CELEBRATING LOCAL TALENT
For those lucky enough to have seen The Ayrshire Lads perform live before, they’ll know what to expect when they return to The Gaiety for a third and final time this February. Or will they?
I catch up with The MacDonald Brothers (Brian and Craig), Blair Gilmour and producer, Edd Holloway, to find out what’s in store this time around.
“We’ve changed the format a bit,” Edd confirms. “Before, it was all about the lads showcasing their talent… but there’s loads of collaborations which makes it, in our opinion, a better show. We have comedy… and dancers… and surprise guests. It’s like a proper variety show.”
The show will be hosted by Des Clarke and will feature Jai McDowall (winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2011), Jeremy Levif (The Voice UK semi-finalist 2021 and The Voice France finalist 2023), The MacDonald Brothers (4th in The X Factor 2006) and Blair Gilmour (semi-finalist in The Voice Kids 2021).
What a line-up!
Blair, now 17, is the first to tell me about his TV experience.
“At the time I was such a wee guy going onto such a big stage. It was my dream to be on a big stage and then I was there and it hit me like a truck! I was shaking… I was really nervous. It’s probably still one of the maddest things that I’ve done as a musician. But looking back on it, I’m pretty proud.”
Blair chose to be coached by McFly’s Danny Jones ahead of Paloma Faith and Pixie Lott who also turned their chairs to indicate they were interested in working with Blair.
“When Danny turned my eyes were closed,” Blair recalls. “I didn’t even get to see him turn but it was a shock for someone to actually turn for me, especially three of them.”
That shock probably stemmed from the fact that he’d only recently learned to play the guitar, yet there he was, performing ‘The Bucket’ by Kings of Leon as if he’d been playing it for years. Incidentally, Blair can also play the harmonica, bass and drums as well as being pretty handy on a keyboard. Surprisingly, though, he’s not from a musical family.
“My mum and dad are not musical. I think it was a shock to them when I picked up all these instruments. I got all the music genes.”
Brian and Craig MacDonald have their fair share of music genes too.
“Craig and I started out at five and six,” Brian informs me. “We were very much instrumentalists. We started off with the accordion and went on to violin and piano, then guitars. It was late on when we started singing.”
Craig continues: “We’d only been singing for a year or two when we were in The X Factor. We never expected to really do anything… it’s all about the kind of story you can tell. We look back as being not anywhere near prepared. Obviously we were older than Blair, we were 19 and 20, but we still weren’t ready for that kind of thing.”
“Our experience was playing at bowling clubs, small functions and weddings,” says Brian. “At the audition stages we sang really well, we had a great time and we got through to the live shows. As soon as the television camera came on it was a different ball game. But it was amazing, absolutely phenomenal.”
Were they ever star struck?
Craig’s the first to answer: “You start to take everything for granted… and your head is so focused on everything you’re doing. Even when you meet the likes of Rod Stewart or Lionel Richie… you just get so used to it. I think we appreciated it but we weren’t intimidated by it.”
The MacDonald brothers were mentored by Louis Walsh and they have nothing but praise for The X Factor judge, as Brian tells me:
“He was so genuine, so nice and helpful. He was very supportive. And after The X Factor he got us the Westlife tour, we toured with them for three years.”
In addition to those three major UK tours, the brothers also took part in The X Factor Live Tour in 2007, performing in some of the country’s largest arenas. But Ayr’s Gaiety Theatre, remains one of their favourite venues.
“There’s never a better place than your home town,” says Craig. “Doing The X Factor Tour we were always so excited when Glasgow was coming up but we grew up in Ayr. A lot of these people in the audience, I know them by name. Seventeen years on… being able to come back and play at The Gaiety, it’s a big thing. Every year we do this, we want to make it better and better.”
“It’s more personal than Glasgow,” adds Blair. “It’s a lot more intimate. You feel connected to the audience.”
“What’s amazing about it is there’s all the age groups,” Brian says. “There’s kids, there’s older people. Even Blair… he was only one when we were in The X Factor!”
There’s a ripple of laughter around the table but the relaxed atmosphere has been present from the start. It’s obvious they have a lot of respect for each other but also a lot of affection. And it’s clear they’re looking forward to this Ayrshire Lads reunion just as much as the people who have tickets.
Edd also has something to say about the audience: “The Ayrshire audience is very honest. That’s why it’s important that we change the show and keep it fresh. Going to the theatre can be a big expense, it’s a treat, and we don’t lose sight of how much it costs. That’s why we respect it. The audience can expect a top-notch performance from people who are passionate. We’ve got to be on it.”
Edd is clearly as passionate as the lads themselves, which makes me wonder why this third stint has been billed as the last.
“We’ve been really lucky,” Edd says, referring to the previous shows, “but we’re all really busy and over the last three years… it’s on a good trajectory. Jai is now a member of G4, Jeremy is massive in France, Des is now on The One Show, the boys are busy on cruise liners, Blair was juggling school… and we really want to respect the people who buy the tickets. I just think these shows are going to be phenomenal, they’re going to be unbelievable, and what a great memory for everyone to go away with.”
It certainly promises to be quite a night. Three nights, in fact (7th, 8th and 9th February).
Edd continues: “If you like music, if you like amazing musicianship, if you love amazing production, and you’re linked to this county – or even Scotland – it’s unbelievable. If you buy tickets, you’ll come and see a show like you’ve never seen before. It’s pure, unbelievable talent.”
It’s refreshing to hear such passion and Edd’s right when he says we’re all a wee bit guilty for not shouting about these things.
“There’s some big talent here,” he says now. “Why are we not shouting about it? When you think of everything these boys have done… we need to celebrate it!”
It was Edd who first brought the boys together to celebrate their Ayrshire link. Although they all lived within a 12-mile radius of each other and had each shot to fame on Britain’s biggest TV talent shows, they had never actually met. Now they’re getting together for a third consecutive year to celebrate their talent and their success.
“It’s going to be great,” says Brian. “We love it, we really do.”
“I used to hate February,” Blair admits, raising a laugh once more, “but ever since Ayrshire Lads became a thing, I’ve always looked forward to February. To get in the theatre with these guys and do what we all love and show people how much we love it, it’s amazing.”
Edd has the final say: “Even though the Ayrshire Lads is ending in its current format, we’re still the Ayrshire Lads. And it’s good to leave people wanting more. It’s nice to be missed.”
Before we part, he has one further piece of news, which takes even Blair, Brian and Craig by surprise.
“We’re going to do an Ayrshire Lads single! The new Ayrshire Hospice is opening this year and we thought it would be good to get the lads back together and record something in the studio. One hundred percent of the money will go to the hospice.”
That’s definitely something else to celebrate.
The Ayrshire Lads live show is produced by Ayrshire-based theatre production company, EHP Theatre. For tickets, visit www.thegaiety.co.uk/events/the-ayrshire-lads/