the spice with the programme led by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers on Sunday.

Pipers from the Inveraray and District Pipe Band joined the Red Hots on stage and were immediately shown how to do some of the trademark routines in the band’s act. One member of the audience had been at the piping competition in Campbeltown the day before and had seen one young piper competing there in the Piobaireachd – and yesterday afternoon, there he was on stage and heavily into pipe rock, which, come to think about it, sounds not unlike the  word ‘Piobaireachd’.

The diversity of opportunity that piping and drumming is bringing to young folk across Argyll and the Isles is wonderful – a real strength of reward for living in this part of the world. The opportunities are musical – with the always inventive Wild Biscuit a resident impetus as well as unique one-offs like what happened in the music tent at BOWfest yesterday; social – in the friends they make across the competing bands from other areas; and geographical, in the travel they get to do.

And a young man’s business in the food and drink area – Home Ground Coffee – fresh roast coffee saw him single handedly sell one thousand cups of coffee yesterday.

He and the highly successful Stovies from Stronmagachan Farm and Inveraray’s Eden Deli, were big hits in the food area. The old faithfuls were all there and doing well but to our eyes – and possibly to our eyes only – Food From Argyll does not seem to be driving forwards and growing in initiative and members as Argyll needs to see it do.

Never shy to stick our neck in the nearest guillotine, we need to see ALL of the food producers in Argyll and Bute come together under a single brand to put produce and food products of all sorts on the map with an Argyll brand. We also need to see the Argyll producers and their single brand, hard wired into Scotland Food and Drink. This is really making its mark. Argyll needs to be on that float.

If we are calling for all food producers to come together, then Argyll itself has to be prepared to bring its local brand into a bigger game – and Scotland Food and Drink is that game. The success of Argyll and the Isles Tourism in a very short time could not shout more loudly its testimony to the impact of one great team with all onboard it.

The BOWfest event is a major triumph for the dedicated strategic planning, imagination, endless hard work and perfectionist attention to detail of a core team who spent last night striking the show, lugging boxes around and putting it all to bed – until next year.

The event has done what it set out to do  – lift the visitor shoulder season through its September dating. It has done very much more than that. It has shown what can be achieved if it is undertaken with 100% commitment, no tolerance of failure, invention, professionalism and great team work. And it has run up the Argyll flag in the prospecting territory of potential visitors.

The audiences loved it. The sponsors are delighted. The energy source is ignited. The space shot blast off is next year.

And straight from the experience…

These are the notes Mike Story of Argyll and the Isles Tourism made for himself yesterday and which we asked to reproduce as they give the flavour of the event in every way, straight from the moments.

‘We had a ball, and despite the weather we doubled the visitor numbers from last year. The team worked so hard, and a massive thanks to our sponsors who made all this possible.

’9am. The weather is not on script! we stand wondering how the day is going to go. Next thing we hear the sounds of pipes, then  drums and  then a Motown horn section !….the Red Hot Chilli Pipers are on stage doing sound checks along with the youngsters from the Inveraray and district Pipe band…next thing we know all the stall holders have stopped setting up and  have come through to watch…..and at that point we know we have done the right thing………six months on from sitting in Eleanor Argyll’s kitchen and taking the leap of faith of booking big name bands, we have a quiet feeling that we had made the right decision!

‘At 11am  the first crowds start making their way down the long driveway.  Abigail Pride has kicked off the days proceedings, and the smell of freshly cooked local food and hand roasted coffee is tempting the first visitors inside.

’11.30 The haunting sounds of Gaelic singing can be heard from the PA,  Joy Dunlop has taken the stage and the hair on people’s arms  is standing on end. Joy has seen great success at various Mods and her amazing voice is appealing to a much wider audience.

‘At 12.15 Fiddle me Timbers are on stage warming the rather wet crowd with a series of jigs and strathspeys. The rain is pouring down but nobody seems to care.

