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Ricky Ross and Shooglenifty among acts lining up for Errol’s own ‘wee Woodstock’

The 2023 Solas Festival is all about 'kindling hope' with activism, music and family-friendly entertainment.

Shooglenifty will appear at the Solas Festival. Image: Jen Anderson.
Shooglenifty will appear at the Solas Festival. Image: Jen Anderson.

Speaking proudly, as though he were discussing a child of his own, the chairman of Perthshire’s Solas festival Frank Strang says the event has been described in the past as a kind of “wee Woodstock” in the Scottish countryside.

That description isn’t far off the atmosphere the festival creates, although it is very wee indeed – just 1,000 or so visitors, for a weekend at Errol Park which promises everything you might want from a summer festival and plenty more besides.

Solas (it means ‘Light’ in Scots Gaelic) has built a reputation for its unique combination of contemporary and traditional music, political thought and discussion, and family-friendliness.

This year they’ve added a brand new literature strand, where Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross discussing his autobiography Walking Back Home brings another music-themed headliner to the bill.

Ricky Ross will be speaking about his book Walking Back Home. Image: Simon Murphy.

“After a while you get a bit of a reputation as a festival,” says Strang. “What’s our brand? It’s a friendly, family-safe, multi-arts festival in the trees in Errol, with lovely food, a nice venue and a laid-back vibe.

“We have good music and interesting talks, panels and workshops. All of that stuff will appear again.”

Musically, says Strang, the ethos is for less big names.

That doesn’t mean he’s never tempted to shell out for the Proclaimers, for example, but the artists they book are often well-known to the festival, and ones whose music and live performances the organisers already enjoy themselves.

Solas festival acts are small but mighty

“This year we’ve got some good artists like Rachel Sermanni, King Creosote and Shooglenifty,” he says. The former is the sublime singer-songwriter from Carrbridge, whose headline set at the first post-lockdown ‘Wee Solas’ at Scone Palace in 2021 was a fan favourite.

King Creosote is the renowned, Mercury Prize-nominated Fife auteur Kenny Anderson; and Shooglenifty are lively favourites of the Scottish trad scene.

King Creosote is a well-loved face in Fife. Image: Calum Gordon.

“Then we’ve got a guy called Daniel Martinez, a fantastic flamenco guitarist,” continues Strang, picking another performer he’s keen to see from a bill including Sam Amidon, Sacred Paws, Beth Malcolm, Gwana Trance Fusion, Awkward Family Portraits, Tern and Alice Faye.

Solas is ‘kindling hope’ amid crises

“This year we’re particularly conscious that it’s not an easy time for people, whether that be the cost of living, the climate, the war in Europe, and so on,” he says.

“It’s easy to get downhearted, so Kindling Hope is this year’s theme.

Rachel Sermanni will bring her musical stylings to the 2023 Solas Festival.Image: Gaelle Beri.

“Rather than focusing on the crises, what we’re doing is focusing on something more positive, so we’re going to have panels and discussions around how we can change the way we do politics.”

Guests speaking in this and other areas include politician and current Minister for Social Security Ben Macpherson, physician and medical writer Gavin Francis, community-focused author Merryn Glover and Scottish Government Clinical Director Jason Leitch.

“We’re going to have a panel on activism, on how can we go about it, whether it be refugee or environmental activism, in a way that doesn’t burn people out but actually kindles hope,” says Strang.

Trad favourites Shooglenifty will play the 2023 Solas Festival. Image: Jen Anderson.

“We’re looking at how we can do faith in a way which kindles hope, and on the Sunday we’re having a community meal, which we invite everyone to come and share together.

“Then we’re going to have a tent of hope, where local initiatives say a bit about what they do in their communities.

“The risk is that this all sounds terribly earnest, but the best way to kindle hope is for people to remember what it’s like to have a good time, so there’s a real emphasis on helping people relax and relate to each other, and have fun.”

Prices have deliberately been kept low, and are free for any displaced people from Ukraine or elsewhere.

Special relationship with Errol community

“We’re really enjoying our relationship with Errol,” says Strang of Solas’ third site, after Biggar and the Bield in Perth.

“We have the Carse Voices, a local community choir, popping up around the festival site. We’re in conversation with Errol Primary School about doing stuff.

“The local band Bruach is going to play, local poet Andy Jackson and other Perthshire poets are appearing. We’re enjoying being embedded somewhere where the community connection makes it come alive.”

For Strang, being chair of the festival is a labour of love.

Rachel Sermanni is one of the more well-known names on the bill. Image: Gaelle Beri.

“My wife, my daughter and I have been going since 2010 and the very first Solas in Biggar,” he says. “This will be our 14th. I loved it, loved the freedom for my daughter to run around, loved camping and being with friends.”

The former chairman Steve Butler invited him on to the board in the mid-2010s, and Strang took over as chairman not long before Covid.

“Surviving that was a big deal, but we’re emerging,” he says. “It’s fine, but it was a tough time.”

Family tradition carries on

This year the family tradition will continue. “My daughter’s now 22, she was born in the millennium, and she’s just as enthusiastic for Solas as ever,” he says.

“We’ll all be there. I remember once we had a wee session discussing with people what Solas was like for them, and I remember some people saying that when they moved to Scotland they found it hard to find a community.

“When they came to Solas they met a community, and when they came back the next year, the same people were there.

“While I might often love it to be a bit bigger, when it’s a small festival then you can see people again and share that sense of community. I’ll be seeing people I’ve not seen for a year, which is a lovely thing.”

The 2023 Solas Festival is at Errol Park, Perthshire, from Friday June 16 to Sunday June 18.

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