Songwriting @ Girvan

PLEASE NOTE: Information here currently refers to our 2019 Festival.  Our Programme for 2020 is still to be announced, but will be similar in style and content to last year’s event.

Song writing has always been a big part of Girvan Folk Festival. Song writing, in a traditional style, has been actively encouraged over the years and some significant songs have emerged at the festival. A songwriter’s cup has been competed for and the list of names associated with that cup makes interesting reading.

For our 45th Festival, in 2019, we are introducing a few changes which we hope will have a positive output. For the first time we will be asking people to send in the words of their song (or a simple recording) in advance, so that the judges have a better opportunity for consideration and comment. Among our guests for 2019 there are quite a few people who have written songs, even though we might not regard them primarily as writers. We also have some people with us who have written songs which have entered the tradition and the repertoire of a lot of singers.  This gives us an opportunity to be more encouraging of new writing and to demonstrate the depth of writing around us.

The format of the ‘competition’ in 2019 will be less formal. We will also be offering options for more informal and constructive feedback for those who would value it. There will be a ‘Songwriter’s Forum’, an event where some of our guests will share songs and talk a little about their approach to writing, followed by opportunities to hear new songs by festival participants.

We will be encouraging entrants to sing their songs throughout the festival, either in specific songwriter sessions or in any other spaces, as they participate in the Festival. Various ‘hidden judges’ will listen to the songs and the Cup will be awarded or announced at the Farewell Concert on the Sunday evening.


Entrants to the competition will be expected to be participants of the Festival, which will typically mean that they will be ticket holders for one or more events.  Access to specific mentoring opportunities will generally be restricted to full participants of the festival, although the overall aim is to encourage traditional style song writing and each request will be considered on an individual basis particularly if any entrant for any reason is not able to fully participate over the weekend.

What do we mean by ‘traditional style’ song writing?  There are no extensive rules or tight definitions but perhaps one over riding characteristic of the kind of songs that we think match the ethos of the festival, is that the songs could easily be mistaken for being traditional. Quite a few songs from well-known writers have received this ‘accolade’ and usually consider it a compliment.

Many songs have emerged at Girvan over the years. These include:  The Last Leviathan (Andy Barnes), As I Walked On the Road (Jim Brown), Doomsday in the Afternoon (John McCreadie), Lassie o’ the Morning (Jack Foley) – and one task we are taking on is to get a decent list of writers and songs together.  

Some of our Festival Guests in 2019 who have written a significant number of songs include; James Patterson, Sandra Kerr, Dick Gaughan, Colum Sands, Dave Goulder and Mike Vass.  Every other person, including singers and musicians we view as being very traditional in nature, will almost without exception sing songs or play tunes written in the last 50 years. New writing is important and the reason why Girvan encourages it.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that every song is a folk song – but we are sensible people and we know what we mean!