Cowalfest starts

Item Posted: Tuesday 20th September, 2005

Scotland’s premier Walking and Arts festival this year has over 80 guided walks organized, but this year offers much more than just walking. Click here for article and more details.

This article appears in Box and Fiddle magazine


There are music festivals, walking festivals, and arts festivals, but it is rare to get all three in one.

Cowalfest, based around Dunoon in Argyll, is becoming a magnet for walkers, musicians, and artists way beyond the expectations of the founders’ original vision. After only three years it is now established as the largest walking festival in Scotland with over 80 guided walks.

“Cowalfest is literally walking and arts as you will experience it nowhere else,” said Russell Bruce, Chair of Cowalfest organisers, “We are breaking down barriers, dusting down traditional walking and taking culture and arts out of their box. Bringing art, heritage, language, sport, environment and science together is why it is so different, using the unique natural environment of Cowal as a resource for both healthy activity and as an inspiration for creativity. The event has been transformed into an extensive festival geared towards active lifestyles, enquiring minds and the wide-ranging interests of the 21st century.”

The major development this year is that there will be two ‘key-note’ traditional music concerts with an international line up, organized in conjunction with Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop. The workshop has done a great deal locally to attract residents and visitors to attend concerts. Working with Cowalfest is an ideal opportunity to attract different and wider audiences. It was this cross-arts aspect of the festival that appealed to the Workshop, as well as the fact that this was a local initiative they could support. Here would be some 2500 walkers, and numerous locals, who might not usually attend a traditional music event, but might be persuaded to do so because they are in the area or because it fits in neatly with another event during the festival.

There will be two leading traditional duos playing at both concerts.Donald Black on mouth organ, with Malcolm Jones, of Runrig, on guitar; and Jamie Laval, the US Scottish Fiddle Champion 2003, with Hans York, the German born guitarist.

Donald Black, from Benderloch, Argyll, has played the ‘moothie’ since he was aged four. He has been influenced by the distinctive west coast style of button accordion. He is recognized as the leading exponent of the tremolo mouth organ, but also uses the ten hole blues harp to capture the poignant, haunting melodies of Gaeldom.
‘Black shows his instrument can be just as expressive, just as colourful as any of its bigger cousins.’(Herald).

Malcolm Jones is a highly respected multi- instrumentalist and composer. Their partnership has brought accolades from all over the world: ‘ a most convincing mixture of sure-footed professionalism, sense of entertainment and a complete absence of anything pretentious. What a pleasure it would be to have this duo back.’ (Tonder Folk Festival, Denmark).

Donald and Malcolm’s cd Close To Home “ is wonderful, enjoyable and almost magical. Donald Black's harmonica plays a wonderful melody,and goes straight to the heart. Malcolm Jones plays with great ability and gusto’”(Folk Bulletin).

Jamie Laval is catching Cowalfest as part of his Scottish tour. He has played and taught at the Edinburgh Fiddle Festival 2003 as well as Alasdair Fraser’s San Francisco Scottish fiddle group. Jamie tours extensively throughout the United States with over 100 concert appearances yearly. He is described as; ‘a fiddler of subtlety, complexity and passionate intensity, an engaging performer who will create a rapt audience wherever he goes’. (Fiddle On Magazine) and his cd ‘Shades of Green’ is: ‘more than impressive.It stops you dead in your tracks and demands that you listen. Subtle and energetic’. (SingOut! Magazine).

Jamie is joined by Hans York. Hans is originally from Germany where he had a full career playing in bands of many genres and producing some 30 albums, and then moved to the U.S. He is a master of DADGAD-tuned guitar style which is perfectly suited to Celtic sounds, and has a ‘much broader palette of tonal colours than almost any backup player I have heard.’

The workshop hopes that a lot of people will visit the area, and take in one of the concerts, at the same time as availing themselves of other things going on in the festival. “ We already have people coming from Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere for our concerts, but it has to be said that many of them are hard core enthusiasts” Elizabeth, the Workshop’s Treasurer says, “ but Cowalfest gives visitors the opportunity to come for the weekend or longer, and take in the other activities going on in the area.”

The concerts will be at Highgate Halls, Strone on Friday 7th October and Saturday 8th October. Both concerts start at 7.30 p.m. The concerts have been supported by ScottishPower renewables, so ticket prices have been kept low to ensure accessibility to all. (Adults £7.00, Children £3.00.)

Cowalfest, from 7th to 16th October 2005, is Scotland¹s largest walking festival, with over 80 guided walks, and a vastly expanded arts programme covering the visual arts and drama as well as the strong traditional music lineup.
Other music during Cowalfest will include a Traditional Music Evening in the Smiddy at Strachur , a Bothy Night at Uig Hall, a Victorian Music Hall at Strone and Cultural Connections Ceilidh with Canned Haggis at Uig on the last Saturday.

More information, festival brochure and tickets, from Tourist Information Centre, Dunoon., 08707 200629, or check out gives full details on these concerts and Jamie’s Scottish tour.
If by any chance you cannot make it to Cowal that weekend, Jamie Laval and Hans York will be touring Scotland between 27th September and 18th October (see separate entry on this site)

© Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop 2004.

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