The first wave of artists set to appear at the 2023 Orkney Folk Festival has just been announced, with 24 acts from around the world revealed for the event’s fortieth anniversary.
Leading artists from the USA, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, England, Wales and throughout Scotland will join home-grown Orcadian musicians – including a number heading home for the festival’s birthday celebrations – over the May 25-28 long weekend.
Making their way from Austin, Texas, the legendary hot jazz and Western swing group Hot Club of Cowtown will appear at the festival on a UK exclusive, ahead of a European tour. Inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in 2004, and seen on Later… with Jools Holland, the trio blends traditional 1930s Western swing with European hot jazz from the same era.
Likewise joining from the USA, Vermont cellist Eric Wright will appear alongside Cape Breton fiddler, Mairi Rankin, in their award-winning duo partnership. The union of Mairi’s fiddle with Eric’s Old Time cello brings together two virtuosic musicians, each with a respect and reverence for their rich traditions, but with a command and creativity that seamlessly blends their styles.
Also from eastern Canada, Mo Kenney is a multi award-winning singer/songwriter renowned not only for their lyrical prowess, but also a seemingly effortless, engaging stage presence. Delivering mid-tempo indie folk-pop with instantly illustrative lyrics, Kenney has scooped numerous accolades over the past decade – including a 2013 SOCAN Songwriting Prize for Sucker, from their debut album, a 2016 JUNO nomination, and countless East Coast Music Awards and Nova Scotia Music Awards.
From much closer to home, a number of leading Scottish artists will make welcome returns in the festival’s anniversary year – including Elephant Sessions, Breabach and Kinnaris Quintet.
Fresh from a sold-out show at Glasgow’s iconic Barrowland Ballroom, marking their first decade together, Highlanders Elephant Sessions combine the very best of trad, funk and electronica in a progressive, dancefloor-filling sound that has captivated audiences around the globe. So too has Breabach, who are securely ranked among Scotland’s most skilled and imaginative contemporary folk acts, uniting deep roots in Highland and Island traditions with the innovative musical ferment of their Glasgow base. Last seen in Orkney in 2019, Kinnaris Quintet’s uplifting, fresh, powerful and outright joyous music melds influences of traditional Scottish and Irish music, bluegrass, old-time, classical, with new compositions, harmonies, energy, and drive across three fiddles, mandolin and guitar.
Described by The Guardian as “the finest instrumental duo on the traditional scene”, Spiers & Boden first rocketed onto the scene in 2001, quickly winning a clutch of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and going on to become one of the best loved duos on the English folk circuit and beyond. John and Jon were also founding members of the pioneering and hugely successful folk big band Bellowhead, whose stellar career increasingly came to dominate their time. After a seven-year pause, the duo reformed in 2021 and are making a very welcome return to the Orkney Folk Festival.
One of the most talked-about English folk acts to emerge in recent years, Katherine Priddy has quickly become one of the most exciting names on the British folk scene. Priddy’s haunting vocals and distinctive finger-picking guitar style have seen her sell out a headline tour, support world class artists including The Chieftains, Loudon Wainwright III, Richard Thompson, John Smith and Vashti Bunyan.
Welsh folk traditions will also feature in the 2023 Orkney Folk Festival programme, with widely acclaimed trio VRï, who have mined the cultural upheaval of past centuries and drawn inspiration from the incredible story of a time when Wales’ traditional music and dance was suppressed by Methodist chapels, and, earlier, its language by the Act of Union. VRï’s music takes hold of the remaining strands of tradition and blends them into a joyous celebration of Welsh identity, sung in the Welsh language.
Known to Orkney audiences for his appearances with legendary Irish group, Four Men and a Dog, multi award-winning accordionist Donal Murphy returns with his trio, Breaking Trad. Fusing Irish music with a fresh and modern twist, Breaking Trad deliver a knock-out combination of high-octane, powerhouse tunes and exquisite vocals, with Donal joined by David Doocey (fiddle) and Mike Galvin (guitar/vocals).
A meeting of three virtuoso fiddlers from different Nordic regions, each steeped in centuries of traditional music, The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc returns to Orkney in 2023. Olav Luksengård Mjelva, Anders Hall and Kevin Henderson hail from Norway, Sweden and Shetland, respectively, and unite to explore each other’s traditions, blending their three distinct flavours into a sound that is ultimately unique, whilst meaningful, intense and invigorating.
Joining Kevin from Shetland, The Peter Wood Shetland Dance Band make a very welcome return to Orkney – for their third Orkney Folk Festival appearances – whilst brothers Ross & Ryan Couper appear at the festival for the first time. Best known as a member of the Peatbog Faeries, Ross was taught fiddle by his mother, Margaret Robertson, and is one of the finest exponents of Shetland’s traditional fiddle playing. His brother, Ryan, meanwhile, was the only person to ever receive lessons from Shetland guitar legend ‘Peerie’ Willie Johnson, and the duo released their debut album together in 2020 to wide acclaim.
In the festival’s fortieth anniversary year, a number of Orcadian artists are set to head home to join the scores of island-based talent that has provided the backbone of the festival for the last four decades.
