Temp Check: Director Mark Stirton

Mark Stirton is an Aberdeen loon through and through. It comes across in his dialogue, his humour. That dry whit that is particular to folk here the North-East of Scotland. His second movie has a legendary status with the people of Aberdeen, though it didn't travel well. One Day Removals is the story of Andy and Ronnie, a pair of Aberdeen removal men who have a very, very bad day. The sharp dialogue is in doric, peppered with as many swear words as you could possibly hope for.

His first film, The Planet, was a low budget sci-fi. He filmed it at Balmedie Beach with a budget of just £8000. No mean feat for a film that doesn't shy away from visual effects. Mark and his production team spent two years to create the models and effects.

Publicity photograph for Mark Stirton's ONE DAY REMOVALS

2018 saw the release of his third feature length, Dark Highlands, a horror about a Japanese artist who visits Scotland, only to become the target of a crazed killer. It's a delicate blend beautiful cinematography and high tension with very little dialogue.

We reached out to Mark Stirton to find out a little bit more about the man behind the films. We want to find out what inspired him to became a filmmaker, what he’s been up to during lockdown, and his plans for the future.



It's been a crazy few months with a few highs and a whole load of lows. How are you doing right now? Have you been coping okay with lockdown...and coming out of lockdown? Have you been able to work?

Yeah, I was pretty reclusive anyway so it didn't affect me so much. However I couldn't go filming so I turned to animation and had rather a fun time working with Composer Jon Brooks on Wrong Time, Wrong Space which won a few nice awards.

Being locked down really destroyed my ability to put a crew together. Now I love my crew and I enjoy working as a group, but that was just impossible, so i turned to a project that one man theoretically could do alone.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sQX3nGh3_Q
Mark Stirton's lockdown short film, WRONG TIME, WRONG SPACE

Wrong Time, Wrong Space

Animation is new for you. Can you tell us about that experience?

Slight problem, I'm not an animator. So I opened some animation software, started to build my hero spaceship and made a deal with myself. If I could make the spaceship, I'd make the film. It took a while but eventually I had a hero model that could star in the film, so I just learned how to do each shot pretty much in chronological order.

But, I'll never do it again. I had this one animation project in my head, and that's yer lot. It was nice to finally get it done after years of thinking about it, but it would never have happened without a lockdown.

So did you you do all the work on Wrong Time, Wrong Space yourself?

My only real collaborator was composer Jon Brooks, who also scored Dark Highlands for me and will also be providing a full orchestral score for the new [version of] One Day Removals.

I knew my animation would be, kinda rudimentary, so Jon really had to bring the whole thing to life with his music, which he did beautifully. The best days for me were hearing his music come in, as I painfully pushed the film forward with maybe four seconds complete each week. Maybe six if I was lucky.

CGI animation is neither easy nor fast. Particularly since I was using some very old equipment to achieve the shots. After all, I didn't know we'd be locked down for months and months, so it's not like I had a CGI workstation sitting waiting, I had to improvise one!

Why film making?

Nobody comes out of the womb a fully fledged creator. What inspired you to set out on the path to making movies?

Avoiding going to prison. My path, as a younger stupider man, wasn't exactly smart or legal. I was going no-where, except probably to prison so I pulled myself together a bit, focused on what I wanted to do, then did it.

Publicity photograph for Mark Stirton's DARK HIGHLANDS

One Day Removals

I think it's fair to say most folk know you for One Day Removals, your 2008 Doric comedy set very firmly in Aberdeen and around. Tell us about how the idea for that came about and how you took that from script to screen.

It took a long time. I wrote the first version in around 1993, but I just couldn't find anyone interested in funding it, so it sat in a folder for a decade. But, little by little, digital technology advanced enough and was affordable enough that I was eventually able to mount a feature film version for around 60 grand. The basic idea never changed, what if two removal men accidentally killed not just one person, but a van load.

A lot of folk were shocked by the language. To me, though, it just reflects the way that folk in the north-east speak at work and in the pub. Was the swearing a conscious decision when you wrote it?

Yes. The screenplay was written in Doric and was full of swearing. It was very much a mission statement. This is the way we are going to do it and it won't change. Unfortunately that was also the path to distribution failure.

I remember at the time it was the sort of movie that people passed between friends and co-workers. It’s a great way to ensure people in the city see the movie. However, it’s probably not the most profitable of distribution methods. Did it ever get a commercial release?

No. The Planet was released commercially, Dark Highlands was released commercially, but the Raindance selected BIFA nominated One Day Removals, was not.

Aberdeen’s film industry

Aberdeen's film making scene is particularly small even while other creative industries in the city are hitting a bit of a moment in the sun. So why do you think Scotland's film industry is stuck in the central belt...even just in terms of filming locations? What do you think can be done to help our industry?

I'm hardly the person to ask. I'm a multi award winning director with distribution deals in America, Japan, France and HBO Europe, but in Aberdeen I am both unemployed and unemployable. You'd be as well asking me how to get a job at ASDA.

Publicity photograph for Mark Stirton's DARK HIGHLANDS

Tell us about your most recent film, the horror Dark Highlands. It's a very different film so you must have experienced a different set of challenges and frustrations.

Very much so. I like to change genres every time I make a new film. Sci-fi, to Comedy to Horror to Animation. Keeps things challenging. In terms of Dark Highlands the most challenging aspect was filming everything in the actual Highlands. Filming miles away from anywhere, with bad weather and midges was not something I'm rushing to do again.

However, as a budget conscious director I was aware of the amazing production values you get from going there. It's not exactly free and it takes plenty of planning, but visually it was worth it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q8DZAQ5Pws
Trailer for Mark Stirton's 2018 film DARK HIGHLANDS

What do you think motivates you to create?

I'm not sure, but even during the pandemic I was animating away on a new project, so even if I'm alone in a flat, I'll create something!

Is there anything you'd have done differently in your film-making career? What advice would you give to your younger self?

To be honest I kept being surprised that we got anywhere. I was surprised that The Planet sold, I was surprised One Day Removals opened in London at a big fancy festival, so maybe I'd advise myself to have a little faith and not worry so much.

The future

As folk get the vaccine and we can hopefully get on with the next part of our lives, what are you up to? Is there a new movie on the way?

Yes, I'm writing it now. One Day Removals never gained any real popularity outside the North East, so I'm going to try it again only based out of London next time with two English actors. Call it the Lock Stock version.


Find out more

Thanks very much to Mark for his time. It’s fantastic to get an insight into a local industry that perhaps needs no small amount of attention. You can find more about the work of Mark Stirton on his website. If talking directly is more your thing, you can follow him on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this interview, check out our Temp Check with Colin Farquhar from Aberdeen's Belmont Filmhouse Cinema.

You can also watch One Day Removals in full right here!

https://youtu.be/v8NbHYtlaS8

Temp Check: Mark McAulay from Singularity Sauce Co.

Mark McAulay likes it hot. Like…stupidly hot. So hot in fact he launched his own hot sauce company, Singularity Sauce Co. First as a first as a bit of fun, a hobby. It then grew into a side project and somewhere along the way people recognised his hard work and dedication. Before you could blink his hobby had become a proper grown up craft hot sauce business.

As both of us here at POST are big fans of heat, we thought it was time to find out more about Singularity Sauce Co. and the man behind it.



How are you doing right now? Be honest. This is a safe space.

Oh I'm doing great thanks. If anything, a little anxious about all the usual things when running a business, but also content in the knowledge that if everything goes wrong, it’s all my own fault.

How it all began

Like many small companies, Singularity Sauce Co. came out of nowhere…after five years of hard work and dedication. Tell us what inspired you to start your own craft hot sauce company, and how that developed into a real life, grown-up company?

