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Arts / Memories made and friendships formed as folk festival wraps up

SHETLAND is sounding that little bit quieter now after the end of isles’ 41st folk festival.

It has been hailed a success all round – with visiting acts from around the world and local artists too playing well-received concerts from Yell to Walls, Lerwick to Bigton.

The festival club in Islesburgh was busy too with concerts, sessions and the frivolity only the folk festival can muster up.

Committee member Mhari McLeman said when memberships are included more than 8,500 tickets were sold.

And after some number-crunching she estimates that around 600 visitors made the trip to Shetland for the festival.

“This completely volunteer driven event is delivering massive economic impact as well as social impact in our community, and that’s something we’re obviously really proud of,” McLeman said.

“I think we’re really really happy with how the 41st festival has gone. Last year Shetlanders were still pretty cautious as we were coming out of Covid, but we have definitely returned to full scale folk festival mode, and there was really great support from the community.”

Chuck in the usual afterparties and those with a penchant for folk may have enjoyed near non-stop music on tap over the four days.

The festival is infamous for its lack of sleep and come Sunday afternoon there was one punter succumbing to a sneaky snooze as a slow air was performed in the club.

It was also a festival for all ages – from the elder states-people of Shetland folk music to young children who may already be eyeing up a slot on stage in a decade or two’s time.

Whilst the afternoon club offered bairns a chance to boogie, and a special event for nursery children was held on the Friday, the Peerie Spang at the Clickimin on Sunday allowed Shetland’s youngsters burn off some energy.

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The famous late night sessions at the Islesburgh club were ticketed this time around, giving people guaranteed access, while the festival organisers continued with the “lates” gigs at the Lerwick Legion where the bar was open til 2am.

There is an army of folk behind the scenes who work hard to keep weekend flowing smoothly – from the committee members themselves to sound technicians drafted in from down south, and the hundreds of volunteers, from bar staff to bus drivers, hall workers to accommodation hosts.

There are also the comperes tasked with introducing acts on stage and keeping audiences entertained.

Doing so for the first time this year was Danny Peterson from Muckle Roe, who took to the microphone at a gig at three concerts.

“It was an absolute pleasure to be involved with,” he reflected.

“To see the festival from the ‘other side’ of the stage and get a feel for the amount of work that goes in to make it all happen was very humbling actually.”

One visiting act making their debut at the festival was TRIP, a Glasgow-based trad “super-group”.

“We’ve had the best time over on Shetland,” fiddle player Isla Callister said. “It was everyone’s first time at the festival and we were all given such a warm welcome.

“A highlight for us was our concert at Mareel as well as all the late night tunes – we’ve got a lot of sleep to catch up on now! There’s really no festival like it and we hope to make it back up again soon.”

Local act Isaac Webb Trio performing at the 2023 folk festival. Photo: Davie Gardner

Everyone has their own highlights from the weekend, even if some may be somewhat hazier than others.

For McLeman there were two moments which stood out – both including young musicians.

She said a piano duet between Shetland’s own Amy Laurenson, returning to the isles as BBC’s young traditional musician of the year, and former prize winner Michael Biggins was something to behold.

“Some folk have come up to me saying not only was that their festival highlight for this year, it’s probably their festival highlight of forever. It was utterly gobsmacking.”

McLeman also noted the “utter delight” of fellow young fiddler Eryn Rae – who was tutored by local player Catriona Macdonald – as she made her first trip to Shetland.

“She was just in Eryn heaven, sitting playing tunes with Bryan Gear and Maurice Henderson and Shane Cook from Canada. You’re helping make folk’s dreams come true, and I felt I had that moment.”

On Monday night the committee parked up near the Knab to wave goodbye to the many visiting artists who were stood on the deck of the passing NorthLink boat, heading back to the mainland.

They also held aloft a banner saying ‘we love you’ – complete with the hashtag #shetlagged, referring to the nagging tiredness which tends to follow the festival.

For now, though, it is time for a breather and moment of peace – before the preparations for next year no doubt take hold.


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