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Into the breach for Bressay’s jarl squad

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WHAT do you do when the Guizer Jarl is forced to pull out of your local fire festival at the last minute?

Why, naturally, you call on your local MSP for help.

Sure enough, Tavish Scott stepped into the breach and on Friday he stepped out again at the head of 20 men to lead the Bressay Up Helly Aa jarl squad as a character called Hans Siggurdsson.

Having just had a couple of months to pull things together, Scott and his committee had only managed to organise blue woolen kirtles to be made for his band of island warriors by Laurence Odie’s Hoswick Woollen Mill. The rest of the outfit was left up to the individual squad members to sort out.

The jarl himself collected remnants from his appearance in Graham Nicolson’s Lerwick jarl squad back in 2007, the same year Scott’s son Alasdair was junior guizer jarl.

In an interesting role reversal, Scott junior that year played the father of Scott senior’s character this year, both of whom were said to have had connections to Bressay and Noss back in the 14th century.

It has been a tough year for Bressay, Scott said, as he paraded through his native isle having returned on the ferry after visiting Lerwick’s Bell’s Brae school, which all the local children now attend after the Bressay primary closed in 2014.

“When I came back to Bressay in the early 1990s there were 50 children in the primary school,” he said.

“Now there is no primary school even though the population is the same, around 400.

“We need more young families and then we will have a chance to get the school back again, but that won’t happen until the ferries get sorted.”

An extra effort went into this year’s fire festival as the community pulls together to face an uncertain future.

“This is a big occasion and hopefully it will reinvigorate the island to take on the wider challenges in the spring,” Scott said.

“Our island communities are important, and in some ways Bressay is the most disadvantaged of them all because it is so close to Lerwick and gets taken for granted.”

Meanwhile the party went on. The jarl heaped special praise on his musicians – “the best Gardie House band I’ve ever had” – and even managed to put a positive spin on his mixed bag of outfits.

“It’s more authentic this way. If a Viking army was going into battle everyone would be dressed differently, wouldn’t they?”

Aside from that, Bressay was declared “a politics free zone” on Friday, though not everyone played ball.

During his visit to the sheltered houses, Scott whispered: “One or two of the older folk here are keeping me on my toes.”