By Craig McAllister
// 15 March 2015 //
Gig goers in Ayrshire might have seen the 'Freckfest' logo attached to a few things over the past year or so. The Irvine-based music promoter was set up by a small group of like-minded music fans, keen to re-develop a flagging local music scene.
Freckfest is so-named in honour of Willie Freckleton, Irvine's very own 'Mr Entertainment'. Willie was the man who for years brought all the big acts to Irvine. The gigs Willie put on in the Magnum are the stuff of legend and read like a roll-call of all that was great in music - Chuck Berry, The Clash, Thin Lizzy, Big Country, The Jam, The Smiths and Madness all ensured Irvine was a 'must-play' in their touring schedules.
For years Willie was responsible for bringing the Radio 1 Roadshow to Irvine's Beach Park. A free show regularly attended by upwards of 10,000 Ayrshirites, it was an eagerly anticipated local event. More outdoor events followed with 'Rock On The Watter', a festival always headlined by a well-known act with a supporting bill made up of local groups. Willie's ethos was always to allow the local bands the chance to play on the big stage. Many of the Freckfest committee first encountered Willie at these events, playing in those very bands on the under-bill.
It was Willie too who in 1995 brought Oasis to the Beach Park to play a double-header of earth-shattering live shows, between the release of their first two albums and just as the band were about to go stratospheric in popularity. The success of this event lead to the following year's 'On The Beach' festival, attracting the likes of Bjork, Underworld and Supergrass to Irvine.
Irvine gig goers (including this writer) might've taken all this for granted. You could even say we were a wee bit spoilt – out-with the big cities, how many other provincial towns had the same pulling power?
In 2008, all this came to an end with Willie's retirement from his post as North Ayrshire Council's Entertainments Officer. And once Willie had retired, the council retired his position, no-one was put in place to do Willie's job, and since then……nothing. The music scene in Irvine has been starved of the big names ever since.
Willie died almost four years ago and a chance conversation a couple of years later between two of his old acquaintances started a ball rolling. Plans were hatched. Schemes and dreams were formulated and a committee comprising of 8 enthusiasts, all with a link one way or other to Willie was formed. In the summer of 2013, a large 3 day music festival was organised in the Magnum, spiritual home of all things Freckleton. Headlined by the Magic Numbers, it was a huge success and helped spread the Freckfest message.
Throughout 2014, once a month Freckfest Fridays took place in Irvine's Harbour Arts Centre. A small, intimate venue, it became a favourite with audiences and artists alike and a number of high profile shows ensured Irvine audiences were once again treated to the best touring acts on the circuit. Sell-out shows last year included JJ Gilmour, Medals (with Biffy's Simon Neil in attendance), Glenn Tilbrook and two brilliant nights with Nik Kershaw. In keeping with Willie's ethos, wherever possible local acts were given their chance to play. Culann, Sean Kennedy, Common Ground and Soldier On have all taken huge steps forward, with Freckfest playing a small part along the way.
2015 finds Freckfest in a terrific position – the organisation is a registered charity, the Freckfest Fridays will continue again this year, and steps are being taken to reach further into Ayrshire. Recently, they promoted a very successful ska night at Troon Concert Hall and a number of bigger events are due to take place in the Magnum Theatre. Plans are also being made to host a large-scale event sometime in 2016.
As we go to press, Freckfest has been nominated for a Cultural Award by North Ayrshire Council. This is recognition of the great work the organisation is doing in Irvine and further afield. Look out for the gig listings – somewhere on there will be a Freckfest event. With an eclectic billing and a committee made up of music fans with differing tastes, there's guaranteed to be something for everyone.