Community / Notoriously unpredictable Shetland weather couldn’t spoil the Tall Ships party

‘It was absolutely brilliant’, so the verdict of most people: Davie Gardner reports on the final day of the Tall Ships Races

WE COULD possibly have hoped for something different but, given Shetland’s reputation for notoriously unpredictable and ‘at-a-moments-notice’ changeable weather, Thursday’s outburst of glorious sunshine was, in truth, probably too good to last.

All too soon it was back to rain, drizzle, mist and associated climatic disappointment – summed up by more than one local observantly labelling Friday’s weather – in true Shetland fashion – as being “a day o sh**e.”

But given another Shetland related reputation – that of us harbouring a stoic and undauntable spirit – a mere blip such as poor weather wasn’t something we were going to let spoil a party or reduce the ongoing huge buzz surrounding the Tall Ships visit – particularly with the covered entertainment areas on Victoria Pier proving to be a veritable godsend in the conditions.

Chat-wise – over and above the slightly inclement weather of course – Friday night’s Holmsgarth headliners Peat and Diesel appeared to have polarise musical opinion, while Shetland’s own First Foot Soldiers – who had appeared earlier on the same bill – were, for many, clearly one of the musical highlights of the event to date.


But some disappointment was in the air on Saturday morning too, especially when we woke to more mist and drizzle. Due to this Peat and Diesel found themselves stuck in Sumburgh on their way to Scotland’s Belladrum Festival – eventually reaching Inverness via Bergen apparently – while the conditions had also grounded, temporarily thankfully, the Queen II Saturday night headline band who were coming in the opposite direction. Heart palpitations all round for event organisers and artists alike – but all worked out well in the end.

Perhaps more disappointedly still though, a range of issues – again mainly due to fog and related transport problems – forced the cancellation of one of the main spectacles of the whole Tall Ships event, the eagerly-anticipated Parade of Sail – this ultimately delaying the re-start of the race itself until the next day.

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Inge Thomson at the Victoria Pier tent on Saturday. Photo: Davie Gardner

Still, quite a number of vessels DID leave Lerwick as planned, and although we’d have preferred blue-sky conditions for this course, the sight of these graceful, mostly old, ladies individually ploughing their way through the murk and haze as they left the harbour was nevertheless a sight to behold.

Back on Victoria Pier – now fully re-energised thanks to a generous dollop of Taste of Shetland Cullen Skink, and an ever-necessary sassermeat roll – the delights of which I also introduced to two slightly damp but still delighted English tourists – all washed down with a weather-defying cold pint of lager – I caught May and Mackie’s set of diverse, wonderfully interpretated, dance-inducing (or dram-encouraging in my case) cover songs.


This could so easily have set the tone for a typical Shetland Saturday night spree, but instead we were gently and beautifully eased out of any such temptations, initially by Fair Isle’s diminutive but innovative musical sensation Inge Thomson, followed by the ‘tight-as-a-drum’ vocal and instrumental talents of Herkja, and last but certainly not least the bluegrass-inspired brilliance of Kansa – all amounting to a wonderfully alternative way to round off the event there.

Over at Holmsgarth no such calming or comforting things were happening as, by this point, thousands of folk were being aurally assaulted and encouraged to rock by the heavy metal behemoth that is Shetland’s Ten Tonne Dozer, fronted by the explosively energetic figure of Dave Kok – the Tasmanian born and bred, wallaby and emu-owning proprietor of the Outpost in Burra – with them being followed by headliners for this final night the Queen tribute band Queen II.


‘Freddie Mercury’ strutted his stuff, accompanied by the sound of hundreds, if not thousands, of energised voices – including those patiently waiting in the what someone termed the ‘two mile queue’ at the bar – helping belt out such party anthems as We Will Rock You, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and We Are the Champions.

Although not wishing to tell anyone their job in this respect, one observation or suggestion I would put forward to them though is that if you don’t remotely look like Queen guitarist Brian May in the first place – the addition of a somewhat unruly, dramatic, black curly wig isn’t going to convince anyone you are, ha ha!!

And so it ended – musically at least – but given the ‘one-out-one-in’ queues quickly forming at several of Lerwick’s more popular pubs it was clear that, for many, the party still wasn’t over just yet.


Two words appeared, in general, to sum up most folks’ experience of the 3rd Tall Ships visit to Lerwick and that was “absolutely brilliant.” So, hopefully, unlike 2011, most longer-term memories of the event this time around are, thankfully, very unlikely to be weather related.

Finally, a hearty ‘well done indeed’, thank-you and well-deserved round of applause to all the event organisers, many volunteers, dozens of artists, incredibly hard-working sound engineers, bar staff, food vendors, and many more besides, who all pulled together to pull this together for the rest of us to enjoy. Job more than well done again. Now get some well-earned sleep. Till the next time!!

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