Curtain Up!

The 33rd Orkney Folk Festival kicks off today, signalling the start of four days of concerts, ceilidhs, clubs, sessions, workshops, talks and more throughout the county.

Ticket sales have already surpassed the highest totals for any previous year – held jointly by the 30th anniversary weekend, in 2012, and 2014 – with well over 6,000 sold. Box office revenue figures have also been smashed, with this weekend’s advance sales a full ten per cent higher than the previous record. The festival board anticipate that, after the event, that figure will rise to an increase of around 12 to 13 per cent in all.

Of the 32 events on offer, between tonight and Sunday, 20 have already sold out – again, the highest number of advance sell outs ever, in the event’s 33 year history.

The festival board – headed up by artistic director, Bob Gibbon, and chairperson, Elaine Grieve – attribute these sales to a combination of the visiting line-up of artists, nationwide coverage on BBC Radio2’s The Folk Show in May 2014 – whose production team, and presenter, Mark Radcliffe, visited last year’s event – and an ever-growing profile surrounding the event.

This year’s visiting line-up boasts world-renowned Irish accordionist, Sharon Shannon, rising stars of the UK country scene, Ward Thomas, Mercury nominated, English singer/songwriter Seth Lakeman, Virginian livewires The Hot Seats, and, from Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada, Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys – to name just a few of the seventeen inbound acts.

They will welcomed – and outnumbered – by Orkney’s thriving local folk scene, which includes nationwide festival showstoppers, The Chair; the internationally renowned fiddle and guitar pairing of Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley; Celtic Connections award winners, Gnoss; stalwarts and festival favourites, Hullion; and the female five-piece, Fara, who will appear at the Cambridge Folk Festival later this summer.

In all, some 55 acts will grace one of the festivals many stages over the coming weekend.

Tonight’s first handful of gigs will be taking place in Stromness, Deerness, Sandwick, Orphir and Westray. Over the next four days, two thirds of all events will take place in the festival’s home town of Stromness, with others rotating amongst Orkney’s other parishes and outer islands. On Friday, the festival will visit Birsay, St Andrews and Sanday, followed by Kirkwall, Harray and Holm on Saturday, and Quoyloo, at the Orkney Brewery, on Sunday afternoon.

Standout events include a tribute to the late Garson Trio, a much loved local dance band; the premier of Louise Bichan’s Out of My Own Light, a suite of music inspired by both her and her grandmother’s transatlantic travels, some 53 years apart; and a reprise performance of Orkney Folk: The Fiddle Gathering, a 20-strong showcase of Orkney’s distinctive fiddling style, featuring veteran tradition-bearers to rising teenage prodigies, originally curated for the Scots Fiddle Festival, in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall.

In partnership with Orkney Food & Drink, the festival will also offer a showcase of Orkney’s famed food and drink produce on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Thanks to extra funding support, as part of Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink 2015, the Orkney Aisles showcase will open up Orkney’s larder to festival goers, for both takeaway and take-home food – alongside live music – offering the best of what the county has to offer on one plate.

Artistic director, Bob Gibbon said: “With the Radio 2 team here last year, and the full hour-long programme given exclusively to the festival the week after, we anticipated that we might see a spike in interest this year, but ticket sales – and with walk-ups still to come – have exceeded even our wildest goals. Here’s to another cracking weekend – we’ll see you on the other side!”

Chairperson of the Orkney Folk Festival board, Elaine Grieve added: “The entire Orkney Folk Festival workforce, year-round and in the run-up, is made up of volunteers – so to have continued and sustained interest in the event, will into our fourth decade, is really rewarding for everyone. To well and truly smash all box office records, to this extent, is unbelievable – and just encourages everyone, on and off stage, to give it everything. We can’t wait to welcome everyone here.”

The Orkney Folk Festival gratefully acknowledges the invaluable support of Orkney Islands Council, Creative Scotland, EventScotland, NorthLink Ferries, EIS and the Pier Arts Centre, alongside their many corporate and event sponsors.