Musician and designer rescue hotel to be in tune with clientele

Gordon Arms. Yarrow Valley.
Gordon Arms. Yarrow Valley.

TWO Borders businessmen are hoping that live music will help revive the fortunes of a historic hostelry that closed two years ago.

TheSouthern can reveal that Bonchester interior designer Malcolm McEwan has teamed up with Melrose recording studio owner Tommy Roseburgh to acquire the Gordon Arms Hotel, 10 miles up the Yarrow valley from Selkirk.

Shankend mac.

Shankend mac.

“The premises was subject of a bank repossession and we finally sealed the deal to buy it at the weekend,” said Mr McEwan, a well-known folk entertainer whose stage name is Shankend Mac.

Built more than 200 years ago as a coaching inn, the Gordon Arms near St Mary’s Loch was in its heyday a regular haunt of the local literati, including Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd. Others known to have visited are Robert Burns and even, in 1814, William Wordsworth.

But despite the emergence of Innerleithen, just seven miles away over the B709, as a major mountainbiking centre, the previous owners were unable to make a financial success of the business.

A chance meeting between Mr McEwan and Mr Roseburgh, who runs Big Sky Studios at Tweedbank, led to the acquisition.

“Tommy was looking to relocate his studio and asked me to take a look at the Gordon Arms to check it out structurally and give an indication of what work was required,” said Mr McEwan.

“Although it’s two years since the last owners upped sticks, it was akin to visiting the Marie Celeste and the place was in relatively good order. The great thing about the Gordon Arms is that it has changed little over two centuries and you still get a real sense of its artistic heritage.”

Suitably impressed, Mr McEwan and Mr Roseburgh, after consulting with respective partners Sharon and Susan, resolved to form a partnership to buy the hotel and Mr Roseburgh plans to relocate his recording studio in an outbuilding there in the coming weeks.

Mr McEwan will take the reins of the hotel and bar side of the business.

“I do know the pub trade,” he told us. “My family ran the Newport Hotel in Fife and had a pub in Dundee for three years, while one of my early jobs was with a brewery chain.”

But it is the experience of the two men in the music business which, Mr McEwan believes, will be pivotal in the success of the Gordon Arms.

Mr McEwan was one of the founding fathers of the Both Sides of the Tweed music festival and, for six years, was chairman of the Newcastleton Traditional Music Festival. More recently, he has been involved in organising the Borders-wide The Land, The Light, The Locals traditional music festival as well as continuing to perform.

Mr Roseburgh is an accomplished musician who plays keyboards with top Borders folk band Real Time, soon to embark on a European tour, and he has specialised in recording traditional music acts at Tweedbank.

“It’s all about synergy,” said Mr McEwan. “Tommy will be able to offer musicians using the studio accommodation at the hotel which has a 60-capacity dining room at the back. That’s where we are hoping to get these guest musicians, as well as established local acts, to give performances.

“There is a real renaissance in traditional music, reflected by television shows like the Transatlantic Sessions, fuelled locally by successful festivals and a wealth of talented singer/songwriters like Kieran Halpin and Ian Bruce, and typified in the Borders by several initiatives, such as the Merlin Music Tranditional Music Academy and the Riddell Fiddles, which are aimed at nurturing young talent.

“Tommy and I believe the Gordon Arms can tap into that movement and become a centre for live music sessions at a time when the pub trade generally is struggling.”

Mr McEwan said that, subject to planning and licensing issues being resolved, he expected the Gordon Arms to be fully open for business by June.