One of Scotland’s finest and most acclaimed songwriters, Kris Drever will tour with his own band for the first time outside of his work with Lau in 2023, coinciding with the release of an expansive career-spanning compilation album of his work to date. Joined by Louis Abbott, Euan Burton and Rachel Lightbody, Kris is an award-winning guitarist, singer, songwriter and prolific collaborator, and a leading light on the UK roots scene for well over a decade.
Having first got together for the festival in 2014, globetrotting quartet Fara return in 2023, hot on the heels of the release of their third album, Energy Islands, in September 2022. Bursting with brand new self-penned instrumental tracks, and with songs adapted from the words of Orcadian poets, Energy Islands is fuelled by Orkney’s revolutionary role in renewable energy. Fusing the talents of three fine Orcadian fiddlers and vocalists – Jeana Leslie, Catriona Price and Kristan Harvey – Fara are joined by stand-out Highland pianist and newest member Rory Matheson.
Formed by the award-winning Orkney duo of fiddler/mandolinist Graham Rorie and singer-guitarist Aidan Moodie – with Connor Sinclair (flute/whistles) and Craig Baxter (bodhran/stomp) – Glasgow-based quartet, Gnoss combine livewire instrumental sets with richly stirring song arrangement. They return to the festival premiering new material from their forthcoming third album, to be released in summer 2023.
Celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2023, the powerhouse partnership of Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty – aka Saltfishforty – have won a devoted following throughout the UK and beyond, brilliantly transcending the duo format’s conventional confines. Linchpin figures in the currently flourishing revival of Orkney’s traditional music, they unite these deep-rooted sources with an exhilarating breadth of influence and expertise, catalysed by a creative empathy born from decades of friendship.
A very well-known local fiddle player, Erika Shearer grew up surrounded by music, with her parents, Billy and Ingi Jolly, regularly welcoming many Orcadian tradition bearers round to the family home for tunes. Erika releases her hotly-anticipated debut album, Roseness, in 2022, and is joined at the festival by Hazel Wrigley, a richly celebrated Orkney piano player and guitarist. Meanwhile, renowned Orcadian instrumentalists, Jen Austin and Eric Linklater – amongst the isles’ finest traditional musicians, on piano and fiddle, respectively – are also set to make a very welcome return to the festival.
No Orkney Folk Festival would be complete, however, without festival favourites, Orcadian eight-piece The Chair – who formed to fill a gap in the festival programme nearly 20 years ago and have been a firm fixture ever since. Delivering a turbocharged mash-up of folk, blues, rock, dub, klezmer and more, The Chair’s sound bursts with the energy of a heavy rock gig – a rampant ruckus of fiddles, banjos, accordions and drums – yet remains acoustic at heart.
A highlight of the 2014 and 2016 Orkney Folk Festivals, Glasgow button accordionist Paddy Callaghan returns for the festival’s fortieth anniversary with his trio, alongside long-time cohorts Danny Boyle, on flute and whistles, and Adam Brown (RURA, Ímar) on guitar and bodhran. They are joined by fellow Glasgow-based musicians Jenn Butterworth and Laura-Beth Salter, who have spent a number of years jamming an eclectic mix of music from across the globe, particularly the UK, Scandinavia and America, across guitar, mandolin and voice.
Capping the initial round of artists for 2023 are two bright lights in the field of Scots song; Claire Hastings, a former BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year, and Beth Malcolm, who is currently nominated for Scots Singer of the Year at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards. Claire will be appearing with her own band, and running her popular Claire’s Music Club sessions for under-5s, whilst Beth – who last appeared in Orkney alongside her father, Jim Malcolm – will head to Orkney in her duo partnership with guitarist, Heather Cartwright.
With further major names still to be announced in January, next year’s Orkney Folk Festival follows its most successful outing in its 40-year tenure. The 2022 edition – which was the festival’s first live event since 2019, following two successful online editions during the pandemic – broke all previous ticket records, with over 7,400 attendances across the four-day weekend.
Looking ahead to the festival’s anniversary, Orkney Folk Festival Producer, Craig Corse said: “We’re very excited to reveal some of the artists heading to Orkney in just under six months’ time, for what we hope will be a cracker of a 40th birthday party. A festival with an entirely voluntary workforce reaching the big 4-0 is no mean feat, particularly after the last few years, and we’re determined to mark it in style!
“There’s a great mix of artists heading our way, including legendary international first-timer visitors, new acts at the cutting edge of folk crossing into other genres, and favourites from across the last four decades returning to the festival – including some home-grown artists who are now touring the world and heading home for the 40th, who will join with scores of brilliant musicians and singers from Orkney’s own thriving music scene.
“In these continually challenging times, and dark winter nights, I hope that folk will join us in looking ahead to the brighter spring days in Stromness and across the county, and another jam-packed festival weekend – and indeed the next 40 years.”
The fortieth Orkney Folk Festival will take place between May 25-28, 2023. As well as shows taking place in multiple venues throughout the festival’s hometown of Stromness across the weekend, festival concerts are also set to take place across the county, in Birsay, Finstown, Harray, Kirkwall, Orphir, Sanday, Sandwick, St Andrews, St Margaret’s Hope and Stenness.
The festival programme – covering a packed four-days of events – will be published in the coming months, with tickets due to go on sale in March.