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Community / Lerwick heaving with locals and visitors alike

Davie Gardner reflects on the second day of the Tall Ships celebration, a day of glorious sunshine and long queues at the bar

“MAN IS it always this crazy in Shetland on a weekday,” asks Bill Callaghan a property developer from Wisconsin, USA who, together with his wife, is in Lerwick for the day on the large cruise ship berthed at Holmsgarth.

They’ve just spent the afternoon on Victoria Pier, eating ice creams from Miss Sprinkles, devouring seafood kebabs from the Taste of Shetland stall and happily drinking beer (quite a bit of it in his case apparently) while taking in the Tall Ships music programme there – all in glorious, and more than welcome, sunshine.

Now he’s also discovered the live music stage at Holmsgarth, so has left his wife to find her own way back to the ship as he’s keen to hear a bit more live music – and also drink a bit more beer while doing so, it would appear.

He asks me the name of the band about to take the stage, and when I tell him they’re called Suppository Business he smiles, takes a slurp of his beer and says, “Gee, interesting name.”

A packed, super-charged, nicely rowdy audience of bairns enjoy every moment of Flying Seagull Circus’ antics. Photo: Davie Gardner
Miss Sprinkles doing roaring business. Photo: Davie Gardner

A few minutes later I see him again, clearly by now enjoying their set, set against an amazing backdrop of impressive ships, masts, rigging, sails and flags – along with hundreds of other folk of all ages who have turned out to witness perhaps the most anticipated gig of the whole Tall Ships programme – but more of that later.

Turning the clock back to Victoria Pier earlier in the day, the area is, by midday, already comfortably heaving with both locals and visitors alike, being eased musically into their stride by the melodically relaxed sounds of the local Community Choir.

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Already lengthy queues at the food outlets – especially the ice cream van – ensured an economically healthy overspill of folk onto Commercial Street in search of food, coffees, cool drinks, ice creams and such like – all of which are now being consumed in abundance.

In a small marquee on the street, Shetland’s legendary traditional fiddle group, the Heritage Fiddlers, provide an apparently impromptu, and largely nautical related, music performance to a clearly impressed and delighted group of spectators – mainly visitors. Thankfully though, to some extent at least, the predicted ‘inundation’ of cruise liner passengers from the no less than three vessels in port on the day doesn’t appear to be having too much impact on the relatively compact and already busy area in general – at that point anyway.

Elsewhere several of the tall ships are open to the public, children play happily on the temporarily imported ‘sandy beach’ – complete with deckchairs – provided on Alexandra Wharf as if they were holidaying in the Costa Del Sol, while screams of induced alarm, from mainly young voices, emanate from those clearly experiencing the more daring rides in the nearby funfair area.

Back in the entertainment marquee on Victoria pier the extremely popular, dynamic and visually noticeable, Flying Circus troupe – who include Donna Simpson who’s originally from Whalsay among their ranks– are playing to, and verbally encouraging the participation of, a packed, super-charged, nicely rowdy audience of bairns – together with a more sedate army of accompanying mums and dads.

John Lee Fullerton of Suppository Business. Photo: Davie Gardner

The dual music and entertainment programme at Victoria Pier and Holmsgarth is once again creating ‘spoilt for choice’ decisions on where to go to next – although many people are clearly ‘shuffling’ regularly between the two locations to catch their favourite acts – with the areas themselves hugely benefitting atmospherically from being social meeting places as much as gig venues.

At Holmsgarth, compere Martin Green (of Lau fame) informs unquestionably the largest crowd of the day so far that what they are about to witness is ‘the stuff of legend’.

“I’ve been coming here for many years,” he says, “but in all that time I’ve only heard this name whispered on the wind.”

What he’s referring to is a virtual resurrection, especially for a gig at the tall ships, of the once hugely popular local rock band Suppository Business, who haven’t performed together for … well, more years than many care to remember. However, the decibel-laden, ground shaking roar that greets them to the stage shows that they clearly haven’t been forgotten – while quite a few members of the audience today will hardly have been born the last time they played together as a band.

Charging, almost searing, through their own back catalogue of songs – together with classic ‘punk’ covers such as Stiff Little Fingers Alternative Ulster and the Buzzcocks Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With – their all too short set proves definitively that punk rock in Shetland is far from dead – including among a new, young audience.

Let’s hope the response the lads got on a by now very warm and sunny afternoon will ensure this won’t be their only gig during this particular reincarnation. Terrific stuff!!!

The only folk I encounter apparently NOT feeling the weather a touch TOO warm now are a group of female members from the crew of the Indonesian tall ship Bima Suci – shopping for souvenirs dressed immaculately in their military uniforms.

“We’re loving Shetland,” one of them tells me, “but it is very cold here.” The sight of a ‘wild’ swimmer emerging from the waters of the North Sea on Bain’s Beach at Lerwick’s south end clearly makes them shudder all the more.

‘It’s cold here …’ Female crew from the Bima Suci visiting Perez’ house – Lodberrie, Lerwick. Photo: Davie Gardner

Yell musical legends Rack N’ Ruin successfully kindle a ‘fired-up’ atmosphere to kick off the evenings music programme on the large Holmsgarth stage, followed by the brassy sounds of the visiting Saltire Street Band.

Orkney’s the Chair do what they do best and rock the large crowd from a more folky perspective, ahead of headliners for the evening Tidelines taking the stage in front of a more-than-ready-to-party audience.

Here the unfathomably long queue for the bar – snaking right back across the whole arena throughout the evening – suggests that the bar prices – which have attracted a few grumbling comments via social media – clearly haven’t proved to be any disincentive to by far the greater percentage of folk and their obvious enjoyment of the event.

With the majority of the entertainment itself being provided for free in the first instance, in truth it’s hard to see what some have to complain about in this respect. It’s abundantly clear everyone’s thoroughly enjoying themselves despite the supposedly inflated prices – not to mention the relatively long wait at the nevertheless very efficient bar.

But perhaps the main element that’s made the day the success it obviously has been, has been the wall-to-wall beautiful weather that’s shown its occasionally reluctant face at last.

As the Holmsgarth area clears at the end of the night under by now chilly, but still beautifully clear, dark blue, wispy clouded skies – and with many smiling, happily animated punters clearly still hungry for more partying now heading to Mareel for a late encounter with local DJ’s – looking around the area I see no sign of the American gentleman I’d encountered earlier in the day there, so presumably he’d eventually made it back to the ship and his wife thankfully didn’t have to continue the trip on her own.

When last seen he’d clearly been enjoying his day in Lerwick – and in that he certainly wasn’t alone.

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