Venue Profile: An Tobar

6 Aug 2003 in Argyll & the Islands

An Tobar

Location:  Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Details:  Venue, gallery, café/shop
Programme:  Music, visual arts, dance, drama, children’s shows
Director’s Statement

An Tobar has made itself into an essential part of the local community and the wider Scottish arts scene in the 6 years since we opened. It’s been wonderful and completely inspiring to welcome so many fabulously talented artists and musicians to Tobermory and equally uplifting to be part of the career development of many local young people who all seem to have adopted An Tobar as their own place. For me personally, it feels like a real gift to be able to work here. 15 years ago I couldn’t have imagined that an arts centre would become a reality on Mull and it is quite a privilege to be part of the creation of a growing legacy of work involving some of the most outstanding artists and musicians in Scotland. So many local people have also worked hard to make An Tobar a success – the list would be too long to mention names.

A venue like this has to be a place of inspiration both for the artists (it can’t be the money that attracts them!) and the audience. I feel that this organisation has grown from the local community to become part of the fabric of the island to the point that even people who have no interest in the arts can still feel proud of their local arts centre.
This all sounds a bit idyllic – there are days when the heating shuts down because we forgot to order oil in time or a band miss the ferry they should have caught or the coffee machine breaks down (that should maybe come under the worst disaster section) but there isn’t too much to complain about in the bigger scheme of things.

One point that is continually reinforced here is the value of live music. I love records as much as anyone but there is nothing to beat the unique experience of wonderful music played by fabulous musicians.

Gordon Maclean, Director

As part of our profile of An Tobar, HI-Arts Journal caught up with venue director, Gordon Maclean.

When was the venue established?

Gordon: 1997. Opening concert in June with a specially commissioned piece by Savourna Stevenson with Davy Spillane and Anne Wood called Calman The Dove.
What famous names have taken to the stage over the years?

Gordon: An Tobar has presented concerts by Salsa Celtica, Blazin Fiddles, Aly and Phil, The Scottish Flute Trio, The Dunedin Consort, Martin Taylor, Martyn Bennett, Colin Vearncombe, Tommy Smith (solo and with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra), plus An Tobar commissions featuring Mr McFall’s Chamber, the Cauld Blast Orchestra, Corrina Hewat, and Michael Marra.

What are your big ideas for the future of the venue?

Gordon: To be around for the long term.

Does the venue have a ghost?

Gordon: No ghost but lots of past memories from when it was a school (especially the one about the headmaster being called out of his office just before belting a boy who was happy to receive six of the best on the headie’s return having rifled a tenner from the man’s wallet while he was out).

What was your worst disaster as director?

Gordon: I’ve learned to be philosophical about things going wrong – if I picked out something as the biggest disaster then, guaranteed, something worse would happen the next day.

And what was your biggest triumph?

Gordon: Possibly the Savourna Stevenson piece, as it was the first commission I’d organised, but in a different way there was also a young songwriter who composed a song as part of a project here, about a girl he’d left behind when his family had moved here from Australia. He sent her a copy of the recording and she bought a ticket to Scotland and they’re still together.

If you could have any artist in the world for a one-off special, who would it be, and why?

Gordon: It would have to be Joni Mitchell. I don’t have to be realistic for this question, do I?

Why should people look forward to visiting the An Tobar?

Gordon: Lot’s of people say they love the atmosphere here, and the home baking is something else!