I’d been making my own sauces for a while. I was so bored with the hot sauces which we’re generally available and I decided I could do better. I'd spent a few years living in London and there was so much choice in small indie places that I wanted more choice up here in the frozen north. I’d buy the hottest chillies I could get my hands on and add other flavours and lots of vinegar. At that time, Komodo Dragon chillies had become available in the supermarket. They are bonkers hot and just what I needed.

I quickly moved away from using vinegar as a base because I’d gone off on a mission, one I’m still on today. I’d become fascinated with the flavours found in different types of chillis and I want to continually explore that. Dumping a bunch of vinegar into a sauce unsurprisingly makes it taste like vinegar. That had to stop.

I started experimenting with fermentation and that’s where things started working out. I could achieve low enough PH values to make things acidic enough to be shelf safe and instead of a heavy vinegar flavour, I had a world of funky flavours available. I'll spare you, but I could go on for days about this stuff.

Bottles of Singularity Hot Sauce Co. hot sauce lined up in a row.
Singularity Sauce range at Rosemount Market | Photo by Chris Sansbury

I’d been testing these sauces out on friends, family and neighbours. Feedback had been really positive. One of my friends is a chef in Aberdeen and he’d started pushing me to sell the sauces I was making. Eventually I did of course, but that was the point I had to get serious. I had to figure out just how you can create food for sale and that took me a while. As I did the dance of environmental health, trading standards, insurance etc, I realised that this couldn't be a hobby anymore.

At the time of transition from hobby to business, I'd suffered a bout of depression which ultimately led to the end of my day job. I had to do some real soul searching to figure out what I was going to do. I chose the most difficult option there is and turned my hobby into my full time job. The sauce company became Singularity Sauce Co. LTD in November 2019 but didn't start trading until January 2020.

Eventually I sold a few bottles to people. My friend, the chef, had managed to get me an order from the restaurant he was working in at the time and that snowballed into lots of orders from restaurants/bars. Positive things were happening and I found myself starting to get orders from delis/farm shops/etc too.

The challenges of the pandemic

You launched just as we learned about this crazy virus on the other side of the world…only a few weeks before we went into lockdown. Tell us about that experience.

Oh man, in the book of worst timed business start-ups, you’re going to find Singularity Sauce in the first few pages. All of my larger, wholesale orders were for hospitality venues. Pretty much all of my non-wholesale sales were done at farmers markets. This was what was keeping the lights on. When the lockdown hit, all of this disappeared overnight.

There were no more orders from hospitality and there were no more farmers markets. I'm really not kidding, this whole situation was terrifying and there were many moments of serious doubt. Some days it really did feel like the end.

Having no commercial premises meant I wasn’t eligible for the government support and it’s not as if I could furlough myself either. It was decision time, stick or twist.
Mark McAuley | Singularity Sauce Co.

I chose to spend night and day hammering away at my website. What else was I going to do? I went full guns at it, doing a bunch of targeted advertising and really amping up my social media. I knew if I could get a decent volume of online sales that I’d live to fight another day. The rise of the "support local" vibe was incredible and I know of several other tiny businesses, much like ourselves, that simply wouldn't have made it otherwise. Online orders started coming in thick and fast. I had to upgrade all our postal packaging to cope.

I also had to locate the post offices closest to me who were less hardline about the number of parcels you could send per visit. Our nearest post office was restricted to 3 parcels per visit at one point. When you've got 20+ orders per day, that's not really going to work out! I found a couple of other post offices who were happy to help :)

How have your different markets reacted over this challenges of the pandemic? Has it refocused relationships or opened new ones you didn’t expect?

Some customers had no option but to stop buying from us. I get that and I don't hold any hard feelings. Every business had to make difficult decisions over the past 18 months and it's not been easy for anyone. As things have started to open up again, wholesale orders have never been better. I've also been able to show face at a few farmers markets and there has been a real buzz of excitement from people there.

We've found our way into several more shops now. Many through Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, one in Glasgow, a bunch in London and one in particular you've probably heard of. We were absolutely blown away to have our full range stocked in Selfridges. Even more amazing was that they approached us.

Collaboration and working with others

You obviously love collaborating with other craft producers. Tell us about some of your experiences with that.

I have a bunch of collaboration sauces with some incredible people. I make the Transatlantic Habanero Express with Lukes Handcrafted Hot Sauces in NJ, USA. The way we go about it might even be a world first, we're not 100% sure of that though. I am so proud every day that I get to make sauce for Fierce Beer. They're some of the best humans on earth and they'll always be my favourite. 😄

For the past 3 years, we've done a hot sauce ice cream collaboration with Fit's The Scoop over in Culter. This year, we've retired our pioneering "Raspberry Reaper". I guess I can tell you first what this year's is all about. Think blueberry ice cream, rippled with our Purple Naga Viper Brain & Blueberry hot sauce, smashed with lemon coated popping candy. This is a beauty and we can't wait to see it light up your faces.

I'm currently gearing up to launch a sauce built for pizza with The Gaff in Ellon. I also make a pretty unique hot sauce for The Coffee Apothecary based at Udny and Ellon. I've recently been working with Innis & Gunn on sauces for their food offerings in their taprooms throughout Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.

The Tilly Butcher is doing things with some of our sauce, what that is, we don't know yet but you can be absolutely sure it'll be brilliant. We're up to no good with Bandit Bakery right now too.

You can look out for Singularity Sauce Co. collaborations with other UK food & drink producers. I've also had a few chats with some cool people in The Netherlands, USA and Denmark.

The common experience of working with all of these people, and as a marker for who I'll collaborate with in future is really just that they're lovely people. People I get on with and who I don't have to worry about getting into an argument with. We have to be able to work together and it has to be right for everyone in the collaboration. I don't say yes to everyone.

Mark McAulay | Singularity Sauce Co | Photo by Chris Sansbury

What makes a great hot sauce?

What do you look for in a hot sauce, whether it your own or somebody else's? Tell us a bit about some of your favourites.

Flavour combinations, less vinegar and I’m not ashamed to admit it, delicious labels! Personally I look for originality. The sauce industry is at a point where there are dozens of new companies popping up. This is a really exciting time for inventive flavours. Some of my favourite sauce makers out there right now are Thicc Sauce, Lou's Brews, Double D's and Lazy Scientist. You might have noticed that all of these come from the U.K. Traditionally hot sauce has been thought of primarily as an American thing and of course, some of the best sauces in the world come from there.

There are very much influences from the US in lots of the hot sauce brands in the UK, but I think we can stand up and be counted. The UK is really starting to punch above its weight. I've entered some Singularity Sauce Co. sauces into a large hot sauce competition in the US. We're the only Scottish entrant and we're going up against some heavy hitters in the sauce world. You've got to test yourself against the very best from time to time to see how you're getting on. We'll find out in a few weeks time how we've done.

Hot sauces vary a lot and some people are simply scared of the heat. Does Singularity Sauce Co aim its sauces at a specific market or is there a bigger flavour mission at play?

We became well known for big heat almost immediately. I feel that’s a bit of a disservice. It's true that we use a lot of superhot chillies but there's more to this than just trying to hurt everyone. For us, the heat is the consequence of the flavour profile we’re chasing. There are different flavour notes to each chilli. We like to take those flavours and pair them with other flavours, sometimes unexpected pairings. We smashed Carolina Reapers (Officially the hottest chilli) into local Blackberries and won 2 stars at the Great Taste Awards last year for it. We've also done a big citrus sauce with Orange Habaneros, again a hot chilli. The important factor is flavour, even if these sauces end up too hot for some.

It's true that we use a lot of superhot chillies but there's more to this than just trying to hurt everyone.
Marc McAulay | Singularity Sauce Co

Heat is so subjective anyway. We regularly talk to people who feel our mildest sauces are too hot and we often hear that out hottest sauces aren’t hot enough. Everyone experiences the heat differently and we’ve always felt that makes it a weaker attribute from which to define a sauce as a whole. If we're using Moruga Scorpions, Purple Naga Viper Brains or 7Pot Yellows, yes the sauce will be hot. If we're using Jalepenos or Dutch Reds, not so much. That's about as deep as I like to get into the heat discussion.

