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Features / Fiddlers prepare for action-packed frenzy

Musicians from home and abroad will have a packed week of activities, classes, workshops and concerts - Photo: Maurice Henderson

FIDDLERS and visitors from all over the globe will be converging on Shetland next week for the 13th annual Fiddle Frenzy festival.

Musicians from home and abroad will have a packed week of activities, classes, workshops and concerts in the world-famous celebration of Shetland’s fiddle tune heritage.

Players will have a wide choice of fiddle workshops to choose from, taught by eight seasoned Shetland fiddle experts, ranging from ‘improver’ to ‘masterclass’. The workshops will culminate with the chance to participate in the Saturday night concert, playing a selection of Shetland tunes chosen by the curators – along with a brand new tune composed for the festival by Steven Spence.

While the fiddle is undoubtedly the main focus of the week-long festivities, plenty of effort has been made to cater for non-fiddlers too. Guitar, accordion and mandolin workshops will also be available, as well as the creative fringe, a series of Shetland cultural workshops and events to help visitors fully immerse themselves in Shetland culture.

Fiddle Frenzy curators Claire White and Eunice Henderson have been speaking about what’s planned for this year’s Fiddle Frenzy.

Eunice, who has been playing since she could hold a fiddle, has been tangentially involved with Fiddle Frenzy for several years, although this is her first year as curator. A fiddle teacher for the SIC for 25 years, Eunice has taught a great many of the next generation of Shetland fiddlers their art, and sent dozens of students to Fiddle Frenzy.

She said that visitors to the isles should expect “hospitality off the scale,” and that Shetland provides something very rare.

“The special thing about Shetland is that it offers opportunity [to perform]. Bucket loads. It’s especially important for kids – playing and performing… Fiddle Frenzy provides that opportunity.”

Claire is also a first-time curator, although as a fiddle teacher she’s been sending students to Fiddle Frenzy since the very first festival in 2004. Claire is especially keen to provide something a bit out-of-the-ordinary with the creative fringe events.

“We wanted some fresh things to appeal to the visitors, and give them a feel for the culture. We’ve tried to bring new passions and interests to Fiddle Frenzy.”

A fiddle workshop held in the Vidlin hall - Photo: Shetland Arts

Attendees will get a chance to make a ‘creepie’ (a traditional crofter’s stool), make art with driftwood, experience glass-making or take up the maakin wires for some knitting.

If they manage to find the time between fiddle classes, jam sessions and knitting, attendees will be able to see more of the isles on one of the various tours.

Of interest to the musicians will be the tune tour, a chance to see and play at locations in Shetland that inspired some of the famous tunes they’ll be learning during the festival.

Murder-mystery fans may be more captivated by the BBC Shetland tour, returning after a successful run at the Shetland Noir crime festival, which takes in locations from the hit BBC programme based on Ann Cleeves’ novels. There’s also the Island Parish tour of Unst and the Tom Anderson-focused Tammy tour.

The highlight for most at Fiddle Frenzy is, however, the concerts. The spectrum of gigs runs from Scandi Fiddlers, “a Scandinavian-themed concert celebrating Shetland dialect,” to Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham toasting 30 years of performing with a concert and cook-off, to the students’ concert where fiddlers get to show off the skills and tunes they’ve learned, and perform with local artists including 2016 young fiddler of the year Jodie Smith.

It’s not all organised workshops and concerts – there’ll be sessions and jams aplenty throughout the week, as well as the festival club – that grand Shetland tradition of playing away into the night.

The club runs on the Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights in Mareel, with a special Sunday afternoon session for the fiddlers to play one last tune and say their goodbyes before heading for the boat (or heading to Sumburgh to wait on an inevitably-delayed plane).

According to Claire and Eunice, many Fiddle Frenzy visitors are serial attendees, returning year after year in search of the unique experience only Shetland can offer. If the schedule for this year is anything to go by, they shan’t be disappointed.

The full Fiddle Frenzy programme can be found at http://www.shetlandarts.org/whats-on/festivals/fiddle-frenzy/