December 2010 Move Shetland Newsletter
Here is the Move.Shetland.org newsletter from December 2010, which we hope you find of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for advice.
The Shetland Folk Festival, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2010, has carried off the accolade of 'Event of the Year' in the 2010 MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards. The ceremony was held in Perth on Saturday 4 December. After receiving the award, the festival's Mhari Pottinger said she was 'delighted' that it had come to the islands.
The Shetland Folk Festival is held at the end of April and is one of the most highly-regarded events of its kind in the UK. The range of music on offer is very wide; over the years, the programme has featured performers as diverse as Hanggai, Elvis Costello, Sharon Shannon, JP Cormier, Kate Rusby and Rolf Harris. There has been a wealth of music from every continent, including many contributions from Shetland's own very talented musicians. The 2011 festival takes place from 28 April to 1 May and the festival's website will carry programme details when they are confirmed.
An enormous battery is to be installed next to Lerwick's power station in order to make it easier to develop renewable energy in Shetland. The battery is one part of a scheme intended to make Shetland's energy supplies more sustainable. The second element in the project involves the fitting of a thousand new electric storage heaters in Council and Hjaltland Housing Association homes. Finally, the construction of a huge hot water tank, warmed by three wind turbines, will allow Lerwick's existing district heating scheme to be expanded. It's estimated that the measures will cut Shetland's annual carbon emissions by some 25,000 tonnes.
Shetland isn't connected to the national grid, power being generated mainly by oil-fired turbines. That's meant that only a limited amount of renewable energy could be connected to the Shetland grid. The difficulty is that, as the wind drops, the amount of electricity from wind turbines can fall away very quickly. Oil generators can't be fired up fast enough to replace the lost power and the more wind turbines that are connected, the bigger the problem. However, by storing electricity in the giant battery and by diverting power to storage heaters when there is power to spare, it will be possible to even out these fluctuations in supply and demand. It's hoped that the wind generators connected to the hot water tank will also be able to provide surplus electricity to the Shetland grid.
Assuming that funding is approved, work will start early in 2011. Once the new systems are in place, it will be possible for more renewable generation to be developed. Several local communities in Shetland have brought forward proposals for small wind farms and it should be possible for these to go ahead. The scheme is the first of its kind in Britain and may well provide lessons for other parts of the country.
A project intended to celebrate the wonderfully fine lace traditionally made in Shetland is under way after nearly four years' research and development. It was inspired by a visit to India by the General Manager of Shetland Amenity Trust, Jimmy Moncrieff, who visited Tamil Nadu in the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami as a volunteer under the Shetland/Tamil Nadu exchange project.
Mr Moncrieff met Uma Prajapati of the Upasana Design Studio. Uma had been engaged by a Danish charity to assist with the revival of hand woven silk in Varanasi in the North of India. The weaving skills of the Varanasi had become undervalued and overlooked under the pressure of changing fashion and mass produced silk from China. The plight of these weavers was comparable to the dwindling art of fine lace knitting in Shetland, where fewer knitters now continue the craft and rewards for the painstaking work seldom represent a living wage. Varanasi hand woven silk was once favoured by royalty and the very rich; Shetland fine lace was similarly a favourite of royalty in the 19th century.
On returning to Shetland Mr Moncrieff met with Oliver Henry of Jamieson & Smith (Shetland Wool Brokers) Ltd who, by coincidence, had been developing 100% pure Shetland worsted yarn in natural, un-dyed colours. Jimmy Moncrieff asked Oliver to produce a one-ply, 100% Shetland version of this yarn, akin to the traditional hand spun yarn used for fine lace knitting, which he did. Members of the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers and other local lace knitters were then invited to produce sample fine lace scarves and they were very positive about the new yarn, comparing it very favourably with the fine texture and quality of traditional hand spun yarn.
The knitters receive a respectable wage for their work; it's hoped that there will be a renewed interest in learning fine lace knitting and that the quality and authenticity of these scarves will once more be recognised around the world. The investment made in the project should help ensure that the heritage will live and thrive into the future.
One of the scarves, along with a Shetland wool throw, was recently presented to HRH the Prince of Wales, who is convener of the Campaign for Wool.
Shetland is well placed to seize the new opportunities offered by digital communications. That was the very clear message from Gwilym Gibbons, the Director of Shetland Arts, when he spoke at a recent conference in Inverness. In his talk, he outlined the work under way on creating 'Mareel', the new £12m cinema and music venue in Lerwick, building a 'creative cluster' on the west side of Shetland and capturing the benefits of the feature film, ' Between Weathers', that's due to be shot in Shetland next year. He explained that the recent connection of Shetland to the Faroese international fibre-optic cable opened up all kind of opportunities. For example, the new cinema would download its films over broadband, rather than receiving them on celluloid or disc. Mareel could also become a recording or broadcast studio for music, comedy and other events. Gwilym Gibbons also talked about the work they are doing on securing Shetland's intellectual property, successfully persuading lawyers that the use of Shetland in the new feature film is worth several million pounds in what he termed 'relational capital' and that the islands therefore deserved to see a return on that investment. His fascinating half-hour presentation is available here: scroll down to the screen showing day 2, part 2 of the conference and click on the 'play' icon.
A new collection of art is currently on show at the Shetland Museum and Archives. The exhibition, i Vesterveg, involves collaboration between artists and museums in Shetland, Faroe, Iceland, Norway and Denmark. Two artists are from Shetland, two from Norway and three from Iceland. They were invited to work together on themes relating to the heritage of their countries and explore not only the things they have in common but also the things that are specific to each country.
