Festival Blog – Day 5 (Monday) – Sunday’s Celebrations

It told its own tale on Sunday, in Stromness, that all of the town’s ATMs had been completely emptied of cash, even after apparently capping withdrawals before they were wholly bled dry. Not that this foiled one enterprising gentleman in the Co-op around 8pm, who was evidently planning a thoroughly exhaustive last hurrah, as he paid separately by card for two packs of sandwiches, requesting the maximum £50 cashback with each purchase. On the small-mercies front, at least he bought something to line his stomach with beforehand – and the empty cash-machines point to Stromness’s businesses, as well as the festival itself, having had a highly successful weekend.

The last hurrah certainly proved suitably riotous at the Town Hall’s Farewell Concert, abetted in no small part by the participating artists’ discovering a cache of daft wigs backstage, which led to several of them appearing as you’ve never seen them before (and may well never again) – and seemingly to Hamish Napier, from Duncan Chisholm’s line-up, channelling a likewise previously unseen hillbilly/redneck alter ego, delivering a drawled stream of ribaldry so outlandishly off-colour as to make even the least maidenly listener blush.

Providing more fun and games was the evening’s incorrigibly mischievous compère, Kevin Macleod, not least when he covertly tampered with the customary top raffle prize, a boxed bottle of Highland Park – and then proceeded deliberately to drop it, prompting the entire sellout audience to gasp as one in dismay. This sentiment was briefly redoubled for the box’s eventual recipient, upon discovering it contained nothing but an empty beer-bottle – before their actual water-of-life winnings were safely handed over.

The show’s all-guns big-stramash finale, too, was appropriately memorable, with the climactic number somehow being switched from the planned cover of John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’ to a rumbustious massed rendition of Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’, led by MC Macleod belting it out at the front, backed up with gleeful big licks from The Once’s electric guitarist.

There was also a surprise in store earlier on in the show for Chisholm’s fellow fiddler Patsy Reid, whose birthday it was on Sunday. After some crafty advance plotting by her colleagues, under the guise of introducing one of the set’s regular numbers, the band led the whole hall in a resounding chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ – the third time she’d been sung to that day, apparently.

Contributing further to her extra-special Orkney celebrations was Chisholm’s eventual success, after repeated appeals from the stage at each of his gigs, in finding someone willing to take them out in a boat on Sunday afternoon – an excursion which by all accounts couldn’t have been more idyllic, amid the most perfectly balmy weather of a consistently sunny weekend, complete with lavish picnic, lashings of bubbly, and plenty of tunes while on board. (Not that we were jealous or anything; no, no, not us. . .)

And in another tale involving Patsy, a new local legend may have been born on Saturday night, while the coach carrying Chisholm and co from Kirkwall, after they’d played in the cathedral, waited at Finstown hall to collect that concert’s performers, for the trip back to Stromness. Having caught sight of some large animal (presumably a cow), in the fog-shrouded gloaming outside the bus window, Patsy was blithely informed, “Oh, it’s probably a bear – didn’t you know they had them round here?” She’s clearly a touchingly trusting soul (who may also be unaware that the word ‘gullible’ isn’t the dictionary), as it seemingly took her some considerable time to twig she was having her leg pulled. So if you hear any rumours concerning the famous bears of Finstown, you’ll now know whence they came.

Following Sunday evening’s final concerts, the farewell shenanigans continued apace back at the Stromness Hotel, with some truly fearsome tunes firing up in the Still Room, featuring a squad of formidable luminaries from Ímar, String Sisters, Chisholm’s band and more. Among them were Mohsen Amini (extracting noises from his long-suffering concertina that it was surely never intended to make), Éamonn Coyne, James Mackintosh, Hamish Napier, Tomás Callister, Ryan Murphy and Jarlath Henderson – between them constituting a line-up that even the biggest festivals would struggle to afford.

There was a big squad of players gi’in it laldy in the main bar, too, including many of the stalwarts who’d been swelling the sessions all weekend, and even a tired but happy festival chairman, Bob Gibbon, wielding his accordion as the tunes eventually rounded off – in kind-of traditional style – with ‘Ye Cannae Shove Your Grannie Off The Bus’, followed by the Father Ted theme tune. Back in the Still Room, meanwhile, the final few numbers featured a fiddler who was pretty much literally playing in her sleep, or at least on the very cusp of it: head nodding, eyes half-open at most, but instrument still under her chin, fingers and bow-arm still going – after a fashion, at least – supplying a near-poetically apt closing image to sum up another truly epic Orkney Folk Festival.