From the back yard to the big stage – The story behind Sandfest

Date: 2nd February 2018


Image: Matilida Lironi MacIntyre, credit Gillian Scott.

In March 2007, on the Sunday closest to World Down’s Syndrome Day, Katy Lironi and her husband Douglas MacIntrye held a party in our back garden celebrating three occasions – their eldest daughter Amelia’s 7th Birthday, welcoming their 5 month old baby twins to the world and raising awareness of World Down’s Syndrome Day. Instead of gifts in a house already bursting at the seams with kids’ paraphernalia, they asked guests to contribute to their favourite charity – Down’s Syndrome Scotland. Their middle daughter Matilda, who has Down’s syndrome, was 3 at the time. This seemed like the perfect excuse to combine their love of music and the desire to raise money and awareness….not to mention bring music to the rural community that they wereliving in.

The sun shone and March winds stayed under control as their friends lugged amps, speakers and musical instruments onto the makeshift stage at the bottom of the garden.  Douglas took to the stage with a little bit of help from his friends, Ken and David McCluskey of the Bluebells, and musicians Andy Alston and Mick Slaven, to entertain a garden-full of family and friends.

Everyone danced, money was raised, and the sun continued to shine as Ken McCluskey climbed atop the garden hut in the fading afternoon sunlight to sing “Young at Heart”; a whole village singing along with him. He finished with the announcement, “Thanks for coming everyone, see you at Sandfest next year!” And so Sandfest was born ….

Every year thereafter Sandfest has been raising money for Down’s Syndrome Scotland and entertaining locals in its regular venue of Sandford Village Hall.  The original line up of Douglas, Mick, Andy and The McCluskey Brothers was added to by James Grant (Love and Money), Grahame Skinner (Hipsway) and  Justin Currie (Del Amitri) on vocals, with musicians Campbell Owen (Aztec Camera) and Gordon Wilson (Love & Money) joining in to form the now legendary Sandford City Rockers. Sandfest swiftly transmogrified into a heaving, sweaty, mosh pit kind of legendary happening, where far too many 80’s-pop- loving- adults squeezed into one tiny village hall and sang and danced the night away to their favourite popsters.

It is with huge pleasure that Katy and Douglas join together with Down’s Syndrome Scotland this year to bring Sandfest 2018 to the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. The line- up remains the same, with the welcome addition of Katy’s sister-in-law Clare Grogan and an all-female Altered Images. We look forward to raising awareness of Down’s syndrome among a music loving audience. They will also be entertained by Choir 21, a group of singers with Down’s syndrome from The Ups and Downs Theatre Group, who will open the concert.

The back garden party all those years ago raised £600 that was split between Down’s Syndrome Scotland and the neonatal unit at Wishaw General Hospital where Matilda was born. Over the years Sandfest has consistently raised around £3,000.

Sandfest 2018 will herald Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week 2018 and raise much needed funds for Down’s Syndrome Scotland in the year that they host the World Downs Syndrome Congress, in Glasgow in July.  If we can raise as much as possible while transposing the village hall vibe to the concert hall stage, our job will be done.

You can book your tickets for Sandfest 2018 through the Glasgow Concert Hall website by visiting or giving them a call on 0141 353 8000.