Festival Blog

2019/5 – Sessions and Islanders

It’s getting to that stage of the game where day and night start blurring perilously into one another – partly thanks to seeing concerts at all hours of the afternoon and evening; partly to after-hours tunes continuing well into the morning, followed by going to bed in daylight.

Even before a note of music was played at this afternoon’s Between Islands concert at Stromness Town Hall, compère Kenny Ritch had the audience wholly in the palm of his hand, with a superb opening display of prime Orkney humour. His ‘housekeeping’ announcements included the usual confirmation that no fire-drills were planned – “Because we’d be a pretty rubbish committee if we’d planned one in the middle of a concert” – and an effusive big-up for the extra toilets commandeered to cope with interval demand.

It’s come to something when a hard-working local compère finds himself being heckled by a fellow Orcadian act, but as Kenny moved on to introducing the Between Islands project – initiated by An Lanntair arts centre in Lewis, and here featuring stellar Uist singers Julie Fowlis and Kathleen Macinnes – the shouting began from beside the stage: “Do it in...

2019/4 – The Club and Compères

After a swift post-gig pint last night, it was hard to tear oneself away from a Stromness Hotel session featuring members of Kinnaris Quintet and The Poozies, but there was in fact only one place to be: the brand-new Festival Club, in the all-but unrecognisable main games hall of Stromness Community Centre. 

(The Kinnaris/Poozies merger, incidentally, was anticipated by both bands when they shared the same boat over on Thursday, though they still seemed torn at that point whether to name themselves The Kinnoozies or Poonaris.) 

Along at the club, though, the place was positively abuzz with people marvelling at its transformation, and agreeing that the whole expanded set-up worked a treat, from ambience to core practicalities. Table service from the bar was efficient and unobtrusive – to the point where thirsty performers onstage were getting envious – and the new, specially blended Orkney Foy gin was clearly a big hit. 

Talking of gin aficionados, the club’s ever-dapper regular compère, Mr Kevin Macleod, had even gone to extra grooming lengths for the occasion, adding a particularly impressive horizontal twirl to the ends of his tasteful facial topiary. This apparently follows his discovery of...

2019/3 – Ferries, planes, automobiles and early arrivals

Last night’s Orkney Folk Festival pre-party – brought to you by a Highlands and Islands Airports industrial dispute – actually kicked off in Shetland, somewhere around 5pm, when around a dozen of those other islanders, who’d planned to fly today, boarded the good ship Hjaltland in Lerwick and headed immediately for the bar, where they remained ensconced for the six-hour sailing to Kirkwall.

Knowing that even the fast car waiting at Hatston would only get them to bar in Stromness within an hour of last orders – and, let’s face it, being Shetlanders – they’d not only booked the taxi but adapted some kind of bijou flight-case into a mobile drinks cabinet for the journey, containing four bottles of prosecco, plastic glasses and Nurofen. Rumours of their falling from the vehicle upon delivery at the Stromness Hotel have been grossly exaggerated, we’re sure of it.

Among the Shetland delegation, the Peter Wood Dance Band of that parish were nonetheless sufficiently bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning to get a horde of Stromness Primary schoolkids delightedly strutting their stuff in a three-ring Circassian Circle. (Though it may be that bassist Arthur Nicolson was secretly grateful for...

2019/2 – T-Minus 1

As the last pre-festival day ticks down towards tomorrow’s half-dozen opening concerts – featuring 22 different acts, and following four morning schools visits – one of the last quotable comments from our committee source, gleaned last night, was, “I wish we still had another week – or at least that it was still only midday today. . .” This was, however, swiftly and emphatically followed by, “But it’ll all be grand.”

The commonest questions amongst those of us still Stromness-bound, meanwhile, concern the new Festival Club: what’s it like/what’s the sketch/what’s happening?

Firstly – to scotch any contrary rumours – there has been no falling-out whatsoever between the club’s former home, the Stromness Hotel, and the folk festival. The transformation of Stromness Community Centre into a stylish late-night cabaret joint is a mutually happy solution to the hotel’s struggles in recent years to feed all its hungry customers, amidst not only twice-daily club concerts, but thrice-daily/continuous sessions in the main bar (for which the carry-on will be as usual).

Squeezing in proper scran in amongst all the music can be acutely at a premium during this festival, so the hotel’s redeployment of the...