What's the biggest challenge, finding places to stock your sauce, or keeping up with the demand?

The biggest challenge for me has been finding a commercial kitchen from which to scale. I could be making a lot more sauce but my capacity is limited right now. It has taken well over a year but we do have a new home in the works, still in the mighty village of Tarves, the hot sauce capital of Aberdeenshire.

I guess at this point, keeping up with demand is my number one problem. I've trimmed our range to cope right now but I have several notebooks jammed full of sauce recipes, mustards, syrups and seasonings. I just can't launch any of them until I get the keys to the new lab.

I've been fortunate finding really good stockists. We look for likeminded businesses to work with because we know they'll do our brand the best service. We want to invest in promoting them as much as they'll promote us. I've been approached by some amazing businesses from throughout the UK also. Getting into Selfridges has to be one of the best "good fortune" stories yet. I'll tell you that story in full someday.

The future

What's the big plan for Singularity Sauce Co? Where does the company go over the next few months?

Well, I used to have a big plan and now I don't. That statement will have made all sorts of business advisers and consultants shudder.

Experience has taught me that you can have all the plans in the world but everything can change overnight, rendering those plans obsolete. Spending more energy on them feels wasteful and risky to me. I have targets of course, I have things I am trying to achieve but they're not "change the world" big. They're "make better hot sauce" small. Smaller, more achievable plans will shape whatever the big plan turns out to be. I'm pretty chill about this. I've never been more nimble or light on my feet. I can adapt to change quickly and if the past 18 months are anything to go by, I can be resilient in the face of utter devastation.

There are so many positive things which have happened which have involved no planning at all that I've just gone with it and unshackled myself from a formal strategic plan. Next for us is to move to our own fermentation lab and kitchen. You can ask me what the plan is at that point, once we're in. 😉

We’ve seen you experiment with dill pickles on TikTok. Who do we strong arm to get some?

I've wanted to make pickles forever. I couldn't resist just getting some together and starting to experiment. I've currently got one flavour I'm really happy with and another couple of prototypes on the go just now. I'll launch them a little later this summer. Word has it they might appear at a Market as a sample for people to try sometime. I'll give you a heads up…or maybe I'll eat them all myself. They're just so good!


Find out more

Thank you very much to Mark for his time and his frank answers. The thing we love about Temp Check interviews is people showing true passion for the thing they do. You can find Singularity Sauce Co. and meet Mark in person at Curated Aberdeen in the Bon Accord Centre between 9 and 11 July. You can also visit their online store, as well as say 'hi' on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.

Thanks very much to the lovely team at Rosemount Market who generously allowed us to use their amazing shop as a backdrop for photographs.

This article was originally published at POST Aberdeen. If you enjoyed this, why not read our Temp Check interview with Louise Grant from Fierce Beer.


Lauren Mitchell in her Northsound Radio studio

Temp Check - Lauren Mitchell from Northsound Radio

Lauren Mitchell's breakfast radio show with co-presenter Jeff Diack is a huge success. The presenters' positive disposition has has solidified their position as North East Scotland's most listened to breakfast show. In more normal times, you could also see them supporting community events in Aberdeen like Celebrate Aberdeen and Grampian Pride.

We thought it was time to catch up with Lauren to see how she's doing as Aberdeen on from lockdown to recovery.

https://youtu.be/UseLRzl8wGY

Hey Lauren. Our first question in Temp Check interviews is always the same. It’s a simple question, but the answer is often not so simple…how are you doing right now?

Hiya Chris! Certainly a BIG question… however, the first answer that comes to mind is absolutely fantastic thank you! The sun is shining in Aberdeen today and I bought myself a houseplant this week, saw my family, some friends and had a BBQ! What more can I need in my life?!

Can you tell us a little about your background, how old you were when you started in radio, and how you became a presenter at Northsound?

I grew up all over the place, as my parents were in the Royal Air Force, which meant I had to become used to talking to many different people from a young age. This is where I developed my passion for “communication” and talking to people. When I was younger, I used to listen to the radio and repeat the adverts (usually that’s everyone’s least favourite part…I just loved it!)

We do tend to stay positive in the morning because nobody wants to listen to a negative Nigel do they? I believe it is so important to put your issues aside, unless of course you're sharing part of your life that may help somebody else.
Lauren Mitchell

I knew I wanted to go into Media/Journalism, so I joined college and completed a HND in Radio. From there, I completed my undergraduate degree in Media at Robert Gordon University. I graduated in 2015, moved back to St Andrews and I sent a video of myself doing the travel for a competition Northsound were running called "The Chosen One." About 3 weeks later, I got a call from Northsound telling me I was the CHOSEN ONE! I don't think I've ever been more excited in my whole life. That was 6 years ago which would have made me…. 21! I then moved everything back to Aberdeen and started on the Homerun show as a Travel Reporter.

You and your co-presenter Jeff Diack have a reputation for being hugely positive. How did you manage to maintain that at the start of lockdown when the rest of the world felt very scary?

Hahaha!! I love this question. We do tend to stay positive in the morning because nobody wants to listen to a negative Nigel do they? Being a presenter, I believe, a huge part of it (if not all of it) is being there for your listener and making them smile and laugh in the morning. I believe it is so important to put your issues aside, unless of course you're sharing part of your life that may help somebody else. 99% of the time though, when I walk into the studio, I would leave my personal problems at the door.

Lauren Mitchell surrounded by daffodils, taking a photo of St Machar Cathedral in Aberdeen
Photo supplied by Lauren Mitchell

Has your outlook to the world changed over the past 12 months?

Absolutely! I’ve become someone who spends less money on clothes and I’m now investing in nice pillows and homely plants for my house… (Have I officially promoted myself to a sensible adult? Oh no!!!) In all seriousness though, I’ve always believed you should say YES to everything and worry about it later, do things that scare you, try new things, explore and make yourself as happy as you possibly can with whatever works for you… but now more than ever, I appreciate my family, my friends and the people around me. I am so grateful for the little things, just like everyone is I suppose. I feel like you will be nodding along there thinking, we definitely did take things for granted a bit, didn’t we?

It’s obvious to everyone that listens that you love your job. What is it about radio presenting that gets you up in the morning?

I really do feel lucky everyday to talk and play songs on the radio, it has its own little challenges like any job but I have to say, for me, it's the first laugh we have in the morning, the conversations we have with our listener, the funny things we talk about. Radio is very much a friend to most and it’s also a friend to me too… It is as much a comfort to me as it is to those who do turn to us in the morning.

Aside from your immediate colleagues, who inspires you professionally?

So many different people inspire me in different ways. My colleagues are great and I'm so thankful for them. My family of course are always driving themselves forward professionally which has always been an inspiration to me. Two people in particular though - 1. Kirstin Gove, who we all know is just an incredible person all round and 2. Pete McIntosh… the person who is always so positive, creative and pushing for his next challenge.

What is your favourite part of your working day?

I love the Win it Minute quiz that we do every morning. It's a really positive fun little way of interacting with every listener, no matter what age. I also reckon I’d be quite good at quizzes now after learning the most random facts from the Win it Minute over the last 5 years!

https://youtu.be/zHfwRZGL76Y

One aspect of your role at Northsound is to be part of the community they serve. How would you say Aberdeen has changed in the past 5 years?

I think Aberdeen has changed massively and I do believe we’ve become much more of a tight community, it feels like we are one city and we look after each other. When I think of Aberdeen, I think 'creative and innovative'. We have so many fantastic talented people in this city, I'm so proud to live here. Walking around the streets and seeing NUART, the SPECTRA festival, The beautiful Art Gallery and all the pop-up events with local producers and creatives - it is just a great place to be.

I’m determined to get a nugget of negativity from you today…so what pisses you off?

