2018/3 – Going the extra mile

Yesterday afternoon’s Orkney Tipple concert at Quoyloo, featuring that inimitable musical chronicler Findlay Napier, wasn’t actually intended as proof that the Folk Festival can organise a knees-up in a brewery, but seemingly some audience members’ levels of merriment – even allowing for Findlay’s frequently side-splitting material – suggested they’d interpreted it as such, and were taking full advantage of the local craft brews on offer. Having contended with their rising volume of ribaldry during the show, however, Findlay was ultimately the winner when one of this bibulous number, spoilt for choice between the various CDs and songbooks on sale, decided he’d just take the lot, departing the premises some £70 lighter.

As you may know, Findlay’s younger brother Hamish is also a highly-regarded musician, who arrived at the festival yesterday as part of fiddler Duncan Chisholm’s band. Given that both now live in Glasgow, this fraternal reunion was hardly a major occasion, but coming to Orkney has given both the chance to reconnect with Gavin Cullen, treasurer and general linchpin of the current Folk Festival Committee – and also a member of the original such board, who founded the event 36 years ago. Between these periods of service, Gavin lived for some years in Grantown-on-Spey, the Napiers’ home town, where he first knew them both as their high-school rugby teacher. Hopefully he’s impressed by the fine upstanding citizens they’ve grown up to be. . .

Hamish, meanwhile, was mightily impressed by the above-and-beyond customer service he encountered when buying his first round of drinks last night, in the Stromness Hotel bar. Having spent all his cash whiling away a 2½-hour delay at Glasgow airport (along with the rest of Chisholm’s entourage, and sundry others en route to Orkney), he went to pay by card once the pints were lined up – only to learn they’re not taking cards just now. “No problem,” said the barman, “I’ll lend you a tenner – just give it me back whenever.” Besides being inordinately accommodating, it also puts a very Orkney twist on the classic Pogues line: lend me ten pounds and I’ll buy me a drink.

During Chisholm’s utterly blissful performance at Stromness Town Hall last night (after a similarly spine-tingling set from The Once: major goosebumps all round), he introduced a tune written for the birth of his now nine-year-old son, Isaac, by relaying a recent conversation around the family breakfast table. Also involving Isaac’s six-year-old brother Archie, the talk had turned to marriage, and both boys were asked who they planned to espouse. While Archie readily nominated a Primary 1 schoolmate, Isaac declared he wasn’t going to marry anybody – whereupon his younger sibling (clearly having learned from some of his father’s friends’ experience) worriedly replied: “But you have to marry someone, Isaac – otherwise you’ll be homeless.”

There have been some notable numbers coming up in the all-important raffles that punctuate every concert, providing one of the festival’s bedrock income streams. When last night’s Town Hall draw produced ticket number 619, for instance, MC Kevin Macleod observed that it handily read correctly whichever way up he held it – though he’d wisely foreborne to turn the previous number, 999, upside down, thus avoiding any awkward apocalyptic allusions. The previous night at Stenness, though, compère Éamonn Coyne was a distinctly spooked when 549 was drawn not once, not twice, but three successive times, on differently coloured tickets.

Exhaustive research, however (aka a swift Google), suggests that 549 carries no particular significance, ominous or otherwise – unless you believe in angel numbers, in which case one source asserts that it “indicates you have been receiving intuitive and angelic guidance about your true life purpose,” and “you have all the skills and talents you need to fulfil your lightworking mission.” Elsewhere, though, it’s claimed to be “a sign that you need to begin living a life of example to others and not only to yourself. Do not hide away doing evil and unworthy things, then come and pretend in front of people how perfect you are.” Take that as you will, Éamonn. (We’d recommend a bucketload of salt.)

You definitely know that the Folk Festival’s in full swing when you finally exit the Stromness Hotel well in to the wee hours, as the dawn begins to break, to be greeted in the porch by a posse of visiting musicians scarfing down a locally-sourced picnic of Orkney cheese, charcuterie and oatcakes. A canny way to avert any pains the morning after, you might think – if only it weren’t being washed down with swigs of Scapa.