Festival Blog

2019/3 – Ferries, planes, automobiles and early arrivals

Last night’s Orkney Folk Festival pre-party – brought to you by a Highlands and Islands Airports industrial dispute – actually kicked off in Shetland, somewhere around 5pm, when around a dozen of those other islanders, who’d planned to fly today, boarded the good ship Hjaltland in Lerwick and headed immediately for the bar, where they remained ensconced for the six-hour sailing to Kirkwall.

Knowing that even the fast car waiting at Hatston would only get them to bar in Stromness within an hour of last orders – and, let’s face it, being Shetlanders – they’d not only booked the taxi but adapted some kind of bijou flight-case into a mobile drinks cabinet for the journey, containing four bottles of prosecco, plastic glasses and Nurofen. Rumours of their falling from the vehicle upon delivery at the Stromness Hotel have been grossly exaggerated, we’re sure of it.

Among the Shetland delegation, the Peter Wood Dance Band of that parish were nonetheless sufficiently bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning to get a horde of Stromness Primary schoolkids delightedly strutting their stuff in a three-ring Circassian Circle. (Though it may be that bassist Arthur Nicolson was secretly grateful for...

2019/2 – T-Minus 1

As the last pre-festival day ticks down towards tomorrow’s half-dozen opening concerts – featuring 22 different acts, and following four morning schools visits – one of the last quotable comments from our committee source, gleaned last night, was, “I wish we still had another week – or at least that it was still only midday today. . .” This was, however, swiftly and emphatically followed by, “But it’ll all be grand.”

The commonest questions amongst those of us still Stromness-bound, meanwhile, concern the new Festival Club: what’s it like/what’s the sketch/what’s happening?

Firstly – to scotch any contrary rumours – there has been no falling-out whatsoever between the club’s former home, the Stromness Hotel, and the folk festival. The transformation of Stromness Community Centre into a stylish late-night cabaret joint is a mutually happy solution to the hotel’s struggles in recent years to feed all its hungry customers, amidst not only twice-daily club concerts, but thrice-daily/continuous sessions in the main bar (for which the carry-on will be as usual).

Squeezing in proper scran in amongst all the music can be acutely at a premium during this festival, so the hotel’s redeployment of the...

2019/1 – Advance Preparations

It’s the start of festival week, and – as hundreds of musicians and music-lovers prepare to set course for Stromness, from most other points of the compass – the final countdown has begun for your dozen-strong, all-volunteer organising committee. Their last full pre-festival meeting takes place tonight – an occasion matter-of-factly summed up by one member as “usually a mix of exasperation, hilarity and despair” – before they’re all off and running, firmly in top gear, to get this show on the road. The big PA truck arrives off the Aberdeen boat tomorrow night, and then it’s truly all systems go. 

Having bade farewell to their day-jobs for the duration, the committee will then be jointly, severally and actively responsible for four very full festival days and nights, comprising no fewer (and arguably more) than 45 individual events, featuring over 50 acts, across an Orkney-wide scattering of 19 different venues. Just to encourage the odd spare thought as you relish your weekend’s revelry, the range of tasks they’ll be overseeing or directly carrying out includes, but most certainly isn’t limited to, the following lengthy list:

  • Multiple daily pickups/greetings/drop-offs at both airport and...

2018/5- Sunday’s Celebrations

It told its own tale on Sunday, in Stromness, that all of the town’s ATMs had been completely emptied of cash, even after apparently capping withdrawals before they were wholly bled dry. Not that this foiled one enterprising gentleman in the Co-op around 8pm, who was evidently planning a thoroughly exhaustive last hurrah, as he paid separately by card for two packs of sandwiches, requesting the maximum £50 cashback with each purchase. On the small-mercies front, at least he bought something to line his stomach with beforehand – and the empty cash-machines point to Stromness’s businesses, as well as the festival itself, having had a highly successful weekend.

The last hurrah certainly proved suitably riotous at the Town Hall’s Farewell Concert, abetted in no small part by the participating artists’ discovering a cache of daft wigs backstage, which led to several of them appearing as you’ve never seen them before (and may well never again) – and seemingly to Hamish Napier, from Duncan Chisholm’s line-up, channelling a likewise previously unseen hillbilly/redneck alter ego, delivering a drawled stream of ribaldry so outlandishly off-colour as to make even the least maidenly listener blush.