It is not unusual, while strolling around Strathaven’s shops, or enjoying a coffee in one of the town’s small cafes, to spot the odd familiar face quietly going about his or her business.

Is that Clare Grogan, frontwoman of 80s pop outfit Altered Images, sipping a cappuccino in the sunshine? Very possibly. Could that be The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, tucking into a vegan curry? Absolutely. Surely that’s not Robert Forster, former Go-Betweens frontman, taking in the sights on a wander up Castle Street and around the Common Green?

Well, yes, it really is.

The reason for all this celebrity activity in a place previously best known for its balloon festival, ruined castle and difficult pronunciation (it’s Stray-ven), is Frets Concerts, an idea dreamt up by musician Douglas MacIntyre and run by Douglas and his wife and fellow artist Katy Lironi.

More than 100 acts, including Lloyd Cole, Ricky Ross, Horse, Robyn Hitchcock, The Twilight Sad, Bernard Butler, James Grant and Callum Easter - have now performed to around 8000 people at 36 concerts since Frets began in the autumn of 2019, with the acoustic, all-seated and up-close-and-personal nature of the gigs inside the Strathaven Hotel’s function suite proving popular with a wide demographic.

The Herald: Lloyd Cole on stage at FretsLloyd Cole on stage at Frets (Image: Les Hoggan Photography)

“We get a great response locally, but we’ve had people coming from all over Scotland and up from England,” says Douglas. “They spend the weekend here, get to know the town and love it. I do believe Frets has put Strathaven on the map.”

The Herald: James Grant, Norman Blake and Bernard Butler on stage at FretsJames Grant, Norman Blake and Bernard Butler on stage at Frets (Image: Les Hoggan Photography)

Bernard Butler, formerly of Suede and McAlmont and Butler, performed at Frets with James Grant and Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake, after Douglas put the three musicians together “to see what would happen”.

“Frets is a dream,” says Bernard, simply. “The audiences are great. And it’s a weekend away in a lovely town. Do the show on the Friday, have a wander about the next day – it’s the nicest thing in the world.”

The first time the trio met to rehearse was “all very relaxed,” he adds.

“I live on the same road as Clare, so I knew Douglas through her, and I’ve known Norman since 1992 – I’m a huge Teenage Fanclub fan," he explains. "I hadn’t met James before, but I knew he was a top songwriter.

“I’m a collaborator. I love working with lots of people, that’s the thrill of it for me. I notice in Scotland, actually, that sense of collaboration is very strong. Everybody knows, or has worked with, everyone else in Glasgow, and it’s not like that in London.”

He adds: “So Norman, James and I got together the day before the gig, talked about how it could work, played a few songs and agreed, yeah, that should all be fine.”

Despite their proclamation at the initial gig it would be a one-off, the Blake, Butler and Grant phenomenon has grown to the extent they have now toured together around the UK, including Manchester, Liverpool, London and Bristol.

The trio is also writing new music together, with plans to release a record in the offing.

They open the 2024 season of Frets tonight (January 27.)

“I hadn’t done a lot of solo shows before Frets, actually, and one of the reasons I jumped at the chance of doing it was because I wouldn’t be up there on my own,” says Bernard. “Thirty odd years on, and I still feel terrified of doing a bad gig and letting people down.

“Frets made me feel really good about being a performer again, and that was something I hadn’t felt for a long time. I am very grateful for that.”

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Before Frets, Strathaven already had an impressive musical pedigree, explains Douglas MacIntyre.

“The first Aztec Camera release on Rough Trade, a C81 cassette called We Could Send Letters, was recorded in Strathaven, as was the first Orange Juice song, Falling and Laughing.”

He adds: “Scottish music hall legend Harry Lauder lived here, and Sydney Devine and a host of other Scottish acts recorded albums at Kirkland Park Studios.”

Douglas remembers as a schoolboy, playing in his first band (called Frets), being shown the poster for Falling and Laughing.

“I remember getting the bus to Hamilton almost immediately and buying the single,” he says. “It was new and Scottish, and made right here in Strathaven. That felt really exciting.”

Douglas took his plan for Frets to Hans Rissman, owner of the Strathaven Hotel.

“He said we could try three events, and if they didn’t work, we’d call it a day,” says Douglas.

The first was Lloyd Cole, on October 4, 2019, who appeared at Frets just before he embarked upon a tour which included France, New Zealand, Australia and the US.

“That always makes me smile,” says Douglas, with a laugh. “Lloyd Cole, kicking off his world tour in Strathaven….”

The next two gigs, by solo singer-songwriter and Love and Money frontman James Grant, then Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Euros Childs, also sold out.

“The atmosphere at all three gigs was great, and it felt like something really magical was happening,” recalls Douglas.

“Afterwards, Hans said – ‘you can do this for as long as you want….’”

Guitarist, songwriter, record label owner and promoter Douglas grew up just outside Strathaven, in the village of Glassford. He founded his record label, The Creeping Bent Organisation, in 1994.

Douglas met Katy through her brother Stephen Lironi, guitarist and songwriter, who is married to Clare Grogan.

“I didn’t start out singing, I was just Stephen’s wee sister,” says Katy, with a smile. “Music was all around us, growing up in East Kilbride. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to come home from school and find Altered Images rehearsing in the back garden.”

In addition to running Frets, the couple juggle busy jobs – Katy is a tutor with Down’s Syndrome Scotland, the charity for whom she also runs a Makaton choir, and Douglas is vice principal of Riverside Music College – and they have five children, Amelia, 23, Dougal 22, Matilda, 19, and 17-year-old twins Flora and Sonny.

