Graham Main talks Big Burns Supper

Graham Main talks Big Burns Supper

BWW catches up with Chief Executive of the Big Burns Supper Graham Main to talk about the 2019 festival.

How long has the festival been running?

This year marks our 8th festival and we are hugely proud of what is another incredible programme! We have been going from strength to strength every year. From humble beginnings we are now a major highlight in the Scottish winter events calendar, bringing a cultural smorgasbord to the historic town of Dumfries to celebrate the Scottish Bard like no other!

What are your highlights of the programme this year?

There's a real theatrical flair to folk music and Gaelic culture which the festival explores in a big way, particularly through the Gaelic language. This includes young Welsh modern folk act Calan, Gaelic folk superstars, Manran, alongside rising stars like Talisk and The Tidelines. We don't limit ourselves to genre, however! Hazel O'Connor's punk poetry of the 1980s' sits just as comfortably as Frank Turner's rousing political assault on neo-liberal Brexit-Britain.

What is Le Haggis?

Le Haggis is the ethos and character of Big Burns Supper encompassed in one scintillating, home-grown cabaret experience, featuring folk artists handpicked from every corner of Scotland to create a soundtrack for the cheekiest variety show in Scotland. It's a five-star treat presented in the gorgeous vintage setting of a Spiegeltent.

This year's show features some of the hottest talent from across the genres, featuring an international roster including of acts like Lords of Strut (Riot, Dublin Fringe) and Ursula Martinez (La Soiree, La Clique). It's the beating heart of the festival and embodies the celebration of togetherness that any Burns Supper should.

Why is KT Tunstall the perfect music headliner for this event?

Burns Night is a Scottish festival, so what better headliner to have than one of Scotland's finest and internationally-renowned musical talents? KT's energy, enthusiasm and ethos matches what Big Burns Supper is all about. She's headlining Burns Night Live, which offers a banging programme including a bit of Scots trad from the Peatbog Faeries, the theatrically camp chaos that is Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 and the sheer energy of Bombskare. It reflects how much we don't want to take the traditional Burns Supper format too seriously, and that Burns Night is most definitely evolving as a celebration.

Why is it important to have such a diverse artistic programme?

There isn't a Spiegeltent programme in the world that is as diverse is ours! We're snuggled in rural Scotland and the festival is just as important to local people as it is to visitors, as so much of Scottish arts and culture is centred around Glasgow and Edinburgh. The festival plays a role in curating big stars because otherwise, local people would have a much harder time accessing it.

What makes Burns Night such a special occasion?

Burns Night has become a unique celebration in Scotland and across the world. If it's done properly, we can pay as much attention to the old songs of Rabbie Burns as we do to the new ones from exciting current Scottish musicians. It's an opportunity to take time to reflect on our cultural memory with each other.

Why do you think the work of Burns still resonates so strongly?

Burns was able to articulate the best and worst of us, as hopeless romantics fools in love, or as humans incapable of being considerate of the animals we share this planet with. It might have been 260 years ago, but it seems that what was important then is just as relevant today.

Why is Dumfries the perfect location for this festival?

Dumfries is the perfect backdrop to the blockbuster that is Big Burns Supper because Robert Burns lived here and he is buried in the town. The watering holes he frequented and streets he roamed are still pretty much as he left them, meaning the town becomes a living film set where visitors can inhabit Burns Night like no place on earth.

Have the locals been supportive of the event?

Local people are the backbone of the festival, with more than 300 people volunteering in the build-up to the festival, as well as local pubs putting on free music during the festival. Bringing the community together has been a major part of the festival's legacy. It has helped us develop a new confidence as a town.

Full programme and booking details can be found at

Photo credit: Stuart Walker

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