Bad drivers, I’d be a liar if I said I never get a little bit of inner road rage. Too scared to beep my horn though!

You seem to be a very determined and laser focused woman. What advice would you give to young girls who would like to follow in your footsteps.

I have three tips.

1.   Find your confidence and own it! You are beautifully unique and you should champion yourself.
2.   Don’t give up, get up and try again… If you fail, it is only a bigger lesson and better adventure.
3.   Work hard (get experience) but also treat yourself, enjoy the crazy ride that life brings us!

And before we go…my youngest would like to know what your favourite tune is right now?

OH!!! Good question….I know in years to come, I’ll see this and I’ll think “DID I REALLY LIKE THAT SONG?!” but right now, it HAS to be Ella Henderson & Tom Grennan – Let's go Home together!

Ha, she'll love that! She's also a big fan of that song. Your early morning influence is strong! ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ


Thanks very much to Lauren for her brilliant answers to our questions. We're positive that we'll have her back at some time in the future. You can hear her every weekday on Jeff and Lauren in the Morning. The show also has a positive presence on Twitter, and Facebook.

Our conversation with Gary Kemp, founder of Doric Skateboards is a great, follow-up read. The challenges he has faced in building a business from scratch are worth your time.


Temp Check - Louise Grant from Aberdeen’s Fierce Beer

We chat with Louise Grant about building a brewery, running a business through the covid emergency and bouncing back with the help of community.

Louise Grant has been the friendly face of Fierce since it's inception...the welcoming smile. In our latest Temp Check Interview, we caught up with her to talk about her part in building the brewery, running a business through the covid emergency, and bouncing back with the help of the community. We also touch on her personal challenges and the amazing support from her husband Dave.


Hi Louise. I know life is very busy for you right now as Fierce has begun to welcome consumers face to face so thank you very much for taking the time to answer a few questions. We’ll stick with tradition by opening with “how are you doing right now?”

I am tip top and you?

I’m really good! I’ve been dying to talk to you for ages about your story, so tell us a little about your background and the part you played in starting Fierce family.

I left school (hated it) and had no desire for college or university (probably because I didn’t know what I wanted to do) and landed my first job in an oil service company just before I turned 18. From then I was always in oil, Drilling and Completions, for a couple of operators, but I always had a great job and loved what I did. My husband Dave and I moved to Cape Town in South Africa for a few years with oil, then returned in 2012. I got my job back at Chevron, still at the same desk and all the contents of shit I had left in the drawer!! It felt like I had never been away, ha ha!

When we came back, BrewDog’s Flagship bar was open, and Dave and I spent most of our weekends in there making friends with the regulars. When we first tasted Punk IPA we were like “what is this witchcraft?” Having spent years drinking Castle and Windhoek which tasted of nothing, it was a real eye opener for us.

Our house was like Breaking Bad, loads of stuff sitting bubbling away.

Dave used to cycle a lot over there so when he came back, he was always looking for a hobby. A couple of the regulars used to homebrew, so Dave got chatting to them (Rick the Dentist deserves a shout out), and they inspired Dave to take it up. Our house was like Breaking Bad, loads of stuff sitting bubbling away. I was ‘Assistant to the Brewer’ which technically was a cleaner, but cleaning is one of the most important parts in beer making so I’m OK with that!

Louise Grant at Fierce Bar in Aberdeen
Louise at Aberdeen's Fierce Bar - Photo supplied by Louise Grant

How did things develop from a hobby to a business?

Dave enrolled in a weeklong Brewlab brewing course in Sunderland and that’s where he met Dave McHardy who was also from Aberdeen and called Dave…the weirdest thing was my Dave also worked with Dave M’s wife Sheena. So random and yet clearly meant to be. Dave M was working at the time as a brewer (also an avid homebrewer) for Wooha Brewing.

The never-ending turbulence of the oil industry, layoffs, cost cutting etc really got Dave down and he was so fed up. I asked him what he wanted to do, he said make beer. Me being me, said “fuck it, let’s do it!” So we did. It was very scary, exciting and a bit crazy. We then registered Fierce as a brewery from the house with HMRC…that was 23 March 2015.

We used to take samples to the Flagship for people to taste. Dave was so good at it. For having not done it before, the recipes he came up with were brilliant! Cranachan Killer (Kenny Burns needs a shout out for this. His suggestion then Dave developed it), Café Racer and Heffen Heff to name a few were home brew recipes that we still make now.

So we are beginning to see what we now recognise as Fierce Beer today. How did you grow from there?

We built up a great relationship with BrewDog who were super supportive when we started and are still now. James [Watt] said we could do a tap take over at the Flagship. I think we are still the only brewery that has ever had a TTO with homebrew in a Brewdog venue…and it sold out fast. The buzz and the feeling of people enjoying what you have created was so thrilling and so satisfying.

After that it was clear that we could not continue doing this from home, especially full time, so we got our first premises in Dyce. A very surreal day getting the keys on 1st April 2016. We ordered all the kit and by May we had our first commercial beers out on the street.

And you were an integral part of this growing business?

I was still working in oil, at that time we thought I should keep working to keep money coming in. We both had high paying jobs so to go from that to nothing seemed ridiculous. By day three Dave and Dave said they needed me to quit my job, so I joined on May 1st 2016. We went with ridiculous!!

It’s not always been easy though…cashflow, working 18-hour days, not really knowing what we were doing. We ate and breathed nothing but Fierce and it was gruelling.

I would take care of all the admin side, sales, accounts etc (not that I really knew what I was doing) but we managed and now having just celebrated our official 5th birthday, it’s insane and overwhelming to see how far we have come in such a short time.

It’s not always been easy though…cashflow, working 18-hour days, not really knowing what we were doing. We ate and breathed nothing but Fierce and it was gruelling. But when you are so passionate about something, you just do it. 😊 Absolutely no regrets.

I work for a small business and know that job titles often don’t really explain what your job actually entails; so what does a working day look like for you?

My job is a bit of everything to be honest, accounts, payroll, HR (one of our employees said that I was the reason Fierce needs an HR department lol), sales, exports, supermarkets, supporting the bars and customer service which is No. 1 in my opinion. 

This might be a difficult question, but I’m really keen to know what your initial feelings were as we all went into lockdown, and how that changed through the following few weeks.

It was the weirdest thing ever. I didn’t really understand it and thought it would blow over in a few weeks (like most people I assume) but yet here we are over a years later! It has been so tough, keeping up with what we can and cannot do under restrictions. Having bars in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Manchester rules were different. It was so hard to get your head around and keep up. Every week it was changing. We had to adapt our business model, going from kegs and cans to all small pack as we had nowhere to sell kegs. It was really challenging. Luckily, we have a very smart, dynamic team and we rolled with the punches!

What was the biggest challenge for you personally through the pandemic.

I have MS so I have been working from home since March 2020. It’s tough not being with your team physically, but I am lucky I can do my job remotely, though you do miss the buzz of being in the brewery. I have had both jabs now so I will be able to work back there too. However, since I’ve been away my desk has been stolen!! Rude!

The stress of worrying if we would come out the other side was hard to swallow. When you have put everything you have into a business, the thought of losing it is the hardest and scariest thing to come to terms with.

We launched a ‘paying it forward’ crowdfund April 2020. People would invest and get 1½ times back in beer, discounts at our bars and online for life, and rewards for different amounts invested. If we did not have the support of those investors we would not have survived, and for that I am forever grateful. Typing this I have a lump in my throat 😔

Have challenges faced by your industry pulled independent breweries together in any way? Equally…have they driven some apart?

We are very lucky to have great relationships with other breweries. We used to do beer swaps so we would stock their beers in our bottle shops and vice versa. That really worked well. I don’t know of anything that has driven some apart but there have been many breweries that have had to close their doors, which is heart breaking. If you don’t have an outlet like we do to sell beer you have literally nothing coming in. Having an online web shop and bars to open as bottle shops helped us enormously.

