Last dance at Perthshire’s home of rock?
When DavidMundell took over the Bein Inn he transformed it from a fading country hotel to a legendary music venue. So does his departure mark the end of an era? By LorraineWilson
It’s easy to miss David Mundell sitting by the roaring log fire of the Famous Bein Inn. For one thing, Texan singer-songwriter Eric Taylor has just walked past. Mundell is such an intrinsic part of the place, there’s an expectation that he’ll always be here. But today is different. Today he’s sitting down rather than charging around, ready to talk about his decision to sell the inn, a little gem of a music venue at Glenfarg, six miles south-east of Perth.
Driving past the 19th-century country inn, most people would see it as nothing more than a fine place to stop off for lunch – certainly not the only Scottish venue that Big Brother and the Holding Company has ever played.
It will come as no surprise to music fans that, in the days after the sale was announced, Mundell received countless calls of support and emotional appeals to reconsider. As he talks about this summer’s decision to sell, it’s apparent that the reaction has prompted second thoughts. Talking through that decision, however (and the long days that see him running not only the music venue but a hotel with 11 bedrooms) reinforces the impression that he believes he has taken the Famous Bein Inn as far as he can.
The concert venue holds amaximum of 60 people. It’s beloved of musicians who can play in front of a musically literate audience who, on the whole, have made a considerable effort to come and see them. Fans, for their part, relish the opportunity to see musical heroes close enough to count the open pores.
Yet a music venue was never the intention. Mundell bought the Bein Inn in 1999 following a career in large hotels, with a plan to run a country pub and hotel. “It had a wonderful reputation,” he says. “Like most country inns, it was mobbed at weekends during the 1950s and 1960s when drink-driving was the norm; but as that culture changed, hotels like this were pretty much down on their luck. When I first had a look, the Bein Inn still had a good name for food and I thought, well, the only way it can go is up.”
Led to believe that there was a busy shooting, f ishing and golfing market, Mundell spent the f irst two months with his head in his hands, wondering where this clientele was. “I really didn’t know what I was going to do. Then, thinking back to my time in big hotels, I remembered that getting famous people through the door leads to getting written about. I thought, ‘How can I do that?’ and that was the start of the music.”
The first band to play the Bein Inn was The Blues Band, in December 1999. “I knew [guitarist and singer] Dave Kelly fairly well, so I simply asked,” says Mundell. “It went well, so I thought, ‘Well, maybe I could do one gig a month.’ Soon after that we were offered the chance to present Mark Flanagan, Jools Holland’s guitar player.” TheInn’s reputation was cemented when Curtis Stigers became the fourth artist to perform. It came about thanks to Mundell’s burgeoning contacts and, well, cheek. “I was talking to an agent about another artist and he said he had to rush off as he was organising a tour for Curtis Stigers. The agent l aughed when I suggested he play the Bein Inn, saying he’d want something like £4000. I said I’d offer him £ 1000. About 10 minutes later, the agent came back on and said, ‘It’s your lucky day, he’ll do it.’”
Radio Scotland also did a live broadcast around that time and took an interest in the basement Rock Bar. Even the most grizzled of rockers are impressed by the memorabilia that decorate the hotel’s
HEARTBREAK HOTEL: David Mundell has established the Bein Inn as a highly successful music venue, but is now reluctantly selling up