Eighteen years ago, friends Kit and Sarah Fraser approached my husband and I to be involved with their new project. It was around late summer when I was growing ever-more heavily pregnant with our first child and over lunch at their home they shared details of their venture. It sounded hugely exciting, and Bruce and I were impressed by their ideas as well as delighted to be invited to be part of it.
The next step was to view the premises on Inverness’s Church Street, for a better idea of how it would all work; plans, proposed layout and detail of the business in more practical terms. At the time it was home to a ‘bargains’ shop, packed to the gunnels with toys, household goods and hardware.
Though we found it fairly challenging to see through the guddle of stuff to a completely changed layout over three levels, with new stairs, walls removed, kitchen built, and bars and toilets installed, the space and potential was undoubtably fantastic. What shone through was Kit and Sarah’s vision, passion and enthusiasm. They’d thought carefully about everything, had clear goals and we jumped at the chance to be involved on the music side. After months of hard graft by the couple, including scouring salvage yards to source the fixtures and fittings that would enhance the venue’s unique character, their project came to fruition. Their new music pub, Hootananny, opened its doors.
Multi-award winning and hugely popular, Hoots, as it’s affectionately known by locals, continues to be a top Inverness venue for folk and traditional music, as well as upstairs for a wide range of music, comedy and events. Kit and Sarah’s creative vision had - with determination, focus and lots of hard work - become successful reality.
This experience proved invaluable to Bruce and I when it came to opening our own venue. Starting our business at his parents’ Bogbain Farm in 2004, it was initially an outdoor activities and heritage centre with farm shop and café, but both being musicians, we were keen to introduce more music as well as expand other aspects, for which we needed bigger premises.
Creating the new wing proved no small undertaking, involving demolishing some of Bogbain’s existing dilapidated farm buildings and funding it, which meant re-mortgaging our house. Sounds crazy, I know, but that’s what you do when you have exciting ideas that you’re passionate about, and in 2006 our new restaurant, shop and venue space duly opened.
We established gigs and concerts, Sunday folk sessions, food and drinks festivals, licensed events of all kinds and even an accordion museum. This all led naturally to the next thing on our wish-list, a full-blown music festival, which of course would need, yes, you’ve guessed it, bigger premises! So began the job of renovating the back barn, then used as a garage, linking all the spaces, completing Health and Safety and the myriad other criteria to be met in order to host a festival. We got there though and in 2009 our first Northern Roots Festival was launched.
Around the same time we expanded Bogbain, we began hearing about plans by friend Wayne Mackenzie, bass player in Wolfstone, to create a new music venue in Inverness. Big in scale and ambition, Wayne’s dream of a concert-size venue to host big-name bands and artistes in the Highlands, was also realised – again with huge effort, energy and resources.
The Ironworks team have built an impressive reputation, attracting top names in music, comedy, sport and conferences. Having played there several times at showcases, album launches and support slots, it’s also a versatile space that supports emerging talent.
One gig remains especially memorable, though perhaps not for the right reasons. Dorec-a-belle were supporting Magic Numbers and stepping onstage I noticed my son - 12 years old and whom I’d had to take along as I had no babysitter - in the front row with books spread doing his maths homework. Talk about distracting!
Recently we’ve learned extremely sad news of The Ironworks’ possible closure. Wayne’s original vision has led to so much great new arts activity in the Highlands and we must hope that some means can be found of retaining this fabulous venue.
(First published by Scotish Provincial Press 23rd August 2019)