Having the furlough scheme available was amazing. We managed to keep all our team employed which was ace!

What lessons do you think you will you take forward to the future as we cautiously move to the end of the pandemic emergency?

The world will never be the same again and this pandemic has taught us to never take anything for granted. We will always be cautious of how we operate now, ensuring we make the best quality products we can. Beer is a luxury item; many people have lost their jobs so making sure we have top end ingredients and beer for people that is affordable. Customer loyalty is important to keep Fierce alive. Looking after the team has been top priority for us. We are so lucky to have a dedicated long serving team, which is unique in this industry.

Louise Grant jokingly drinking two glasses of red wine.
Sometimes the pressure begins to tell - Photo supplied by Louise Grant

Fierce have been on the go for over five years now. What are your hopes for the evolution of the company through the rest of this year and beyond?

This year, plans are in motion to double capacity. We have ordered more tanks and a new canning line which we will have over the next few months. We have also employed new people to help grow the business (people who know what they are doing, ha ha.) A financial controller, Anel, who is doing a brilliant job keeping us right, and a General Manager who starts next month. She will be able to take work off myself and the Daves and have proper focus.

Dave and Dave still currently do packaging and brewing. They need to take a step back from that and do their jobs.

How do you see those roles?

Dave G doing what he does best. New strategies to grow the sales side and developing new recipes. We have two excellent brewers in Neil and James who have really helped improve our beers. They are tasting the best they ever have.

Dave M concentrating on the operations side and making sure the equipment is top and working more efficiently.

I will be focused on sales and customer service and that is what I do best, if I have all the other tasks, I mentioned before away from me I will be able to get stuck in.

Surviving! Things change all the time, but I think if we continue to do what we are doing we should be ok.

Community obviously means a great deal to Fierce Beer. What’s your secret for keeping your people engaged?

Community is EVERYTHING to Fierce. I think making interesting good beer to keep people engaged is the most important, and listening to your customers feedback to improve. Showing respect, being normal, approachable and treating people the way you want to be treated goes a long way. Be kind and honest. We are super transparent as a company, maybe too much. We are all human we make mistakes but when that happens just say “yes, we mucked up,” then learn from it and move on.

I love people. I’m a people person 😊

Who inspires you, and why?

Don’t get the sick bucket out, but my husband. Dave is the most hard-working person I know, takes everything in his stride and adapts when necessary. He is my hero, I am very proud of him. When I was diagnosed with MS not long ago, I think he was a bit traumatised. He worries about me a lot.

How have you coped yourself with the diagnosis?

I am honestly good, keeping well and working hard. We are the best team and lucky to have survived running a business together and being married. We live another day!

I’m going to pull out a classic job interview question…Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I’ll put it back to your readers. Is there anything you would like to tell us? Anything we can improve on or do better. Any feedback positive or negative is always appreciated.


Thank you so much to Louise for her time. You can find Fierce Beer on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Go follow, say hi, and let them know your thoughts on their amazing beers. They really are a friendly bunch.


Temp Check: Creative and podcaster Ica Headlam

2020 has been harder for Ica Headlam than most…but has also seen him make the push from podcaster to campaigner. Originally from London, but settled in the the city for more than 15 years, his show Creative Me Podcast has shone a spotlight on the work of many of Aberdeen’s artists, musicians and creative businesses, putting him at the centre of a renaissance of our creative scene. This year he launched We Are Here Scotland. This is a platform to help lift up the voices of artistic people of colour throughout Scotland.

With so much going on in his life, we thought it was time to catch up with him and find out how he’s doing.


Hey Ica. Thanks for taking some time out to be probed by our questions. Traditionally we start with a question that’s easy to ask, but not always easy to answer honestly…how are you doing right now?

I’m doing good thanks. 2020 has been one of those years where we all just can’t wait to get to the finish line. We all hope better things in the new year.

2020 has been a rough year for many people, but you more than most. Tell us a little about what has been going on in your bubble.

Well as you know I caught Corona Virus in late April this year. This resulted in treatment at ARI for five days. It’s been a long road to recovery in terms of living with Long Covid health issues and Chest X-Rays as I developed pneumonia scarring on my lungs. But in comparison to my health earlier this year I am doing much better. I returned back to work in mid-October.

Being a huge fan and supporter of podcasts for a long time I just really wanted to document in my own way what was happening in the place I call home.

Creative Me Podcast has been on the go for 3 years now. What made you decide to start podcasting?

Being a huge fan and supporter of podcasts for a long time I wanted to document in my own way. What was happening in the place I call home. My particular interest is very much rooted in art, creativity, and community engagement. It’s crazy to think how quickly three years has gone by. However it’s something that I’m very passionate about. Having conversations with people in North East of Scotland who love what they do

I’m maybe opening myself up for a hiding here, but what do you think makes a great interview?

In my experience, a great interview happens when you put the guest at ease. When you make them comfortable with opening up about who they are and why they do what they do. I take a very simple approach with my conversations. I treat it like I’m just catching up with someone over a cuppa. Having a respectful conversation that hopefully doesn’t come across as one sided.

[pours cuppa]

So tell us what have been your biggest frustrations in recent times?

There have been stages when I would question as to whether the podcast was resonating with the target audiences. That is to say artists and creatives in the North East of Scotland and beyond. However, time has shown that when you keep being consistent with what you’re doing, good things will come back to you. People will recognise your hard work in one way or another.

How important is community to you?

It’s very important to me. Communities DO THINGS. They put on events, showcases and exhibitions. Community is something that I have seen a lot of. Especially this year during the pandemic. Small local businesses across various industries amplifying each other’s voices.

You’ve recently started a campaign to support and amplify the voices of people of colour in Scotland. How do you hope to help shine a beacon on these voices?

I hope We Are Here Scotland can exist beyond an online platform for championing people of colours within Scotland’s creative industries. This is why I have registered the platform as a Community Interest Company. I also set up the We Are Here Scotland Creators Fund. It's is a GoFundMe campaign which I established to provide practical support for creatives. Those that may require financial assistance for new equipment, exhibitions, residencies, or collaborate projects.

I get inspired by people who step out of their comfort zones and follow through with ideas that they are passionate about.

You (like me) seem to collect side projects. What do you think that says about you?

I think it tells me that I like to keep myself busy. My brain is always ticking over with ideas or thinking about what’s next. I think I’ve always had an inquisitive mind set too. I want to find out ways of doing things. The way things work. This is especially when it’s something I have an interested in.

Who inspires you?

This is a hard question as I can’t say just once person. However, for me people who step out of their comfort zones inspire me. Those follow through with ideas that they are passionate about. It takes a lot of courage and nerve to put yourself out there and remain consistent with it. There are so many people I know who have done this. That inspires me to keep doing what I do.

Has 2020 changed you in any way?

Oh for sure man not just physically since having Covid but also within my mindset. Like I love everything that I do. However, I also very much value the time I have with my wife Beth and our daughter Izzy. This is why podcasting or meetings for We Are Here doesn’t take place on weekends or when I’m on holiday. When I was unwell in hospital I honestly thought I wasn’t going recover. That very much changes your outlook on life in terms of health. Who you are as a person and how you want to live your life moving forward.


Thanks again to Ica to take some time out of his busy schedule to have a chat. I you’d like to know a little bit more, you can go read about (and donate to) the We Are Here Scotland Creators Fund. The Creative Me Podcast has recently done a series of episodes with North Lands Creatives interviewing artisans about their relationship with glass.

Read more about the experience of running a creative business. Check out our conversation with Gary Kemp, founder of Doric Skateboards.


Gary Kemp holding up a skateboard

Temp Check: Gary Kemp of Doric Skateboards

Doric Skateboards was launched in 2017. Gary Kemp wanted to create a brand that the skating community in the city could be proud of…and at the same time bringing in new skaters to the scene, along with those that had drifted away over time. He’s worked with artists to create unique boards that have become huge talking points as they are released.


Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Gary. We wanted to know how your 2020 has panned out, but we’ll start with the simple question…how are you feeling right now?

A mixture between complete apathy and nervous energy! That anxiety that tells you should be doing something “productive,” but then apathy says “nah, don’t worry just watch Netflix.” But overall I am ok…I think!

What inspired you to launch your own skateboard company?

It may sound trite but it was a genuine desire to do something creative, start my own thing, and to be in control. It was during the last oil price crash and redundancy threatened. My coping mechanism was to start this up. I’d got back on my skateboards a few years previously and was enjoying the nostalgia and the occasional role.

It was during the last oil price crash and redundancy threatened. My coping mechanism was to start this up.

One-person companies are rarely that in reality. Who in your community helped Doric Skateboards along the way?

Absolutely. And I like to think I give props to those who deserve it — in fact my website has a page doing exactly that!

My family are obviously front line — Nicola and my Mum have to listen to me. It must be painful. My brother Mark helped get me going with logo, strategy for launching etc. but others in the city are hugely supportive in many ways. Peacocks Visual ArtsCreative LearningRGU/Grays School of Art/Look AgainTransition ExtremeGrey Area InkThe Sticker Job, and Creative-me-podcast have all have been very welcoming and supportive whether I’ve reached out or they have…and without them all this would all be very different.

Doric Skateboards sticker in Aberdeen city centre.

Photo by Chris Sansbury
Photo by Chris Sansbury

Aberdeen features strongly in Doric Skateboards branding and designs. What was the thinking behind this decision?

I’ve always defended Aberdeen. I find the old stereotypes so tedious. Even if there is truth to some, I think we should talk ourselves up more. We’ve got a beautiful city and surrounding area. It’s totally not without its problems…but where hasn’t? So I feel responsible for talking up our culture, our history, our people. Before doing this I had little appreciation for what had happened and is happening in the city culture wise. Now I do I’ll always try to champion that too.

2020 has been an extremely tough year for many, while some have been lucky enough to be able to use it as an opportunity. How would you say you have coped through this wildly crazy year?

I’m not sure I have coped to be honest. I think most of us are trying our best to function without focusing on that existential dread that is around the corner and all around us. I’m getting up, working from home and functioning and I think for now that’s ok!

Running Doric Skateboards has its positives and negatives when it comes to this year. Part of me felt that what I do is so trivial that I was a bit embarrassed to talk about it.

Running Doric Skateboards has its positives and negatives when it comes to this year. Part of me felt that what I do is so trivial that I was a bit embarrassed to talk about it. But we all need something in life to help us through — just the act of creating new stuff was enough for me. I managed to kick off some collaborations, and a wee design competition really helped to give me something to focus on.

What motivates you?

Ha! That assumes I am motivated. I honestly don’t see myself as a motivated person. I tackle what’s in front of me and keep everything else in the periphery as much as I can, then turn to that when I have to/want to. But actual motivation? I get excited to see something come together — a new design, a new collaboration — what ever it is. It’s gratifying to see that become a physical thing.

And the opposite…what demotivates you?

Feeling self-conscious. I’ve had that my whole life and its stopped me doing so much. Being so self-conscious essentially leads to complete lack of confidence. It’s a bizarre thing to feel at 44. But there it is! I think it wouldn’t matter how good I was at something I would always have that feeling of not belonging. Who knows? Maybe its because I listened to too much of The Smiths at school. 😉

Doric Skateboards on the screen printing rack.

Photo by Chris Sansbury
Photo by Chris Sansbury

You very proudly screen print some of your own boards. Why bother doing this in such a time intensive way?

Well I think its part of the DIY culture within skateboarding. All the old school brands didn’t just appear as factory ready; they started in garages and spare rooms. I also think its important to put your hands on the things you sell. This year I’ve tried to learn how to screen print Doric Skateboard branded clothing myself. This has been a real challenge! But I’m just as happy now to get some of the designs printed for me. It all depends on how suitable they are to my skills! But I do think that you should get your hands dirty from time to time!

You are known for your collaborations with local artists as well as those from further afield. Why is that?

I must admit that I didn’t really think about collaborations when I started. Outside of Vanilla Ice the word “collaborate” wasn’t in my vocabulary! So they have happened quite organically — it was never a part of a master plan. I didn’t have one then and still don’t! 😄

Has the pandemic changed you as a person or as a small business owner?

Well I think we’ll need to wait and see but I suspect we have all changed to some degree. I think that the increase we’ve seen in small businesses setting up, a big uptake in new hobbies/sports etc is very reminiscent of where I was 5 or so years ago when I set up Doric. People crave something to control in a world where you perhaps have none — or not as much as you had. Starting something new, learning something, taking part in something — that helps fill that gap for me and reduces the time I spend sitting catastrophising things!


We'd like to thank Gary for taking the time for a chat. It's inspiring to read about a business growing from a small idea and a lot of love. You can follow Doric Skateboards on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Read more of our temp check interviews. This one with Ica Headlam talks about We Are Here Scotland, his campaign to elevate creatives of colour throughout Scotland.


Temp Check: Aberdeen singer-songwriter Rachel Jack

Live music performances have taken a massive hit because of the need to keep people safe from Covid. During this time, many musicians have concentrated on releasing new music to give fans a diversion from lockdown life. We spoke to Aberdeen based singer-songwriter Rachel Jack who has been making waves in the Scottish music scene this year. Having released her brilliant debut EP, The Calgary Tapes in the summer of 2020, we wanted to catch up with her to see how life is treating her right now.


Hey Rachel. Thanks very much for taking time to chat. As always, we start with the easy question that doesn’t always have an easy answer…how are you feeling right now?

I’m feeling tired to be honest. I’ve been super busy and I’m really looking forward to taking a break over Christmas.

What make you take the leap to chasing a career in music?

I had a period of illness and it put everything into perspective for me. I did that thing of looking over my life to-date and felt a bit disappointed that I hadn’t done anything with my voice.

The part I’ll continue to be most proud of is divorcing myself from a career I spent over a decade building. I’d thought about it for ages and it was a really difficult decision to make.

Live performance is pretty much out the question right now, how have you replaced that?

I’ve been keeping my focus by releasing music. In fact, I've released 7 singles since we first went into lockdown.

You released your debut EP, The Calgary Tapes, earlier this year. How did that come about?

I wrote those songs while completing a songwriting scholarship from Paolo Nutini at UWS. I called them the Calgary Tapes because I recorded those songs while living in a place called Calgary on the Isle of Mull.

What are you most proud of so far in your musical career?

The part I’ll continue to be most proud of is divorcing myself from a career I spent over a decade building. I’d thought about it for ages and it was a really difficult decision to make because your job seems to become a massive part of your identity, and for a while I struggled with knowing who I was without a job title, if that makes sense. That process as been the most rewarding.

Rachel Jack sitting in the sunshine against a backdrop of pink flowers.
Photo Credit: AG Whylie

Is there anyone in your community that has inspired you? Tell us about them.

Normal every day people inspire me. I'm interested in their stories. Most of my songs are conversations I’ve had with people. In terms of the musical direction, there’s nothing intentional about it at all. When I meet people I like, we make music together and their style inspires mine. It’s all a very experimental go-with-the-flow kinda thing for me.

What pisses you off?

When people aren’t open to changing their minds. I’ve got a lot of respect for people who can hold their hands up and admit when they are wrong. We all have a right to change our minds when we learn new information but when people dig in their heels and refuse to have conversations about important matters, that really drains me.

I evaluated my life a few years ago and made some big changes. I feel as though I was mentally prepared for this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been easy by any means but it’s also not the worst thing I’ve been through, personally.

The pandemic has been tough on most people, but it has given many the opportunity to evaluate their lives. Has the pandemic changed you?

