Festival Blog – Day 4 – Saturday night in full glory

For bookers and bands alike, there can be efficiencies gained when one musician features in two line-ups – but there can also be pitfalls, as was the case today for one such dual member of Gnoss and Trip, who respectively played this afternoon’s Sunday Supplement, at Stromness Town Hall, and the Sunday Best show in Finstown. Following some last-minute running-order adjustment, after organisers realised they’d scheduled our man to be in both places at once, this has resulted in a decidedly gruelling day’s double duty, starting with an early Town Hall soundcheck, followed by soundcheck and gig at Finstown, then a fast cab back to play the actual Stromness gig – before twin repeat performances for both Farewell Concerts tonight. Which would have been a seriously tough timetable even had he not spent the previous afternoon/evening wholeheartedly embracing the festival, after playing The Gathering: Generations show, taking in a full round of the sessions before heading Academy-wards for The Stomp.

Come this morning at the Town Hall, he was thus experiencing that Sunday feeling in full measure, sitting mostly with head in hands while the sound crew and his colleagues did their stuff. Hence the engineer querying, as they finished setting up, “Have you got everything you need onstage? Or do you want another mike-stand to prop him up?” On top of enduring plenty such merciless mockery, our poor(ly) Sunday sufferer must also devoutly have been wishing he played anything but bodhran. . .

Commiseration was also offered yesterday to a Stromness Hotel chambermaid, during a brief chat in the corridor with one of the festival team – but turned out to be somewhat redundant. Contrary to the assumption of a non-stop mad busy weekend, in fact it’s seemingly quite a chilled one for the domestic staff. “No, your lot are lovely,” she s demurred. “None of them ever want their rooms cleaned, and they’re often in bed all day. A lot of the time we’re just leaving more milk and loo-roll outside people’s doors.”

Among its array of surprise special guests, the aforementioned Gathering gig was graced by none other than Dougie MacLean, who sang ‘Caledonia’ with the full massed ranks of Hadhirgaan. Like many have been before him, MacLean was totally gobsmacked by Orkney’s plenitude of young talent, and positively gushing in his praise of the pre-eminent mentor behind it, the “amazing” Douglas Montgomery.

Despite his own singular eminence, MacLean apparently isn’t above a spot of bargain-hunting, having yesterday been sighted in Stromness’s Red Cross charity shop, buying a jacket he liked so much he put it on to wear straight away. Graciously, he also took the time to pose for a photo and video with the volunteer staff, and will thus be adorning the shop wall long after he’s departed the islands.

Last night’s 7.15 service bus to Kirkwall was a rather livelier than usual affair, transporting a good few souls who’d clearly been around the sessions all afternoon, partying not wisely but too well. One gentleman wasn’t even sure he’d got on the right route home, but opted to address the question philosophically – “As long as you’re on a bus that’s going somewhere, that’s the main thing” – before loudly regaling fellow passengers with Kenny Rogers’ classic, ‘Coward of the County’. As others joined in, the singing took a more spiritual – but decidedly uncelestial – turn, with raucously bellowed renditions of ‘I’ll Fly Away’, Down To the River To Pray’ and ‘Rivers of Babylon’, all by the time we reached Finstown. Despite the force of numbers, let’s just say that the Orkney Folk Festival Choir, performing tonight at the Academy after this morning’s rehearsal workshop, has nothing to worry about from this quarter.

Besides serving up another feast of magical music, from Lyra, The Once, Findlay Napier and Le Vent du Nord, the evening in Finstown incidentally highlighted the ever more mind-boggling wonders of modern technology, with one of the Québécois FaceTiming his kids back home from the car-park at half-time, and Findlay Napier lending them his Bluetooth card-reader gizmo afterwards, for merchandise sales – even if it did require going back out to middle of the the car-park to coax one final payment through.

The aforementioned Stomp, meanwhile, featuring Ímar and The Chair, climaxed with the now-customary – where the latter local heroes are concerned – mayhem and euphoria, complete with 30-odd revellers invading the stage, as both bands joined forces on The Chair’s traditional show-closer, ‘Highway to Hell’. Somewhat miraculously, all musicians, audience members, instruments and electrical equipment made it through unscathed.

Situated as they are where most of their audience arrives, at Stromness’s ferry terminal, the good folk in the festival office could hardly be less perturbable in the face of unlikely questions. Even their forbearance was tested yesterday afternoon, however, by a gentleman wandering in long after the Hamnavoe had sailed, and the travel-centre had been locked up. After sailing in on his yacht, and availing himself of the building’s shower facilities, he was now looking ahead to his evening entertainment, hence his enquiry (directed at two people decked out in Folk Festival T-shirts and badges, in a room plastered with Folk Festival posters) as to where he might watch last night’s Champion’s League final.

Strangely enough, our colleagues were unable to help, beyond suggesting maybe the Flattie or the Ferry Inn, while pointing out that viewing conditions would likely be less than optimal. In the face of his obdurate insistence that there must be somewhere he could see the match in peace, eventually this particular visitor was told – with perhaps just a soupçon of asperity – “I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong office to ask about football.” Never mind office: this particular weekend, we’d say he’d come to the wrong town.