THE LEGACY AND LEGEND OF WINTERSTORM FESTIVAL – A BRIEF CHAT WITH IAN McCAIG
- by J.N.
- Posted on 13-03-2023
These past few years this scribe has had the great pleasure of attending the phenomenal WinterStorm festival in Troon, which is roughly a 40-minute drive from Glasgow, and witnessed some of the very best bands and artists live on stage in an intimate setting. For any fan of hard rock, heavy metal, blues rock, or classic rock, this festival is simply a must and a hugely rewarding experience. With its friendly staff and welcoming atmosphere, great food and even better beers, and of course the outstanding music, WinterStorm is something out of the ordinary. We caught up with its organizer, Ian McCaig, to discuss this year’s edition of the festival and a few things relating to its past.
Hello Ian, how are you doing? Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today – much appreciated. The line-up for the 2023 edition of WinterStorm festival was recently announced and I can imagine that you are absolutely swamped in work these days. Tell us a bit about the decision to expand the festival to three days instead of two and how you came up with the idea of doing a Legends and Legacies line-up. I am also quite curious as to why and when you stumbled on the idea of organizing your own hard rock/heavy metal/classic rock festival on the west coast of Scotland and launching Plan B. Feel free to elaborate.
Ian: Plan B has been my business for coming up on thirty years this year and in that time the ethos has always been jumping in and out of projects and new directions much to the detriment of the business. Focus would have been much better but that’s me.
WinterStorm came directly out of a small gig that we put on under the brand of South Beach Sessions – they were micro gigs in Troon featuring some wonderful musicians playing in front of 120 people. John Jorgenson, Albert Lee, Bernie Tormé and on this fateful night Bernie Marsden.
Marsden had Jim Kirkpatrick on guitar alongside him and post gig we played pool and drank a little too much beer. At some point I mentioned to Jim that there was a fantastic venue for a rock festival just down the road and he pretty much said, “Go for it and I’ll make some introductions.”
It was only after that night and through the subsequent years that I understood how well-connected Jim was, and he was without any shadow of a doubt the catalyst for what followed just over a year later. The go to list included old-school metal contacts such as Tygers of Pan Tang and Praying Mantis and critically two key industry contacts in Steve Strange and Adam Parsons. Those two bought into our concept and in August 2016 WinterStorm was launched.
What was your musical upbringing like, and what bands were you into in your formative years? Would it be fair to say that the sounds and styles of music that we get to experience and enjoy at WinterStorm are very much a reflection of your own taste in music.
Ian: I do fear sometimes that WinterStorm was too much a reflection of my early musical tastes but then realise that it has certainly become less directed by my tastes.
I grew up listening to anything on the radio, probably like most kids in the UK influenced by Radio One and Top of the Pops. I went through an extended phase in the early seventies when I would make a point of buying every number one single which gives me some strange vinyl in my collection to this day. I’d love to say that some of my early influences at nine were Pink Floyd or early Zeppelin but that would be fabricated! If I was in a confessional just now, I’d have to say that I had/have a collection of Osmonds and David Cassidy singles in there.
I had a babysitter maybe mid-seventies who used to bring me over his record collection and deliberately introduce me to “obscure” stuff to my ears. Johnny Winter, Grand Funk Railroad, Focus; but I think beyond this and the glam rock of Sweet and Slade or even Suzi Quatro my first real appreciation of rock was Queen. It all grew from there probably.
Between Sheer Heart Attack and the explosion of New Wave of British Heavy Metal – and those were my formative teen years! – we had the joys of everything from Bat out of Hell to Never Mind the Bollocks and the diversity of musical references was huge. I think we were lucky to grow up in the seventies and be exposed to all of that.
That lead to my own gig experiences in the local Ayr Pavilion and the world-famous Glasgow Apollo. Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Gillan all played our local venue (The Pavilion or Piv which is about three miles as the crow flies from Troon Concert Hall). I fell in love with Praying Mantis and their harmonies hence the prominence since the beginning in the line-ups. There were bus trips up to Glasgow to see Whitesnake, Scorpions, Judas Priest, Rush and a whole lot more.
So yes, the diversity of the late seventies and early eighties in the west of Scotland influenced and shaped WinterStorm and created the ethos that has driven the breadth of line-ups mixing old and new over the seven years.
One of many things that my wife and I love about the festival is its warm and intimate atmosphere. The whole event is so friendly and appealing. I recall grabbing a couple of beers at the bar last year and to my left was Marco Mendoza signing albums, ten feet away from him you had John Corabi signing and selling his autobiography, and across the room I saw some of the guys from The Treatment hanging out and posing for photos and signing stuff. You do NOT see that kind of thing anywhere else. It is quite unique and special. Having created something like that must feel pretty good?