BOWfest 3 2

1.10 The tent is filled to capacity, families holding young children on their shoulders and then with a huge fanfare of Alzo Sprach Zarathustra, the Chilli’s are on stage, all 12 of them blasting out Crooked Bridge then straight in to Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water……and the crowd are bouncing. The band are so animated on stage that they draw the crowd in with musical battles between lead guitar and bagpipes…drumming comps between the three drummers on stage and the battle of the three pipers….brilliant entertainment, and for an hour the crowd is enthralled. If we thought the stage was busy, it is creaking when 12 members of the Inveraray and district junior pipe band appeared on stage and brilliantly joined in the Chilli’s stage moves. The smiles on these youngsters’ faces and those of their parents was pure Scottish Pride. Thank you Caledonian MacBrayne for backing us with the funds to bring the Chilli’s on stage.

’2.15 and the food hall is full of people tucking in to great local food, local beers and that fantastic coffee. The weather is unpredictable, with fierce marquee destroying storms passing through, but none of it deterred the Drakes of Hazard who are  working between showers and keeping families entertained with brilliant antics and hilarious commentary. A big thanks to Craig McIntyre, who on discovering the Drakes had forgotten their PA system, roared off in his car to magically appear 20 mins later with a spare PA he happened to have lying around!!!…now that’s crisis management.

‘The Lush Puppies are keeping the mood of the music tent going with fantastic  covers, and their version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall is brilliant.

‘Meanwhile In the food tents and craft tent the people have arrived  in great numbers to eat, drink, and  buy  everything from pottery to venison and experience the very best the the west has to offer…and smiling faces are everywhere. The Argyll and The Isles stand along with Calmac and Visit Scotland are showing a steady stream of visitors just how great Argyll and The Isles are, and the Forest and Gardens Tourism initiative has gotten off to a fine start.  People are bonding together. When one of the huge storms came through and started to demolish the Marquee, stall holders and visitors joined together to get the tent sides back down and help save paintings and crafts from the wind and rain.

’3.30….The Chillis are on stage again and I swear when the Inveraray juniors re-joined them the entire tent lifted by a couple of feet! More fantastic “Chillified” music follows and after about 6 encores the band comes in to the crowds to sign autographs and pose for photos.

BOWfest 3 1

’5.00pm……as I walk from the fly fishing arena towards to main tents, I look up and there with the back drop of Inveraray Castle, is a brilliant rainbow reaching all the way to loch Fyne. All around are  happy smiling families, local and visitors alike, and Stuart Green of Argyll and Bute Council is  playing football with his boys. The music is still pumping with Brand New Enemy and Dr Hip and The Blues operation and the sun is finally shining!. The whisky tent is buzzing, great conversations  taking place and people simply look happy.

‘This is how to showcase what we in Argyll and The Isles have to offer the world.  No advertisement and no product endorsement can beat 2000 smiling people enjoying the Best of the West.

‘See you next year’

Note:One photograph above shows, we think, young Alexander Story hoisted to get a good look at the bands, already in training for an interest in events like this by his manically busy father, Mike Story, Executive Director of Argyll and the Isles Tourism.

The photographs of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers on stage at BOWfest and of the rainbow, were sent to Mike Story by the photograpaher Bill Baillie, who retains the copyright.

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6 Responses to BOWled over by BOWfest: huge success and major boost for Argyll tourism

  1. Great picture Jamie boy your old man never managed to get near the front pity you left the pipes at home .Well done the Inverary young ones and Stuart for such a great set with the Chilli Pipers

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  2. Truely amazing weekend at Inverary! Noticed by chance a couple of months back on Skerryvore Face Book they were playing at Bowfest. Looked into it & thought it sounded interesting. Good excuse for a visit to Inverary as we’d not been in a couple of years and so glad we came. It was an exceptional treat, fine foods, lots of interesting activities for all ages and a ‘Feast of Music and talent.’ Congratulations to all those who organised this Family day and can’t wait to hear about next years event, we’ll be back!

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  3. Hi, great story, but you have missed the two primary school children that sang in the morning, Cara Blyth & Holly Renton, they were on Sunday and sang two Gaelic songs, they were singing at the MOD the day before and were placed 2nd for their solo, 2nd for their duet and Holly won solo with Cara second
    Thank you

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    • Thanks for this Tracy

      Please say sorry to both these amazing wee singers, I was writing notes on the hoof and I forgot to check the program. Carla and Holly certainly added some wonderful culture to the event and got a great round of applause from everyone concerned.



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