Festival Blog

2019/7 – Thank you, and goodnight…

By all accounts, Sunday’s second Between Islandsconcert, carrying the theme into Orkney Folk Festival’s ever-evolving and justly celebrated annual showcase, The Gathering, was just as much as a triumph as Saturday’s, if not even more so. Extending the inter-island connections beyond Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides and across the Atlantic, Cape Breton quartet Còig were especially thrilled to take part, with fiddler Chrissy Crowley still wowed by the experience hours later. Not only was she overjoyed to be sharing a stage with Douglas Montgomery, one of her longtime heroes, but had then looked up and spotted a whole bunch of others – including Lau and Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes– among those loving the band’s set. She’d been having a ball already, but that totally made her weekend.

Also talking of Lau, while there were numerous highlights during Sunday’s Farewell Concert at the Town Hall, foremost among them for many was the trio’s wholly stripped-back acoustic set. It was a rare outing in this form for them these days, given the far-out scope and multi-dimensionality of their sonic adventuring, but exquisitely executed, and a beautifully judged counterpoint to Saturday’s magisterially mind-blowing set in...

2019/6 – Compliments and community aplenty

We’ve definitely been missing our customary beautiful Orkney Folk Festival weather, with this prevailing rainy greyness showing the more contrary side to springtime in Scotland, testing revellers’ mettle even as it’s been welcomed by the farmers. Though at least yesterday’s relative climatic clemency saw a few brave souls playing tunes and quaffing outside, while the weekend’s first Open Stage session stayed dry – and at least the resumed chilly drizzle might somewhat have diluted today’s traditional alfresco carnage around the watering-holes of Stromness.

Given the pace of imbibing that’s already predominated all weekend, it was good to see those all-important local contacts and goodwill in play again this morning, when someone working overtime at Bank of Scotland messaged the festival’s Facebook page to say they’d refilled their Stromness cashpoint.

Amid today’s miserable weather, the volunteers staffing Orkney Amateur Swimming Club’s fundraising stall on the pier head, selling homemade soup, sandwiches, cakes and hot drinks, were definitely stiffening upper lips for the cause. Their spirits were boosted around lunchtime, though, thanks to a festival catering cock-up – ie no backstage provisions had been organised for The Gathering – hence a somewhat flurried committee...

2019/5 – Sessions and Islanders

It’s getting to that stage of the game where day and night start blurring perilously into one another – partly thanks to seeing concerts at all hours of the afternoon and evening; partly to after-hours tunes continuing well into the morning, followed by going to bed in daylight.

Even before a note of music was played at this afternoon’s Between Islands concert at Stromness Town Hall, compère Kenny Ritch had the audience wholly in the palm of his hand, with a superb opening display of prime Orkney humour. His ‘housekeeping’ announcements included the usual confirmation that no fire-drills were planned – “Because we’d be a pretty rubbish committee if we’d planned one in the middle of a concert” – and an effusive big-up for the extra toilets commandeered to cope with interval demand.

It’s come to something when a hard-working local compère finds himself being heckled by a fellow Orcadian act, but as Kenny moved on to introducing the Between Islands project – initiated by An Lanntair arts centre in Lewis, and here featuring stellar Uist singers Julie Fowlis and Kathleen Macinnes – the shouting began from beside the stage: “Do it in...

2019/4 – The Club and Compères

After a swift post-gig pint last night, it was hard to tear oneself away from a Stromness Hotel session featuring members of Kinnaris Quintet and The Poozies, but there was in fact only one place to be: the brand-new Festival Club, in the all-but unrecognisable main games hall of Stromness Community Centre. 

(The Kinnaris/Poozies merger, incidentally, was anticipated by both bands when they shared the same boat over on Thursday, though they still seemed torn at that point whether to name themselves The Kinnoozies or Poonaris.) 

Along at the club, though, the place was positively abuzz with people marvelling at its transformation, and agreeing that the whole expanded set-up worked a treat, from ambience to core practicalities. Table service from the bar was efficient and unobtrusive – to the point where thirsty performers onstage were getting envious – and the new, specially blended Orkney Foy gin was clearly a big hit. 

Talking of gin aficionados, the club’s ever-dapper regular compère, Mr Kevin Macleod, had even gone to extra grooming lengths for the occasion, adding a particularly impressive horizontal twirl to the ends of his tasteful facial topiary. This apparently follows his discovery of...