The fortieth edition of the famed Orkney Folk Festival opens tonight, Thursday – and in triumphant style, with the event smashing all previous ticket records.
For the first time in the event’s four decades, over 8,000 concert tickets have sold for the four-day island festival, representing an uplift in excess of 10% on the previous record – set just last year, when the festival returned to a live event following the pandemic.
One of Scotland’s longest-running folk festivals, the Orkney Folk Festival is set to welcome over 50 acts and over 300 musicians to the festival over the coming weekend. The anniversary line-up sees the much anticipated return of globally renowned Scottish folk pioneers, Capercaillie, taking to the stage tomorrow night, Friday, alongside a local orchestra fronted by the Orkney Schools Instrumental Service.
Musicians and singers from USA, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Wales, England and throughout Scotland will appear alongside scores of home-grown Orcadian artists in venues throughout Stromness and the Orkney mainland.
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. Likewise joining from the USA, Vermont cellist Eric Wright will appear alongside Cape Breton fiddler, Mairi Rankin, in their award-winning duo partnership. Also flying in from from eastern Canada is multi award-wining singer/songwriter, Mo Kenney.
A number of leading Scottish artists will make welcome returns in the festival’s anniversary year – including Elephant Sessions, Breabach and Kinnaris Quintet – whilst a number of Orcadian artists are heading home to join the scores of island-based talent that has provided the backbone of the festival for the last four decades.
Having formed for the festival in 2014, globetrotting quartet Fara return in 2023, this year taking the musical director’s baton for the festival’s annual Gathering concert, acclaimed for putting Orcadian music centre stage in an expansive show with surprise guests. Building upon their 2022 album Energy Islands, Fara will explore Orkney’s abundance of renewable energy resources and the innovation taking place in the county through an international lens, with musical thoughts on green energy and the environment from a host of surprise guests.
One of Scotland’s finest and most acclaimed songwriters, Kris Drever embarks upon a tour celebrating his ‘Best Of’ anthology on home turf, joined by Louis Abbott, Euan Burton and Rachel Lightbody, whilst acclaimed four-piece Gnoss will be premiering new material from their third album, Stretching Skyward.
They join home-grown favourites including Saltfishforty and The Chair in welcoming further visiting musicians including English duo Spiers & Boden – described by The Guardian as “the finest instrumental duo on the traditional scene” – and Norway, Sweden and Shetland virtuosos, The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc. One of the most talked-about English folk acts to emerge in recent years, Katherine Priddy makes her debut appearances at the festival this weekend, so do the widely acclaimed Welsh trio, VRï.
Amongst four days packed full of music, the multi award-winning theatre production, Thunderstruck – concerning the life and legacy of the late bagpiper, Gordon Duncan – will also play two shows at the festival, in Kirkwall and Stenness.
A total of 47 events in 18 venues across the county form the landmark anniversary programme – including concerts, ceilidhs, clubs, workshops and family events. Whilst more than half of all events will take place in the festival’s hometown of Stromness, festival shows will also take place in Birsay, Finstown, Harray, Kirkwall, Orphir, Sanday, Sandwick, St Margaret’s Hope, Stenness and Tankerness. Two long-term supporters of the festival, Highland Park and Swannay Brewery, will also open their visitor centre doors to festival gigs for the first time in the 40th anniversary.
In addition to the festival’s public programme, for the first time in 2023, every primary school on the Orkney mainland has been offered a free performance from artists visiting the festival, whilst musicians will also entertain care home residents over the weekend.
The festival gratefully receives generous support from public bodies and corporate sponsors, from throughout the local and national business communities – without whom the festival could not exist. This year’s principal supporters are Orkney Islands Council, The National Lottery through Creative Scotland, EventScotland and NorthLink Ferries, alongside a plethora of individual event sponsors.
The festival also benefits from many thousands of hours donated by hundreds of volunteers, who give their time freely to bring the world-renowned event together. From the twelve-strong year round management committee, and seven-person board, to those who might work on just one event in their local community hall, each one of the festival’s community team is vital to its long standing, continued and increasing success.
Orkney Folk Festival Producer, Craig Corse said: “As the curtain comes up on the 40th Orkney Folk Festival, it’s fantastic to be welcoming a record number of festival-goers this weekend. After forty years, we are very fortunate to have a loyal festival audience, many of whom make the journey to the isles every year to be part of the festival family. With a few new events this year, we’re excited to be throwing the festival doors open wider than ever before.
“There’s already a great buzz around Stromness with artists, crew and audiences arriving for the weekend ahead, whilst our expanded programme of schools visits is already well underway, ensuring the festival and Orkney’s own folk traditions continue to thrive for the next 40 years and beyond.”
Alan Morrison, Head of Music at Creative Scotland said: “Orkney’s musical heritage is woven into the islands’ unique identity. This is a place where past, present and future – from neolithic stones to renewable energy – sit side by side, accompanied by world-class traditions in fiddle, song and storytelling. For its 40th anniversary, the Orkney Folk Festival presents a line-up of international stars and home-grown heroes that would be the envy of events the world over. However, it’s the talent of the local musicians – the schools, clubs, ceilidhs and community groups – that really captures the distinctive spirit of this festival across the spread of the islands.”
Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “I’m delighted that EventScotland has been able to support the Orkney Folk Festival through our National Funding Programme and that such a momentous landmark for the event is being matched by its record breaking ticket sales. Rich in history and tradition, Orkney is the perfect stage for this celebration of folk music with some iconic Scottish performers being joined by international acts for what is set to be a memorable fortieth edition.”