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Community / All eyes on Scalloway as fire festival season returns

Scalloway Fire Festival guizer jarl John Magnus Gray was due to lead the event in 2021 before Covid postponements

MANY in Shetland have waited for this moment for a long time – the return of the fire festival and Up Helly Aa season.

Scalloway Fire Festival guizer jarl John Magnus Gray has had to bide his time too, having been scheduled to lead the 2021 festival before the Covid pandemic got in the way.

The last time a formal fire festival was held in Shetland was the Norwick Up Helly Aa in February 2020, with the pandemic postponing every single one since.

But today’s (Friday) Scalloway Fire Festival serves to highlight that normality has all but returned.

As a result Gray’s squad of 38 guizers and five musicians perhaps will enjoy a little more spotlight on them than usual.

The 46-year-old, who lives in Burra and works at the Lerwick Power Station, has been involved with the fire festival – the first of Shetland’s Up Helly Aa season – since he was a teenager.

Guizer jarl John Magnus Gray. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

Gray admits that the two year delay has stunted the momentum a little, but he is raring to go.

“The squad was on a roll, our year was coming and we were looking forward to it, and for it to all fall flat like that took the shine off things,” he reflects.

“We’ve not seen a fire festival now for a peerie start, or Up Helly Aa, and it will be great to see the whole thing going again.”

Gray said he will be portraying a character Magnus Ingsgar, which reflects his mum’s maiden name Inkster. Magni, Thor’s son, is what the saga is being based on.

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Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

His squad features a number of bairns, while his son and daughter will be involved too.

They will undertake a number of visits through the day before the heading to the halls – three in Scalloway, Tingwall, Hamnavoe and Bridge End – for the night time revelry.

Folk can catch a glimpse of the galley – named Valyie after a place in Unst in a nod to the jarl’s late father and grandfather – at the Scalloway waterfront.

The suits enjoy a “more rustic, authentic kind of feel”, with skins and cloaks, and shields made from old barrel lids.

“We weren’t looking to be blingy as such or anything like that,” Gray laughs.

One of the first visits of the day was the UHI Shetland campus in Scalloway – the fisheries college to most – before they headed for a series of appearances around schools and other venues, including a party for senior citizens at the village’s boating club.

All fire festival squads will then muster at Lovers Loan at 6.30pm before setting off, torches in hand, at 7pm.

The procession will lead its way through Main Street and onto Port Arthur for the burning of the galley.

The squads will begin visiting the six halls from around half eight, with the jarl’s first hall visit set for Bridge End.

And for those with stamina and a thirst for a spree the usual hop shindig on Saturday will see entertainment put on in Scalloway from afternoon to night.

Fleetwood Mac tribute act The Chain will perform at the Scalloway Boating Club between 2pm and 5pm – free entry with members and guests welcome – before First Foot Soldiers take to the stage at the Legion in a ticketed event from 6pm to 9pm.

The night-time event will see Big Robbie and friends perform at the Scalloway Hall from 9pm onwards.

 

John Magnus Gray’s son and daughter were part of the occasion too.
UHI Shetland’s Prof Jane Lewis with the guizer jarl.
Jarl squad member John Leask.

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