Katy also runs Frets Words, a series of successful creative writing sessions, which grew out of the pandemic, when “a lot of creative people found themselves with little to do”, she explains.

“It’s a very creative town,” she adds.

The Herald: Douglas MacIntyre and Katy LironiDouglas MacIntyre and Katy Lironi (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)


At contemporary café and restaurant 13 Barn Street, Craig and Susan Ferguson are used to the musicians they grew up listening to popping in while they are in town for Frets.

“We’ve met James Grant, Robert Forster…and Clare Grogan will come in for a coffee sometimes,” says Susan, smiling. “It is amazing, the big names Frets has had. It’s really good for the town.”

The Herald: Susan and Craig Ferguson, who run 13 Barn StreetSusan and Craig Ferguson, who run 13 Barn Street (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

Susan admits she was starstruck when Tim Burgess came in for dinner.

“I am a BIG Charlatans fan,” she beams. “He had the vegan katsu curry, and he loved it so much he mentioned it at the gig. Our social media went crazy.”

Craig, who is an awardwinning chef, Susan and their nine-year-old son Struan moved to Strathaven in 2019. They got to know Katy and Douglas through DS Scotland, as Struan, like the MacIntyres’ daughter Matilda, has Down’s Syndrome.

“The pace is better here, for family life,” says Craig, simply. “We’re all small businesses, and we help each other.”

The Herald: Hans Rissman, who runs the Strathaven HotelHans Rissman, who runs the Strathaven Hotel (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

In a quiet corner of the Strathaven Hotel’s busy bar, Hans Rissman agrees that on the face of it, this pleasant former country house and wedding venue, is an unlikely gigs venue.

“When Douglas first proposed the idea, I was prepared to give it a go,” he says, pleasantly. “We had about 200 chairs, so we set them all out and waited.”

He adds, with a grin: “The first gig sold out in three hours. We had to buy 50 more chairs for the next one.

“Frets has certainly brought more people to the hotel, and it has boosted business in the local restaurants, cafes and shops too.”

Hans, who formerly ran the Blythswood Hotel and Spa in Glasgow, says there is a “special buzz” on concert days.

“You feel the power of it,” he nods. “I feel privileged to have met Douglas. I’m proud people come to the hotel, but also because they stay and explore the area and discover all we have to offer here. This is a forward-thinking town, in a rural community, and I feel fortunate to be part of it.”

He adds, with a smile: “We’re not what most people expect, when they come for gigs, I agree. We are still, first and foremost, a wedding venue.”

He adds, with a smile: “But Frets made us cool.”

The Herald: Les HogganLes Hoggan (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

Les Hoggan runs the town’s newspaper and local radio station, where his Saturday magazine show has been considerably boosted by the arrival of Frets artists.

“Grahame Skinner from Hipsway, Stuart Kydd, Bobby Bluebell (Robert Hodgens) have all appeared on it,” says Les, a retired business systems manager. He is also official photographer for Frets.

“It is a real privilege to be able to take pictures of people I have listened to for years,” he says. “I love it.

“I love the community spirit in Strathaven, the can-do attitude of this town. People – like Douglas - come up with ideas, but then actually make them happen.”

The Herald: Strathaven in South LanarkshireStrathaven in South Lanarkshire (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

Since its inception, Frets has spread to Glasgow, to stage gigs as part of Celtic Connections, for example, and to Edinburgh.

A spin-off We Could Send Letters strand, which features interviews with musicians and authors, is also taking off. But Frets Concerts will forever be based in Strathaven, says Douglas.

“The ethos was always about building up a creative community in Strathaven,” he says. “That hasn’t changed.”

New for 2024, he reveals, is a series of “album concerts” in which an artist will play one of their celebrated albums in full. First up on February 17 is James Grant, performing Love and Money’s Dogs in the Traffic, and on March 22, The Bathers will perform Kelvingrove Baby.

Having kick-started a renaissance of Scottish 80s and 90s pop and post-punk acts (The Bluebells, Hipsway, The Pearlfishers, The Bathers and Kevin McDermott, for example, have all played Frets), Douglas admits the artist-most-asked-for by regulars is former Aztec Camera frontman Roddy Frame.

“It would be great, but I’m not holding my breath,” he says. “I haven’t been able to get anywhere with that one…”

At the top of his own wish list, he says, would be Neil Young.

“I’m a massive fan,” he says. “Neil Young, performing an acoustic version of his On the Beach album….that would be amazing.”

The Herald: Altered Images on stage at FretsAltered Images on stage at Frets (Image: Les Hoggan Photography)

Clare Grogan’s connection to Strathaven goes back to her childhood.

“I’d go and visit my aunt, and babysit my cousins,” she recalls. “Stephen [Lironi] and I worked out we must have definitely met in the park there when we were children.”

Clare’s husband Stephen is Katy’s brother, so bringing Altered Images to Frets was a special moment, she says.

“It was Matilda’s 18th birthday that night, my daughter was with me, relatives I hadn’t seen for ages were in the audience and it was my first opportunity to play my new album,” she says. “It all combined to make a lovely, lovely event."

Frets audiences are special, she adds.

“There’s such a warmth from them,” she says. "They know they're part of it all.

“Full credit to Douglas and Katy, who have created this, in such an unexpected place. I love that aspect of it, because people in the town are getting access to a lot of bands that would not otherwise play there.”