I evaluated my life a few years ago and made some big changes. I feel as though I was mentally prepared for this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been easy by any means but it’s also not the worst thing I’ve been through, personally.

What motivates you?

Knowing that this is it…right here, right now. Life is short and I want to enjoy it as much as possible.

What does the future hold for Rachel Jack? What are your ambitions?

I feel as though I’ve arrived at where I want to be in that I’ve got a job I like and I’m doing music at the same time. I’d love to write for other artists, that’s the dream really. But I’m only a couple of years into music and I’m enjoying writing for myself so I’m not in any rush. In terms of what I’ve got planned for 2021 — I’ll release my second EP Magazine Girls and I hope to perform live as much as possible!


Find out more about Rachel Jack

Thanks very much to Rachel Jack both for her time and for her candour. You can show your support by following her on TwitterFacebookInstagram and on Spotify, and also check out her latest single, For You, below.

If you enjoyed this Temp Check interview, take some time to read our chat with Stuart McPhee from Siberia Bar and Hotel about his experience of the lockdown. If you would like to hear more local music, check out our playlist, The Lounge. It highlights music from Aberdeen's diverse music scene.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H95YudQRQfw

Temp Check: Stuart McPhee from Siberia Bar & Hotel

Aberdeen’s hospitality sector has been hit extremely hard by Covid-19. Business has been massively curtailed and the staff that are still working are on the frontline of an industry that has always had to tread a think line between safety and fun. One of the many venues in the city that has worked positively within the Scottish Government restrictions is Siberia Bar & Hotel.

We thought it was time to catch up with their director, Stuart McPhee. We talk about his active role in standing up for the hospitality industry.


Hi Stuart, this seems like a simple question, but how are you doing right now?

I’m doing well personally…my wife is due our third child in December and excitement building in the house for Christmas. Professionally, it feels consistently like one step forward two steps back a lot of the time, but we’re remaining resilient.

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m originally from Kirkcaldy, went to University in Dundee and moved to the Granite City about 8 years ago. I’ve worked in the hospitality sector for over a decade and worked my way from being a glass collector in a nightclub to where I am now at Siberia Bar. I’m happily married with 2.9 kids residing in a wonderful little village in Aberdeenshire called Methlick…and I enjoy when I can put the boots on for the local football team there.

We were relieved to understand what was needed from us and we knew that there would be help coming in terms of support at the time. We also thought that it would be short-term and nobody would have considered impacts going on this far down the line.

What does a typical day for you look like?

I don’t have a typical day. Every day presents it’s own unique challenges. My wife will testify to me working 24/7…even when I’m home I’m not off. I’m generally in the bar for 8am and home for 7pm (kids bedtime) and whatever happens in between we solve the problems and we get through the day.

The initial lockdown was a blow to everyone, but especially those in hospitality. Do you remember how you felt at that time?

I remember welcoming the initial lockdown at the time as there had been so many unknown quantities. We were operating as we normally would have been at the time and when you compare that to all the mitigations we now have in place…it’s crazy to think about! We were relieved to understand what was needed from us and we knew that there would be help coming in terms of support at the time. We also thought that it would be short-term and nobody would have considered impacts going on this far down the line.

Siberia Bar's beer garden is popular in Aberdeen

What have some of those longer term impacts looked like?

The biggest long term challenge is having the vision to see what they are. It’s my view that the only way to get out of this is by growing and diversifying our business. I’ve been looking to invest time and effort in advancing our food offering and faculties. That’s my own business view. However, for the sector as a whole I think that the landscape post vaccine will be completely different. We will respect and value for the freedoms that will return to us. I hope it’ll be a time where we can look back on our present position and be thankful for the lessons learned.

Did lockdown mean you had more time away from Siberia Bar? How did you spend that extra time?

I did have extra time away from the venue, I spent it at home with my kids. My wife is a nurse in a GP practice and she worked right through the initial lockdown, so I was on Daddy Day Care most of the time. That time was so valuable. I would never have gained that time before, and will never get again. Between that and doing work around the house. Painting, decorating, organising, moving furniture around to see if you like one room one way or one room another!

Siberia Bar seem to have a very strong community of staff and customers, how have they supported you through 2020?

You know I think we have all just muddled through really. There was no real sense of needing to support anyone. It was very much continuing the sense of community we have always had. We just had to find other ways of connecting. For example Zoom quizzes was one of our favourite ways to catch up.

One of our chefs, Micky, created something called Sibeira Wrestling. This was a championship of recorded simulations of matches between people from the bar. We also broadcasted them for our community to watch. We all had our unique ways of getting through it. A couple of shandies here and there, but mainly making sure we checked on with everyone as often as possible.

What has been some of your biggest frustrations?

Communication and information sharing. In the first lockdown there was such a lack of communication. How we would be moving forward. What is the exit plan. More than anything, how do we get this all under control and get back to normal. No one seems to have a clear vision and thrust for this. And I felt a lot of time I was finding out things too slowly.

Has the pandemic made a difference to your personal priorities?

It has for sure! I have very much gone into survival mode. I would never have considered myself as someone who is confident doing interviews or television etc. Now I’ll do anything I can to make sure that those in power hear our voice in a constructive and considered fashion. Both as a business and as a city. It has very much heightened a lot of the priorities we ran with before. All I want to do is be able to look after the people around me. That's whether that’s my immediate or extended work family.

Customers enjoy food at Aberdeen's Siberia Bar.

Tell us a little about the support you have been lending to the wider hospitality sector?

The sector as a whole is really not being listened to or connected to properly by governments in any country. There’s a lack of understanding as to how these businesses operate and their ecosystem. What happens to footfall when these businesses are not operational and other sectors like retail are.

Out of the depths of despair in the Aberdeen lockdown there was a need for businesses to come together. To forge our way out of it collectively. Therefore we formed an information sharing organisation called Aberdeen Hospitality Together. This brought together 141 venues on the city. As a result of that the local authority has brought me into conversations to discuss issues weekly. I also have a national platform. I have joined newly formed groups. The Scottish Hospitality Group and the NTIA Scotland Commission.

I’ve also been campaigning for positive trade representation and a joined up approach to communication. On a local level I help businesses that have questions I share information. On a national level I help inform messaging. I participate in meetings and do the best I can to coney that hospitality is a wonderful sector to be a part of. Both now and into the future.

If you could give advice to the March 2020 version of yourself, what would it be?

Don’t change a thing. Do exactly everything you think is right and every point you think you have to do it. Stick to what you think and know is the right thing to do and it will serve you well.


It's been great to catch up with Stuart. It was fantastic to hear his frank views on the challenges he has been facing through 2020. You can follow him on Twitter. You can also find the latest on Siberia Bar and Hotel by checking out their Facebook page. In addition, the Scottish Hospitality Group have set up a petition calling on the Scottish Government for better protection. Both of the sector and its employees.

Read more: Our chat with Louise Grant from Fierce Beer.


Temp Check : Colin Farquhar from Belmont Filmhouse

We've now faced restrictions to our lives in Aberdeen for the past 8 months. While Covid-19 has meant that we all have to share the burden of stopping the spread of the virus, there’s a cost to our mental health. We decided to check in with Aberdeen folk to see how they are coping at this point. As a result we hopefully learn a little bit more about them along the way.

First up we check in with Colin Farquhar, Head of Cinema at the Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen’s last independent cinema. They have been forced to close again recently because film distribution in the UK has ground to a halt.


Hey Colin. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about how you are currently dealing with life in pandemic Aberdeen. We’ll start off with a simple one…how are you doing right now?

