Hi aye! Long time no see…

A new year, the party season’s now a distant memory, and it’s still a few months until the lighter evenings. Fortunately, we have the promise of four days of festival fun to take your mind off the winter, in the form of the 32nd Orkney Folk Festival. It’s great to be back. Are you ready? Let’s begin…

With 2014 being Scotland’s Year of Homecoming, this year’s programme looks at a few of the connections that we share with our musical neighbours, near and…well, not so. In all, some eight countries and four continents will be represented at this year’s festival!

Flying in from New England, on North America’s east coast, singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan is returning to the festival, having visited in 2008 with the acclaimed bluegrass outfit Crooked Still. Also crossing the Atlantic, we have not one, or even two, but three Canadian acts joining us – Madison Violet, The Beaton Sisters Band, and Qristina and Quinn Bachand – each bringing a different flavour of a country close to many Orcadians’ hearts and ears.

Closer to home, but not quite there yet, the Irish powerhouse that is Dervish will be appearing in Orkney for the first time this year, whilst the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2013, Paddy Callaghan will also bring a touch of the Irish tradition to the festival with his trio.

Bringing an almighty dose of Gaelic to proceedings, Mànran will also make their debut Orkney appearance this year, whilst fellow Highlanders Mairearad and Anna are making a very welcome return to the festival. So too are the mould-breaking creators of Hypnofolkadelia, Shooglenifty featuring none other than Orcadian expat Garry Finlayson – whilst Scandinavian folk-fusionists SVER  are newcomers to the bill, as are Family Atlantica, who present an amalgamation of Venezuelan and Ghanian cultures.

Returning to Scotland, one of the country’s most distinctive Scots voices, Mick West will be appearing this year, ensuring that festival-goers’ voices are on fine fettle over the weekend. Traditional dancers are also well catered for, with both the Pentlands Ceilidh Band and Matthew Maclennan’s Dance Band ready to guide you around the dancefloor. Scotland’s most promising youth talent will also be on show over the weekend, with the acclaimed Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail returning to the county, following their successful summer tour in 2013, featuring Orcadian student Eric Linklater.

Then we have the slight matter of Orkney’s homegrown talent, many of whom could be found on any leading stage worldwide, yet part of the festival’s charm is allowing you to discover acts who are as, if not more, at home having tunes by the fire. At the moment we have confirmations from just a handful – by the time May comes round there will be in the region of 40 local acts taking to the stage.

The world-renowned Wrigley Sisters are set to return to the festival, as are festival veterans (and favourites) Hullion. Eight-piece juggernaut The Chair will be back, as will popular fiddle and guitar duo Fiona Driver and Graham Simpson. Yet another famed Orkney pairing, Saltfishforty will once again appear, hot on the heels of their live CD release, whilst the youth groups are also in fine numbers, in the shape of Broken Strings and No Soond.

Kris Drever will return to his home festival this year, fronting his Peedie Gatherin’, whilst the unprecedented success story that is Orkney Folk: The Gathering will take on a slightly new form this year – more on those two in a peedie while.

And there we have it, one festival. Well, almost. Just a few months of planning and scratching our heads with trying to fit it all in to four days first, but leave that to us, and we’ll see you in May.