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Arts / Excitement and anticipation as Shetland Folk Festival returns

Receiving a warm welcome: J.P. Cormier meets host and old friend Janice Leask outside Islesburgh Community Centre. All photos: Shetland News

THE LONG wait is finally over: musicians from across the world have arrived in the isles and the 40th Shetland Folk Festival is about to get underway.

As some of them gathered at the Islesburgh Community Centre on Thursday morning to grab a cup of coffee and to meet their hosts, there were already lots of happy faces anticipating a great weekend of music and friendship.

One of the festival’s stalwarts, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist J.P. Cormier from Nova Scotia, revealed that his international career took off after he had been hired to play in Shetland back in the late 1990s.

“This festival is like home to me, because in 1996 when I first came here, it was the very first international festival for me, and no one knew who I was at all,” he said.

J.P. Cormier got a Shetland Folk Festival tattoo during the pandemic in anticipation of the next festival.

“I had just come out of Nashville, and Davie Henderson took a chance on me and hired me for this festival. I came over with these original songs no-one had heard before, and I sang them all here, and that fall I recorded me debut album which became my best-selling record of all time – and that started my entire career,” he said.

“After playing this festival every festival in North America wanted to hire me, so Davie started my career.

“I think this is my seventh trip to Shetland. The festival means everything to me, it is one of the major turning points in my life.”

He is sharing the stage with singer songwriter Dave Gunning who is on his first visit to the far north of Scotland.

“We both have our own solo tours a lot of the time, but we have this project where we tour together, so I am just thrilled that he brought me over on this trip,” Dave said.

Another festival regular is Scottish folk music icon Dougie MacLean who last played at the 2006 festival.

Arriving off the ferry on Thursday morning, he said it is always a pleasure to come and play at this “huge festival”.

“It was like crossing the Mediterranean. Very strange, I have never seen the North Sea quite as calm I don’t think, and the sunset last night was just magical. So, I think that’s a good omen for the festival,” he said.

Scottish folk music legend Dougie MacLean with festival committee member Mhari McLeman.

“I remember when the Hom Bru boys came over to Edinburgh, I must have been in my early 20s, and we weren’t really familiar with Shetland music, and there wasn’t a festival at that time.

“Watching the festival grow over the last 40 years and it becoming a major date on the music calendar is amazing; so well done to the islands and the organiser of the festival.”

The festival committee is “absolutely thrilled” that after three years the festival can finally return, albeit in a slightly modified way due to the Covid pandemic.

Visiting acts from the US, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, England and Scotland will join a raft of local musician in concerts, sessions and workshops over the next four days.

Committee member Louise Johnson said it was “hugely welcome” to have the festival back this year.

“Some of the really lively late-night stuff has been cut back quite a bit due to the Covid environment,” she said.

“At the time of making our decisions there was a lot of uncertainty as we were just coming out at the other side of Omicron, so we planned something that we were comfortable with and that the community would feel was a safer way of offering the festival.

“There are still going to be sessions, there are still going to be live music at the festival club and all the concerts, but not quite as much of the late-night stuff at the festival club, that is now ticketed at the Legion with fewer numbers.

“We didn’t expect to sell out, but we sold out Saturday Clickimin on Saturday and the others are also selling well.

“Once again we have a fantastic line-up of local acts and visiting musicians from all over, so the standards are really high even though the number of concerts is slightly smaller.”

The full line-up can be found at the folk festival website.

Tickets for most concerts are still available from the festival shop at the Islesburgh Community Centre between 11am and 5pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.