AM talks to the host of Ayr’s first ever Electronic Music Festival
Eilidh Armstrong / Gill Sherry
Saturday 29th April. For thousands of music fans, this was the first date to be circled on their 2023 calendar. It is, of course, the day Pavilion Festival comes to town!
“Folk were telling me not to do it,” says Ewan McVicar. “I just told them I’m doing it, there’s nothing going to stop me.”
Ewan, a former pupil of Belmont Academy and University of the West of Scotland, was determined to do something good for his home town. Having made a name for himself in the music world – his version of ‘Tell me Something Good’ reached the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart in 2021 – he announced his intention to host Pavilion Fest at Low Green, Ayr.
“We just went full pelt into it,” he says, “announcing the line-up day by day. The reaction has been unbelievable.”
It certainly has. Tickets for the event sold out in just three seconds when released for general sale in early December.
“Folk understand that it’s good… not a lot has happened since I left Ayr. I go back and the train station is all overgrown and the main door’s shut. It just makes me sad. It makes me want to do good by it and help it a bit. I want to push the economy in Ayr. I think the festival is going to lift the town’s spirits.”
And who better to lift those spirits than the man who began his musical career DJing in clubs such as Club De Mar and Fury’s? In fact, Ewan ran his own club night ‘TEN’ for three years, entertaining the clubbers of Ayr whilst, at the same time, perfecting his music-making skills. Those skills, together with his unwavering ambition, have seen him progress from a small town DJ to a successful music producer performing all over the world.
“It’s crazy!” he admits. “It’s been non-stop. I’ve been in Australia, New Zealand and all around Europe. But I can handle it, it’s fine. I don’t really feel pressure because I’ve said from the start, I never made music to be in the charts or to get followers. I made music because I love it so much, that was my passion. When I make music I make it for myself, I don’t make it for other people.”
His definition of success is also very much his own, a version which doesn’t necessarily match the opinion of others.
“Everyone’s opinion is different… especially now with extreme numbers and followers, but what I’ve done this last year, it’s been so perfect. Folk measure success as ‘you’re in the charts’ but for me, it’s playing at the festivals. That’s why I really started DJing… just to play at these places. That’s how I measure success.”
Ewan also has his own theory when it comes to making music.
“I feel I would be in it for the wrong reasons if I was making music for other people. I never started doing it like that so why change now just because I have a bit of success? I feel like people relate to me more because I’m just a wee guy from Ayr… who just followed my dream and sacrificed so much to be where I am. I just try to be myself and make music for the right reasons.”
Those Ayrshire roots have obviously influenced Ewan McVicar. Have they inspired his music as well?
“When they used to put nights on in the Pavilion… Streetrave… Ricky McGowan and John Mancini… I was just inspired. There was nothing like that in Ayr for so many years. When I was growing up I had to go to Glasgow. That’s why I’ve always tried to do stuff for Ayr. It’s not necessarily other producers, that whole era has influenced my music.”
Another reason Ewan is so excited about Pavilion Fest is because he’s doing it with Ricky.
“I think returning to the home where Streetrave started, for me it’s biblical. Plus, doing it with Ricky, it’s like returning to where it all began. He’s doing Day 2… it’s like all my dreams are coming true. I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s so overwhelming.”
He tells me how he and his friends used to watch Ricky McGowan on YouTube and how they used to dream that one day, they too would be hosting those festivals. For Ewan, those dreams really have come true – despite his mother’s protestations.
“At the very start… she was saying ‘get a good secure job’. I was the first person in my family that went to uni. She was proud of me to do that and then when I had a change of heart when I got to the end of my degree, she was like ‘what do you mean you want to be a DJ, do you know how hard that is?’ Now it’s come full circle. She thought I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s a really good feeling proving my mum wrong!”
His mum is obviously really supportive of Ewan’s musical aspirations and even appeared on stage with him at Creamfields – one of his many career highlights.
“I think Creamfields was the highlight of last year, big time. I don’t really pay attention to my followers in terms of stats… because when you see them in the flesh, it’s like, oh my God! 22,000 people know me here, that’s half the population of Ayr! It’s crazy, that was a highlight for sure.”
Ewan also gets huge satisfaction playing alongside those DJs he once looked up to and performing in clubs he used to frequent.
“Sub Club for me is the best club in the world by a mile. I don’t know what it is. I’ve been going there so long. It’s so good… the best ever.”
For the next few weeks, however, Ewan is taking a well-earned break.
“I’m taking a wee break in January and February,” he tells me, before returning to the subject of Pavilion Fest.
“I’ve been selfish with the line-up,” he confesses, “because they’re all DJs that I love… literally all of them are unbelievable. The plan was always to do the Saturday but we never told anyone about the Sunday. Streetrave are hosting Day 2. Hopefully, this will start getting dance music back in Ayr.”
As excited as he is about April’s festival, he’s also extremely grateful to South Ayrshire Council.
“The Council have been so helpful. Honestly, they’ve been unbelievable. They’ve been great to work with… all is going well and we hope to make it an annual thing.”
That very much depends on the success and outcome of the 2023 festival, something Ewan is acutely aware of.
“We want everyone to be respectful of the site. We’re going to put out the narrative of how it’s going to be run. We don’t get stuff like this in Ayr so we can’t ruin it.”
I must admit, it’s refreshing to have someone champion Ayr and to be genuinely committed to bringing entertainment and culture to the town. It’s also good to learn that Ewan isn’t going to stop at one festival.
“I’ve got other plans for Ayr in the future, once I’m a bit more established.”
In the meantime, he’s doing his best to encourage other aspiring DJs.
“I always tell people to start their own stuff… start your own night or your own record label. You just need to take the leap and start something. The amount you’ll learn is invaluable. TEN inspired me. I look back at what I learned and it taught me so much.”
No doubt there’ll be folk enjoying Pavilion Fest in April, looking up to Ewan and dreaming of one day hosting their own musical festival, just like he did.
“It’s such a hard job and it’s so over saturated so any leg up you can give anyone you should do it if you can. It wasn’t long ago I was in that position as well. I’m excited to educate the younger generation.”
He’s also excited to see some familiar faces in the crowd when he takes to the stage on April 29th.
“Do you know how good it will be for me to see all these faces from Fury’s and Club De Mar? It’ll be proper weird… it will be interesting to see who comes. I’m looking forward to it.”
In the meantime, he has this to say to the people of Ayr: