A HAZY recollection, from 15 or so years ago: being ensconced in an Aberdeen pub, watching a promising Inverness band, sat round a table whose company included music industry figures, local promoters, fanzine writers, and Edwyn Collins. Such were the early, heady days of GoNorth – a creative convention and live music knees-up that last year re-branded as XpoNorth. Now based in Inverness, the conference and festival increasingly counters any industry assumption that all the fun and action happens around or below the Central Belt.

XpoNorth’s annual event, which takes place today and tomorrow, is the focal point of a year-round endeavour that supports Creative Industries in the Highlands and Islands (and beyond) – across film, design, music, gaming, fashion and more. Helmed by director Amanda Millen, this year’s formidable programme of workshops, talks and seminars is locally-focused but globally sourced; informed by experience and expertise, but with a sharp eye on the future. Speakers include legendary music producers John Leckie (Stone Roses. Radiohead) and Dave Bascombe (Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears); best-selling children’s author Vivian French (The Tiara Club); and TV Producer Nigel Pope (Big Cat Diary, Springwatch).

All XpoNorth events are free to access, and open to everyone (subject to registration), which underlines XpoNorth’s philosophy of accessibility, community, and arts-for-all. This ethos is underscored by the programme’s focus on one-to-one mentoring and hands-on experience.

It also charts the area’s fertile and ever-evolving creative landscape, not least through connections with Glasgow School of Art. GSA’s Institute of Design Innovation (InDI) has a partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and GSA also recently confirmed that a Highlands and Islands Creative Campus is in the pipeline.

This year’s XpoNorth Design / GSA programme spans digital design, textiles, fashion and more, with highlights including a panel exploring design’s transformational powers (Beyond The Logo: Design for Town, Cities and Communities), a session on content creation for businesses (Designing Storytelling and Content for 21st Century Audiences), and a keynote speech by Don McIntyre, Design Director at GSA’s Institute of Design Innovation.

Design and fashion remain centre-stage thanks to Fair Isle-based knitwear designer Mati Ventrillon, who took Chanel to task via social media when she clocked their apparent plagiarism of her designs. Chanel subsequently credited Ventrillon and apologised. Ventrillon’s XpoNorth panels include, fittingly, Intellectual Property: The Great Known Unknown.

Every conference event will be preceded by a short film, reinforcing (and showcasing) the work carried out by XpoNorth’s Screen and Broadcast network, which operates all year round and supports businesses and individuals working in film, television, radio and video games across the Highlands and Islands.

Other cinematic highlights including a special screening of a new documentary dedicated to poet and activist Hamish Henderson, and the UK premiere of Hula, a BAFTA Scotland-winning drama by Dornie-based crofter and filmmaker, Robin Haig, starring Taggart actor Blythe Duff – and an In Conversation event with Hollywood (via Broxburn) director Michael Caton-Jones, who has worked with Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Sharon Stone, and whose credits include The Jackal and Rob Roy.

As with its predecessor, XpoNorth has music at its heart – not just thanks to a series of panels that will variously debate The Future of Radio and Music (speakers include broadcaster Vic Galloway and BBC Radio Scotland’s Head of Radio, Jeff Zycinski), Music Publishing (with contributions from SAY-Award winner Kathryn Joseph and Polar Patrol MD Steve Farris), and The Art of Making Records (including sure-fire panellists John Leckie and Dave Bascombe) – but also through a wide-ranging music showcase.

These gigs shine a light on talent from the North of Scotland, including fevered guitar-slingers Bloodlines, psychedelic hip-hop troupe Spring Break, alt-rock slackers Wendell Borton and harp-funk heartbreaker Imogen Islay Hay – and they also offer new stages (and crowds) for the brightest upcoming acts from the rest of Scotland – Breakfast MUFF, Catholic Action, WOMPS, Be Charlotte, Elle Exxe, Mt Doubt and The Van T’s among them.

Local star Rachel Sermanni, currently longlisted for this year’s Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award for her latest album Tied to the Moon, will also perform at this year, alongside the Pictish Trail, aka Johnny Lynch, who’s based on the Isle of Eigg.

Elsewhere, the Highlands’ burgeoning festival scene is celebrated in panel called Putting the Region on the Map. XpoNorth, it must be said, is doing a fine job of that.

XpoNorth, Inverness, today and tomorrow – see www.xponorth.co.uk for details. Funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the European Regional Development Fund.