By all accounts, Sunday’s second Between Islandsconcert, carrying the theme into Orkney Folk Festival’s ever-evolving and justly celebrated annual showcase, The Gathering, was just as much as a triumph as Saturday’s, if not even more so. Extending the inter-island connections beyond Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides and across the Atlantic, Cape Breton quartet Còig were especially thrilled to take part, with fiddler Chrissy Crowley still wowed by the experience hours later. Not only was she overjoyed to be sharing a stage with Douglas Montgomery, one of her longtime heroes, but had then looked up and spotted a whole bunch of others – including Lau and Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes– among those loving the band’s set. She’d been having a ball already, but that totally made her weekend.
Also talking of Lau, while there were numerous highlights during Sunday’s Farewell Concert at the Town Hall, foremost among them for many was the trio’s wholly stripped-back acoustic set. It was a rare outing in this form for them these days, given the far-out scope and multi-dimensionality of their sonic adventuring, but exquisitely executed, and a beautifully judged counterpoint to Saturday’s magisterially mind-blowing set in St Magnus Cathedral, which had required fully two hours’ soundchecking.
In a rash attempt to contain the final night’s after-hours festivities back at the Stromness Hotel, a notice had been posted on the door to the Still Room bar, claiming it was closed for a private party – of which event no one seemed to have seen any evidence whatsoever. The cunning plan to confine everyone to the main bar was ultimately foiled, however, with classic folky contrariness, when a truly epic last-hurrah session struck up in the corridor in front of Reception.
And when you learn that the culprits included Kris Drever and Aidan O’Rourke of Lau; Four Men and a Dog’s Stephen Hayden; Aileen Gobbi, Laura-Beth Salter, Laura Wilkie and Jenn Butterworth of Kinnaris Quintet; Éammon Coyne and Dermot Byrne from their eponymous trio; Benedict Morris’s piper Conal McDonagh, and Orkney’s own Aimée Leonard – you’ll appreciate they weren’t for shifting anytime soon, regardless of what hotel-staff thoroughfares they were blocking.
Out of this lot, Kinnaris fiddler Aileen Gobbi at least had concrete reason for preferring the corridor, having confessed earlier on to being terrified of big boats – those as big as the Hamnavoe, for example (whereas she’s fine with wee ones). So not only did she have to overcome this phobia to get to Orkney, and would have to again to get home on Monday, but virtually every time she set foot out of the Stromness Hotel – or even looked out a front window – she was confronted and triggered by the object of her dread mere yards away.
Having been lured away by the outbreak of these tunes (punctuated at one point by Byrne and Hayden duetting on ‘Hey Jude’), we’re not sure what was going on meanwhile in the main bar, but upon nipping back for further refreshments a while later, we found The Poozies’ Tia Files semi-mummified in kitchen roll, and the aforementioned Kathleen MacInnes attempting to play the fiddle. (It seemed kindest not to ask.)
Conspicuous by his final night’s absence from the Stromness Hotel was a certain leading festival compère – who it turned out had fetched up at the Festival Club instead, to see if help was needed loading stuff out, and found himself enlisted to assist in finishing off the bar’s leftover Orkney ale: the kegs were already open, so couldn’t be returned or used elsewhere. In a selflessly public-spirited, waste-not-want-not spirit, he agreed to help out, and thus had his fill of liquid refreshment before even reaching the hotel, after which – being due on the 11am boat – he made straight for his bed. (They didn’t quite drain the kegs, apparently, but manfully gave it their utmost.)
Despite the preceding small-hours shenanigans, we’re pretty sure everyone who was meant to made the Monday morning ferry, which was sent on her way with the customary salvo of pipe tunes, and fond farewells waved to the exhausted but triumphant festival committee on the quay. During a beautifully sunny crossing, enlivened by yet more songs and trumpet tunes from the truly indefatigable Jim Malclolm, we did hear a rumour that one Julie Fowlis had very nearly missed her boat home the day before, after the second Between Islands show. Our source thought that she had just made it, by the very skin of her teeth – but then her valedictory tweet to Orkney and the festival included what looked very much like an aerial shot of the islands, rather suggesting she’d ended up on a plane. It can happen to the best of us. . .
And did indeed happen yet again for our poor festival visitors from Lewis, whose arrival had been severely delayed and disrupted by Thursday airport strike/broken-down ferry double whammy, and whose flights back somehow also went badly wrong, to the point that they didn’t make it home until Tuesday night. That surely guarantees them trouble-free travel to Orkney for years to come, though.
Lastly, for those of you who didn’t manage to read right through to the last page of your festival programmes, we’d like to give one final name-check and heartfelt vote of thanks to each and every one of our many and multifarious, public and private sponsors, funders, patrons and volunteers, without whom this magical weekend simply wouldn’t happen.
They include but far exceed all those individually named below – a list which in itself gives an evocative flavour of this unique event, its location, and the community that supports it:
Artworks of the Earth
Bay Leaf Delicatessen
Clark Thomson Insurance Brokers
E. Flett Butcher
Eviedale Bistro, Cottages and Campsite
European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development
European Marine Energy Centre ltd
The Ferry Inn
Heriot-Watt University ICIT
Huskyan Dive Charters
James Wilson Ltd
JEP Robertson & Son
Julia’s Café & Bistro
The Long Partnership
Lows Orkney Ltd
Nicholas Charles Lewis & Co
Orkney Archaeology Tours
Orkney Factors Ltd
Orkney Fishermen’s Society
Orkney Islands Council
Orkney Office Supplies
Pier Arts Centre
Rae’s Paper Shop
The Royal Hotel
The Scottish Government
Scottish Rural Development Programme
The Stromness Hotel
Stromness Royal British Legion