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Arts / Music man Matthew ‘privileged’ to book bands for Tall Ships

IT IS a pretty big job: booking the bands to perform at the Tall Ships next summer, including for the 5,500 capacity main stage at Holmsgarth in Lerwick.

Despite the four-day shindig being just less than a year away, music programmer Tim Matthew’s planning is well underway.

Tim Matthew.

When it comes down to the number of people, the Tall Ships event is Shetland’s largest, with the open-air Holmsgarth site able to host around five times more folk than the Clickimin’s main hall.

Back when the Tall Ships were last hosted in Lerwick in 2011, folk rock act the Levellers and ABBA tribute Bjorn Again headlined, with local and ex-pat acts filling the rest of the bill.

The line-up for 2023 is still under consideration, and under wraps, but Matthew – who is based in the westside – said he is looking at performers which should appeal to a wide range of punters.

His own musical background includes doing sound for forward-thinking folk trio Lau, and playing fiddle and drums for south acts Mystery Juice and Lord Rochester respectively. 

When asked about the type of music he has in mind for the Tall Ships bill, Matthew told Shetland News: “That’s one of the trickiest things, because it has to appeal to absolutely everybody. So I’m trying to get in country, and jazz, and folk and rock and pop…it really is every genre I can think of.

“Luckily within Shetland there is pretty much every genre represented. With regards to the visiting acts, it’s important I programme stuff that’s got a broad appeal.”

The event – which was also hosted in Lerwick in 1999 – is being held over 26-29 July and announcements around the music line-up are only expected next year.

Matthew also said there stands to be around 1,000 people present who are crew members on the many visiting boats, so one key job is to entertain them – and the other side is to provide something for the public.

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He is working one day a week on the role, having been contracted by the Shetland Tall Ships organisers at the start of May.

The job at the moment involves liaising with agents of visiting acts, and also speaking to local musicians, to firm up the programme.

But representatives for touring acts tend to wait to see how the land lies with next year’s summer festival circuit – there is uncertainty as to whether some international groups, for instance, will even be in the UK at the time.

“It’s bit like one of those games where you move the tiles around to make pictures – they’re hovering, and waiting to be slotted into place,” Matthew said.

In addition to the main stage at Holmsgarth, there is also set to be enclosed entertainment on Victoria Pier, while the museum and Mareel – which was not open during the last Tall Ships – will also host music.

Matthew said he has commissioned a few original pieces to build a “legacy of new creations” – and this includes a quadrophonic sound installation in the boat hall in the museum.

There will be no DJ tent this time around, with late night revelry instead taking place in Mareel, while there are also plans to have entertainment along Lerwick’s waterfront and on the street.

Matthew said there will also be crossover when it comes to entertainment and activities for children, and there is a hope to offer bairns experiences they can usually only sample if they travel south.

The music man, meanwhile, has experience in the field, including covering his wife’s maternity leave as programmer for Mareel, and putting on some events down in Edinburgh.

He also has plenty of know-how when it comes to tour management and festival production, which should be a snug fit.

So is he feeling the pressure? Not yet, but that will come with time, when logistics start to kick in. “Making sure everybody gets to the places they’re meant to be, making sure the bands are there for their soundchecks – that will be the highest pressure stuff,” he said.

“If I thought about the fact that everybody is going to have an opinion about what they want to see, then I would feel the pressure of that – but I’m well aware I’m not going to please absolutely everybody all the time, so I just have to book what I think is a good programme.”

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