TODAY (Friday) is the pinnacle of the guizing life of Scalloway Fire Festival stalwart Maurice Jamieson as he proudly leads about 250 guizers through the village.
His eighteen-month-old daughter Marnie will be accompanying him as a Viking princess – for the daytime activities at least. But even Marnie is not the youngest guizer – that title belongs to a one-year-old baby.
For the procession Maurice will be leading from the galley Einram (Marnie backwards and somewhat Norse sounding) while his Tingwall jarl’s squad cohorts will be marching along torch in paw and singing lustily.
Maurice’s wife Rachel is in the Tingwall women’s squad and the Jamieson family and relatives are well represented in the jarl’s squad as his father Lowrie, father in law Jim Donald, brother in law Alan Donald and cousins Richard Mouat and Alan Jamieson from Unst are all participating.
The Tingwall man’s first experience of the fire festival was 25 years ago and he has been out with the Tingwall squad ever since, though he missed a couple of years for college attendance when he qualified as a printer – he presently works for The Shetland Times.
Maurice said earlier this week:“I am really looking forward to the day. I think the boys are looking really good and we have put in a lot of hard work. It’s been really good having the galley shed to work in through the summer months.
“I was lucky enough to put a shed up here at the back of the house, for myself, and it has ended up being the go to galley shed. We decanted most things in there and have been working in there; it has been splendid.
“It is an important gathering. You get together and I certainly speak to folk in the halls that you maybe dinna actually see the rest of the year. Even in a normal year when the squad gets together you are thinking of ideas to do and you are gathering in a shed, making bits of props, that’s really what it’s all about. When you look back on it, it is really fine.
“It can be a tough balancing act but I’m lucky enough to have a supportive wife.”
As well as the 51 guizers in the Tingwall squad there are seven or eight under 12s including several princesses. As well as Tingwall there are six other male squads and five female squads taking part in the festival.
Maurice has been squad leader for the seven years since Tingwall was jarl’s squad last (no female squad has yet been jarl’s squad at the fire festival), so is well versed in all the fire festival procedurals, and will step down after his big day.
Maurice’s beard and hair will also be getting the chop after next weekend’s return at the Scalloway Hall – much to his relief as he has been cultivating the crop for three years, being a musician in the jarl’s squad in Lerwick Up Helly Aa 2017 and was a member of the Lerwick jarl’s squad last year.
With strong Unst family ties, Maurice chose a Viking who settled in Burrafirth in Unst as his festival character. Little is known of Thorbjorn Hrollaugson other then his son was killed by a rival Viking when he went on his first raid.
Goturm the Dane (namesake of Goturm’s Hole in Unst) sent Thjorborn his son’s sword, which had a distinctive engraved snake, after the murder. That snake theme is continued in some of Maurice’s accoutrements, as is his passion as a bass player, which is reflected in a bass clef motif in his rigout. While details of the squad’s costume will only be revealed first hand today (Friday), it is safe to say they are dressed in “natural” colours.
The squad’s shields are fitted with a handy shoulder strap that allows both hands free for bearing brands and swinging axes – Maurice is the only one with a sword.
The shields on the galley represent the history of the squad on one side and the future of the fire festival on the other. Squad shields from the Tingwall jarl squads of yore adorn one side and the other side shields were designed by pupils at Tingwall, Burra and Scalloway. “They are the future of the thing – right from young pre-school ones through the primaries,” said Maurice.
The squad will be visiting the schools with presentation shields and a few “peerie presents” to hand out to the children.
The highlight of the whole process so far has been photo day, according to Maurice. “You spend so long making and thinking about all the different bits of the suit without seeing it together and when you start seeing it together it’s really good.
“Even in the hall we had a full dress rehearsal the week before the photos they looked impressive, but actually seeing folk outside at the banks at Braewick, where we got lucky with the weather, was really good.”
The jarl’s squad will assemble at Tingwall hall this morning before being bussed to the boating club and thence a visit to the North Atlantic Fisheries College for breakfast at Da Haaf and a presentation.
Following that the guizers march “in ower” with the galley to the waterfront for photos. In the evening, Maurice will inspect the ranks around 6.45pm with the procession starting at 7pm and the burning at Port Arthur scheduled for 8pm.
The hall visits commence with Bridge End then Hamnavoe, Tingwall, the Scalloway Legion, Scalloway Hall and then finally the Boating Club.
Then tomorrow (Saturday), hop day starts at 2pm with May and Mackie at the Boating Club, before the First Foot Soldiers from 6pm to 9pm at the Legion and for those with the energy left, Big Robbie is performing in the hall from 10pm till 1am.
Don’t be surprised if Maurice himself has a shot on the bass somewhere along the line, if he can find a left hander.