Morag Thow, Co-Founder

Image credit Di Finn

I caught up with Morag to ask her about the festival, how it started, her favourite moments and other village projects.

The Lochwinnoch Festival is in its 19th year. The brainchild of Lochwinnoch residents, Morag Thow and Rowena Murray, it has grown from being an afternoon book festival involving a few local authors to a three-week, multi-art event that is well-known throughout Renfrewshire. We discuss beginnings…

“Well, it started 19 years ago as a small afternoon book event in the village hall because there were quite a few authors in the village….It grew to be a weekend, then a long weekend… Then two weekends, then we joined the bit in the middle!”

The village certainly has more than its fair share of artistic residents. From much celebrated local poet, Betty McKellar to Edinburgh Festival star, Alan Bisset and award-winning writer, Kirsten Innis and many more besides – there’s a thriving creative scene.

Q. What makes the festival different from other small art festivals?

We are more ‘multi-arts’ than a lot of other festivals in the area. We’re probably the only arts festival in the area that covers everything from visual art, performance, music and so on. And we really try to be as inclusive as possible.

Q. Why is it Important?

We have an absolutely shambolic public transport system. We’ve one tiny wee bus that takes people to Johnstone Train Station and that is it. But disadvantaged people, OAPs, low income people, they can’t get to Paisley, or to Glasgow – even the last train means you’d have to miss half your show. We run it because it allows people here to have a bit of a binge of lots of different kinds of art. We keep the prices as low as we can, so people can go to multiple events.

Q. Do you have any top tips for the festival?

Christine Bovill is coming back – she’s lovely and such a phenomenal performer. Also The Rose Room, who have been with us five years in a row – a fantastic act. Melanie Read is with us too – a wonderful writer. She had a horse riding accident a few years ago, leaving her paralysed, and now writes the ‘Spinal Column’ for The Times. She has become a real advocate for people with disabilities. Such a brave, inspiring girl.

Q. Do you have a stand out moment from any of the festivals so far?

Yes, Dougie Mclean about two years ago. Och it was hilarious. He was just back from Australia playing, would you believe, at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. And I introduced him saying “Here he is, Dougie Mclean! He’s come all the way from Sydney Opera House to Lochwinnoch Village Hall.

Morag told me that Dougie had parked his motor home in the village car park so after the gig they all traversed to the Three Churches (pub) for more “tellin’ old stories” and “singing songs!”

The Festival tagline is “The Friendly Festival” and this certainly bears out. They treat the performers as part of the village. They’re taken for tea or invited out to the pub and made to feel part of the community. Morag says:

We’re apt to kinda adopt people!

And this friendliness breeds loyalty from the performers, many of whom keep returning. You get the feeling that making connections and linking up people and communities is what makes Morag tick. In 2018 Lochwinnoch became a Dementia Friendly Village – a partnership scheme which aims to include people with dementia in village life and also support carers – a direct result of The Lochwinnoch Arts Festival.

In 2017 the festival committee selected Alzheimer’s Scotland as the beneficiary charity of the festival. Morag decided they could go one step further. Her hometown of Prestwick had recently been given the title of Dementia Friendly Town. Using her connections she set Lochwinnoch on the same path.

It is interesting you are involved in linking up so many community projects…

Ach, I taught in university and that was just part of our job – organising things! And the festival has a wonderful committee. All of them artistic in their own way.

But I suppose a lot of it is linked to my interest in mental and social health. This is true of the arts festival too. We like having acts on in the pubs too – free of charge – which, again, is about the community feeling connected with one another.

Morag’s academic background is in cardiac rehabilitation. In addition to the festival and Dementia Friendly Village, she, along with her colleague Liz, run the local HeartStart program, which aims to teach emergency life saving skills to the local community. They have signed up over 800 people so far and are aiming for 1,000 (see page 18). This is a woman with many strings to her bow.

With over 40 acts to choose from, The Lochwinnoch Arts Festival has gone from strength to strength. They now attract acts and artists from all over Scotland. Talent abounds, but there can be little doubt, after my discussion with Morag Thow, that a lot of the talent also resides behind the scenes!

The festival runs from 6th – 29th March in various venues throughout the village.

6th – 13th March
Photography Exhibition
Library. Free

Friday 13th
Bowling club 7.30pm £8/£6
Songs and Stories in the Shop with Kirstin Innes and Outi Smith ReMode, 39 High Street £8/£6 BYOB

Saturday 14th
Laura Telford Exhibition
Golf Club 12 to 5pm free
Hesu and Zuba
Golf Club 7.30pm £8/£6
Ragin’ Twilight
Three Churches 9pm free

Wednesday 18th
Opening of Art Exhibition
Library 7pm By invitation

Thursday 19th
Christine Bovill Paris Show
McKillop 7.30pm £10/£8
Friday 20th – Friday 27th
Art Exhibition
Library hours free

Friday 20th
Moira Monologues
McKillop 7.30pm £10/£8
Calder Church Production
Calder Church Donation
Billy Hampson
Corner Bar 9pm free
John Hinshelwood Band
Brown Bull 9pm free

Saturday 21st
All day Craft Fair
McKillop 11am to 4pm free
Travelling Gallery
McKillop 10am to 4pm free
Rose Room & John Goldie
McKillop 7.30pm £10/£8
Sean Middleton
Corner Bar 9pm free

Sunday 22nd
Largs Gaelic Choir, Lochwinnoch Bop Choir and Renfrewshire Community Gospel Choir
Parish Church £8/£6

Monday 23rd
Local Writers and Brian Whittingham the Tannahill Makar of Renfrewshire
Library 2.15pm. Donation
Sing for St Vincents
Calder Church 7.30pm Donation

Tuesday 24th
Gilbert & Sullivan and Operetta Night
Parish Church 7.30pm £8/£6

Wednesday 25th
Glasgow Theatre Guild
Parish Church 7.30pm £8/£6

Thursday 26th
Witches’ Brew at ROAR
McKillop 1pm free
Drama The West Island Way
McKillop 7.30pm £7/£5

Friday 27th
Village Live Night
Lochbarr 7.30pm free
Drama The West Island Way
McKillop 7.30pm £7/£5

Saturday 28th
All day Authors
Diarmid MacArthur McKillop 10.30am – 11.30am £6/£4
Corinne Hutton, Peter Aitchison, Louise Turner, Rowena Murray, Vanessa Collingridge, George Walker, Jack Hastie, McNicol and Jackson & Betty McKellar A chance to meet our local authors at this event.
McKillop 11.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 2.30pm free
Melanie Reid McKillop 12.30pm – 1.30pm £6/£4
Rock and Roll McKillop 7.30pm £10/£8

Sunday 29th
Scone Day
McKillop 11am to 5pm
Come and Try Pottery
McKillop 10am to 4pm £5
Fiddle Workshop
McKillop 10am to 12noon £5
Accordion Workshop
McKillop 1.30pm – 3.30pm £5
Janey Godley
McKillop 7.30pm £15