Good…I think. It’s a strange time for everyone and that includes me. I’ve been part-time furloughed since Saturday (7th November 2020) and that will be an adjustment as I hadn’t been before. Quite often we go on holiday at this time of year. I have a feeling of absence about that, as we obviously can’t travel. Generally good, though. I’ve held up fairly well this year. I’m proud of as, like most folk, I can be fragile as well.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I grew up in Whitehills which is a wee fishing village of about a thousand people. It's on the Banffshire coast. Beautiful place, not much to do, but I’m very grateful for the prettiness and people when I go back. I moved to Aberdeen to do Media and Communications at Aberdeen College in 2003 when I was 18. Then after a bit of course juggling did English Lit. at Aberdeen Uni, graduating in 2009. I got a part-time job at the Belmont at the end of 2007.

My folks are mostly fishing and farming stock. Dad worked on boats until he decided it was too hard a life (I can’t disagree). My Mum was a nurse at Ladysbridge, which is a now mostly closed mental health hospital just outside the village. My direct family and much of my extended family, work in social care now.

What made you fall in love with movies?

I guess the first thing that comes to mind is a cupboard in my Mum’s house. It was full of recorded VHSs from my early teens. Stuff that I was still much too young to watch. I’d write the name of the film on the side of the black box in marker pen. It was an attempt to make it more readable — Taxi Driver, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, Deer Hunter. So there was dozens of these tapes at home that I’d watch a lot. Those late night Channel 4 films.

Prior to that I have a lot of fond memories of going to Elgin and Aberdeen to the cinema as a kid to watch films. Big day was the first time we watched two films in the cinema on one day. My wee brother wanted to watch MiB and I was keen on Jurassic Park: The Lost World. I think that Jurassic Park, and I’ll refer to that original film rather than the entire franchise. It had a huge impact on me in terms of what cinema can achieve. I was the right age, it got me into dinosaurs. It’s still the first film I think of when someone talks about the spectacle of cinema or the cinema. It remains one of my favourite films.

What is your favourite part of your working day?

I guess all jobs have their routine to them. Whenever I get to step away from the admin and talk to customers is a bright spot. You end up talking about films and that’s nice. I feel I’ve been able to do that a lot more recently. One upside of COVID on cinema is that we’ve been able to brush away a lot of the cobwebs. We've been able to focus on the real core stuff like my team and the punters. I’ve enjoyed that immensely.

Working in a cinema is also just full of the occasional pinches that you work in a cinema. So when you do something in a projection room when a film is playing and even a wee glance at the light through the window reminds you of the magic…that romantic stuff. We’re lucky enough that you manage to experience that at least once a week.

Without having to deal with the public quite so much, did you have time to develop any new skills…or catch up on some great movies?

I spent a lot of time reading Scot Gov COVID regulation. I’m unsure if that’s a new skill…Usually I’d try and apply downtime to reading but I’ve found concentrating on that more difficult than usual this year.

I did watch quite a lot of films. MUBI had a great run of Bergman stuff through the summer so I saw Cries and Whispers and The Silence and Autumn Sonata and a few others for the first time. I also watched Le Cercle Rouge which I hadn’t seen before. It’s probably the best film I’ve watched all year. It was also great ton catch up on a lot of films. That was until we reopened but work has been pretty full on since then.

I also walked around the city a lot, particularly in early lockdown. In November I moved flat, so did a lot of trekking around the West End and out to Cults and around Hazelhead. I was mostly back in the office from mid-June. From that point on it was pretty much full bore in terms of reopening planning. So it limits what you can apply yourself to. My headspace was always focused on the mechanics of how Belmont would run, operationally anyway.

How has your community helped both you and The Belmont through lockdown?

The response from the community for our fundraising was amazing. I never expected to raise that amount. It was quite overwhelming. I’ve really felt like people rallied round us and that’s from the hardcore membership and audience to folk who used to come but moved away and then the friends and family of the staff. It helped keep me going. I was still working on my own at that point and reading the letters in particular that came in with the donations (lots of people still send cheques instead of donating online) was lovely.

Photo: Chris Sansbury

The latest closure of the Belmont must have felt like a real blow. Tell us about that decision.

It was hard — I think this year has been quite an acute demonstration of how much we mean to people and that makes these decisions really tough. You know how much people will miss you if you close. The reality was every film we had booked for November dropped off the slate. The audience also petered away a little after the PM announced harder restrictions down south so we felt it became the common sense decision to shut.

But, it’s not March. March was, in all honesty, frightening. On this occasion we felt we were making a controlled choice and although finances will remain a worry for some time we know what we have. Thanks to support grants from Screen Scotland and the extension of the furlough scheme we’re in a better place. All being well we’ll reopen early December and then get into the Xmas stuff.

I take it you have a date in your head for the reopening of the cinema, which I’m sure you don’t want to commit to just yet, but what will influence that final decision to open?

Ideally we’re looking at 4th December but I wouldn’t want anyone to take that as verbatim. If lockdown extends down south then that sets as back, as would a lockdown in Scotland. I’m also expecting the UK and Scottish Governments to relax household rules for Xmas. That might yet have a trade off with other restrictions. If there’s one thing we’ve learned this year it’s that everything is subject to change, so you’ve got to be realistic, flexible and patient.

I think this year has been quite an acute demonstration of how much we mean to people and that makes these decisions really tough. You know how much people will miss you if you close.

Who has inspired you recently?

I think everyone to an extent. Seeing people having the will to get on with things and go to work in a year like this has been quite astonishing. I see that in my team, colleagues in Edinburgh and my friends.

My Dad, specifically. I hope he wouldn’t mind me mentioning this but my Dad lost his wife in early in the pandemic to cancer. It was all very quick and sudden. He was due to go back to work when the pandemic was at its peak in mid-April and I told him no one would judge him if he took another week or two off work. He told me that that may be considered selfish and back to work he went. I’ve definitely carried that in my head since. He’s been a star. My brother has also had a kid among all these so that’s been a wee celebration amongst everything. It keeps you going.

Also, with the realisation that it can come across as contrived to point to politicians, particularly current ones, I have a lot of admiration for how Nicola Sturgeon has handled the pandemic. That’s not to say the Scottish Government have done everything perfectly, but being able to get up in front of the country every day for six months and talk them through it is quite a feat. It’s a good example. As someone who manages people it helps a lot.

Do you think you have been changed by the pandemic?

This will be a long answer — I’m not sure. I am someone who is perennially asking myself what I’m good at or what my nature is and this pandemic breeds more of that, so you lose perspective on yourself the same as any other time.

It has made me value more what is close to me; but at the same time I miss travelling. It does teach you can get by on simple pleasures and routine; but the weeks where I just stuck to work and cooking were the weeks I really needed to do something different at the weekend. Ultimately I think we’ve all found out a lot about balance, but we all knew that already really.

One thing definitely — I’ve found I’m far more resilient than I ever thought and for someone who struggled with anxiety through their 20s that has been reassuring. I’m proud of that. Perhaps that’s learning to give up control a little in a situation you can’t possibly. If I carry that out the other side of the pandemic and can apply it to the micro stuff to I think that’s a positive change.

I’ve found I’m far more resilient than I ever thought and for someone who struggled with anxiety through their 20s that has been reassuring. I’m proud of that.

Another realisation is — and I’m unsure this is a change — is just how time passes. It’s just as subjective as everything else and it just siphons away like an elastic blob down a drain if you let it. Books or hill-walks or films or pints in the pub with your pals are the checkpoints that slow it down a little. So, I hope I’ll learn to do stuff I enjoy more and that I’ll remember. Those experiences are wee pauses that slow down time and I think, strangely, lengthen it, at least in memory. If that realization leads me to taking life less seriously, or working less, or procrastinating less then that’ll be a positive change too.


Thank you so much to Colin for his time and frankness. You can follow both him and the Belmont Filmhouse on Twitter. If you would like to support Aberdeen’s local independent cinema on a regular basis, consider getting an annual subscription…it gets you some great benefits too.

We’ll be publishing regular temp checks over the next few weeks…keep in touch on Twitter and Facebook. If you haven't already, check out our interview with Stuart McPhee, manager of Siberia Bar and Hotel.