17 April 2024
  • 17 April 2024

Paisley Festival 1986 programme

on 21 January 2024 0

Brian Hannan from Abbey Books in Paisley discovers another piece of local memorabilia, on this occasion, it’s an old programme from the Paisley Festival 1986

What falls out of books often provides a fascinating insight into the past and none more so than uncovering this amazing hive of creativity celebrated in the annual Paisley Festival, dateline 1986.

Motocross, plays, a book festival, breakdance, chess, body building, exhibitions, martial arts, football, country dancing, historical tours, puppet show, and a Victorian fashion parade were just some of the highlights.

Probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that the Gleniffer Braes would make an ideal venue for Motocross, with both junior and adult races being held. As well as motocross, sports enthusiasts could participate in the West of Scotland Body Building Championship and an invitational football competition.



The book festival,” A Wheen o’ Writers”, boasted a fantastic line-up. Heading the list of literary celebrities was Alasdair Gray (the movie adaptation of whose Poor Things is currently up for an Oscar), future Booker Prize-winner James Kelman (How Late It Was, How Late), poet and playwright Liz Lochhead (Mary, Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off), poets Tom Buchan and Tom Leonard and acclaimed novelist Iain Crichton Smith (Consider the Lilies).

Paisley Festival 1986

Adding further spice to the occasion was controversial Glasgow-born psychiatrist R.D. Laing (The Divided Self), Belfast novelist Bernard MacLaverty (Cal – filmed with Helen Mirren), and songwriter Hamish Henderson, a catalyst for the Scottish folk revival.

In addition, there was Agnes Owen (her writing championed by Alasdair Gray and James Kelman), Carl MacDougall, traveller folklorist Betsy Whyte (The Yellow on the Broom) and Robin Jenkins (The Cone Gatherers). The cream of Scottish literature was in such evidence audiences could be forgiven for imagining they were attending the Edinburgh Festival.

Paisley Festival 1986

Theatre was well represented with a production of Tom Stoppard’s Enter a Free Man and Stephen MacDonald’s play Not About Heroes about Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, while playwright David Anderson (the driving force behind A Play, A Pie and a Pint) and Wildcat Stage Productions put on Heather Up Your Kilt.

The Paisley Players offered The Dracula Spectacular, there was a rock musical Jesus Folk, puppet show The Sweet Little Cottage, a magic show, and a concert of songs from the movies. Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade brought contemporary kids up-to-date on older classics.

Paisley Festival 1986

Among those holding exhibitions were Paisley Art Institute and the 129-year-old Paisley Photographic Society, both holding annual events, and one devoted to models and hobbies.

As well as a competition to find the best under-16 break dancer in Paisley, Maureen Shanks School presented a programme of dance as did the P.E.G. Dance Theatre. Marti Webb was the star performer during the week but other concerts included folk group The Clydesiders, a recital of classical flute and guitar, songs from the movies, and a performance of Scottish country dance. Add in a chess tournament and a display of Tae Kwon Do and there was something for everyone, all age groups accommodated.

Perhaps as fascinating as the myriad characters involved were the vast number of venues taking part. Gleniffer Braes might be the most unusual but pop into the Buddies Bar in Broomlands St and you’d find yourself in the middle of a chess tournament.

The writers congregated in the Bull Inn but there were also activities taking place in Thomas Coats Memorial Church, Merksworth High School, Paisley Grammar, Shuttle St Lecture Theatre, Barshaw Park, Ferguslie Library, St James Park, Seedhill Playing Fields, and community centres in Ralston, Ferguslie, Gallowhill, Foxbar, Beechwood, Underwood and Glenburn. Of course, the town hall, museum and art galleries were conspicuous venues as were the Sma’ Shot Cottages.

I used to organise events (The Scottish Food Proms, since you’re asking) and I know the effort involved in running a festival of this kind of length, so hat’s off to the organisation genius (I’m sure someone will let us know) who pulled this off.

Brian Hannan is a local author and manger of Abbey Books, 21 Wellmeadow Street, Paisley PA1 2EF.

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