Ian: It was always the vision, but it needed the artistes to be absorbed into that atmosphere and from year one they did. My background is hospitality and it seemed just obvious that we had to look after the talent as well as we tried to look after the paying guest. We didn’t actually feel that we were going over the top in the backstage areas but the feedback we got made us realise that the team – to become our “StormTroopers” – had played a massive part in helping create an affinity both behind the scenes and front of house. It was a simple ethos, just look after people. No caveats, no long-term objectives. It was an aim in itself – just look after people!
It is an immense source of pride for everyone involved in WinterStorm that bands will come out and engage with the fans and indeed that they’ll come out and watch other bands. With such a small and intimate venue – 900 max – it gives the fans a real chance to meet their long-term heroes without the concept of a VIP Meet and Greet. It sounds a bit like a cliché but everyone buying a ticket must make them a VIP – no buy-ins to extras will ever be seen at WinterStorm!
As to 2023’s WinterStorm, I am very excited about Michael Schenker and Hardline appearing. Tygers of Pan Tang and Praying Mantis always deliver great and memorable performances. Bernie Marsden is a proper musical legend. There are so many fabulous gigs to look forward to, but what about yourself and the groups that you are thrilled about seeing live on stage in late November? Any personal favourites that you are psyched about appearing at the festival? Focus perhaps?
Ian: In part this is a juxtaposition with the answer above, but this year probably is a mix of both my own influences and a clear nod to others. I think the most exciting thing about 2023 Legends and Legacies again is the diversity throughout the weekend.
Guitar heroes; Bernie Marsden, Michael Schenker and Uli John Roth. They were certainly the most played live albums of my youth. To hear some of the best guitar from In the Heart of the City, Tokyo Tapes and Strangers in the Night with those three legends is something we could only have dreamt of seven years ago. Likewise, the introduction of Russ Ballard and Focus adds a totally new dimension, and I can’t wait to see both. Blues; Jim Kirkpatrick finally on stage with his own band with the superb Chantel McGregor and Pat McManus returning; new rock with Massive Wagons, The New Roses and local boys Mason Hill; the new talent throughout the weekend and the return to the stage of our very own Doogie White along with the tribal pipes and drums of Clann and Drumma. I think more than ever to be honest it is the eclectic mix of the weekend that I’m most looking forward to and not just a single act or genre.
I love checking out bands on the Sessions Stage as there are so many cool and interesting things to be discovered and enjoyed there. Is it important for you on a personal level to help promote lesser known yet hugely skilled bands and artists who craft quality music and deserve a bigger audience?
Ian: I think if I claim “personal mission” I’d leave myself open to being shot down. It again seemed to be just the right thing to do. I’m no muso and can’t kid to be so; the Sessions Stage evolved organically, and each year became bigger and better, and it has undoubtedly been a great add-on to the main stage. If it has given a showcase to new bands (or even old bands), it has achieved its purpose. I perhaps don’t think we maybe get the kudos for the second stage impacts but then we haven’t honestly built WinterStorm to get gongs and awards (of course I’m not bitter and twisted that we’ve never even been nominated for anything!).
This year’s Session Stage is a bit of a hybrid once again – with the return of comedy slots too! – and we are delighted at the breadth of talent both old and new already announced, and there is more to follow. We’ll have nearly forty acts over the two stages this year.
In retrospect, what would you deem some of the most special and memorable performances to have taken place at WinterStorm and what are some of your most cherished memories of it?
Ian: I think my thoughts on this are less important than anyone who bought a ticket. It’s also the case that I see very little of what’s going on on-stage! But I’ve written about this elsewhere and there is no doubt that if I had to take a single memory to my grave it would be the performance and reaction to that performance of Bernie Tormé. It would be easy to say that this was down to his tragic death just a few weeks later but that would be unfair to a virtuoso performance that was lauded by everyone who watched it and not gilded posthumously. I saw the whole set and the last three songs from side stage. After he had been called back to take a bow, he came off stage in tears. A memory that absolutely captured EVERYTHING that we wanted WinterStorm to be about.
In a similar vein, and this is beginning to make me sound like the emotional wreck that I am, I cannot forget the first time that Doogie White, with Glen White McManus, performed ‘Temple of the King’. It was shortly after the death of Malcolm Young and as an end to a rock weekend it could easily have fallen flat but it didn’t. It hit a part of WinterStorm’s collective psyche that in hindsight has sort of epitomised what the weekend is all about. It captured a group of music fans very much living in the present but shamelessly embracing the, sometimes painful, journeys of the past that made them who they are. The beautiful Temple of the King bench that sits outside the venue overlooking the sea is perhaps the finest legacy that WinterStorm can leave. Perhaps it sums up what we are about more effectively than any other words.