The exhibition features sculpture, mixed media, installation and textiles. There is remarkable work in surprising materials, such as rope and cardboard. In an extraordinary series of framed, abstract pieces, intricate patterns in sheep's fat have been encapsulated between two sheets of glass. The carved lighthouses are also a striking feature of the show.
John Hunter, ShetlandMuseum and Archives exhibitions officer, said: It's great to see contemporary artists and makers living in the north being given the opportunity to experience, at first hand, the culture of their neighbours and to create exciting and challenging new work out of this collaboration." The exhibition runs until 3 January 2011 and the beautifully-illustrated full catalogue is available here (pdf, 5.2mb download).
For the first time, Shetland's annual Food Festival and Craft Fair have come together in the same venue over a weekend. The two events, held in the two largest halls at the Clickimin Centre in Lerwick, attracted record numbers of visitors, including some who had travelled to Shetland for the events.
The Food Festival - the third of its kind - ran from 6 to 14 November, with restaurants and cafés throughout Shetland offering special menus celebrating the very best of the wide range of food produced in the islands, including native lamb, excellent beef, the freshest of fish and shellfish, honey and the wonderfully floury Shetland Black potato, though it was just one of a dozen locally-grown potato varieties on show. There was a particularly warm welcome from audiences for the newest item to appear on local menus, a range of delicious local cheeses from two newly-established producers. All of these, as well as other specialities such as seawater oatcakes and a succulent pie made with native lamb, were also to be found in the producers' market held on the final weekend. So pleased were producers with the event that some have already booked space for next year, when the Food Festival will run from 5 to 13 November.
There were also cookery demonstrations featuring Stewart Boyles, who is Head Chef in Martin Wishart's restaurant at Cameron House, Loch Lomond, and several local chefs. In 'Ready, Steady, Shetland', two local celebrities tutored by professional chefs competed for the approval of the audience against a tight deadline. Both managed to come up with impressive dishes. As in previous years, bannock-making workshops were popular and there were also well-attended tours of Shetland Seafood Auctions and the Lerwick fish market.
The Craft Fair, which featured more than 40 exhibitors, demonstrated once again the wide range of art and craft work now being produced in Shetland. The show included some stunning photography, beautifully-executed leatherwork, several ranges of jewellery, bespoke furniture, pottery and glassware. Textile and knitwear items were also very much in evidence, including some exquisite Shetland lacework, colourful scarves, teddy bears and beautiful felted bags.
Just after the Craft Fair ended, the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale opened its annual Christmas exhibition. Running until 23 December, it includes a blend of work from Shetland artists and more than 30 studios and designers throughout the UK. Jane Matthews, one of the team behind the organisation of this year's show said: 'We have a brilliant range of work on show with a focus on contemporary, crisp design from a range of specialist makers. From computer-cut wood to pewter and glass to felt and porcelain, there is something special for everyone'.
Also just opened is a show of work by a number of professional Shetland artists at Shetland's only private gallery, Vaila Fine Art in Lerwick. The work on display ranges from wonderful, sweeping seascapes by Ruth Brownlee to the meticulously-detailed painting of Brian Henderson. One of the more unusual exhibits is a portrait after Picasso entitled 'Le Refuge de Femmes', but the artist, retired doctor Mike MacDonnell, says that he makes no apologies to Picasso: 'Since he treated his women very badly, he is the one who should have apologised'. The show continues until 19 December and some of the works can be seen on the gallery's website.
Gemma Donald, a Shetland fiddler who already has a string of awards to her name, has taken first prize for a fiddle composition at the Perthshire Amber Festival, an event featuring one of Scotland's leading singer-songwriters, Dougie MacLean. Gemma is just 21 but she has packed a great deal into her career so far, playing in places as diverse as Greece, Switzerland, Texas and Nigeria. Her playing draws on many influences, ranging from Scottish to jazz and western swing to bluegrass. Indeed, the Guardian said that she 'plays bluegrass fiddle as if she was born in the Appalachians'. Gemma won the £1,000 prize for her composition, 'Birlin' in Blair Atholl', and will keep for a year the trophy named in honour of legendary Perthshire-born fiddler Niel Gow (1727-1807), incidentally the subject of a famous portrait by Sir Henry Raeburn.
Gemma Donald is just one of many talented young players who energise Shetland's vibrant music scene and make their mark around the world. A new compilation of Shetland music, both traditional and contemporary, has now been put together for the international music magazine 'Songlines'. It will be distributed free to 20,000 readers with the January/February issue, due in newsagents on 10 December, when a podcast will also be available. The CD includes tracks by 18 different artists from Shetland and a mix of traditional and contemporary music. The full line-up features Aly Bain, Fiddlers Bid, Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag, Catriona Macdonald, Rock Salt & Nails, Chris Stout and Catriona McKay, Inge Thomson, Jenna & Bethany Reid, Malachy Tallack, Bryan Gear & Violet Tulloch, Bongshang, Astrid Williamson, Maggie Adamson & Brian Nicholson, Filska, Lise Sinclair, Steven Spence, Hom Bru and Paul Johnston. Many of them appear in our photo, taken at a unique gathering at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. The CD was compiled by Davie Gardner of Shetland-based Atlantic Edge Music Services and mastered by local recording engineer Marvin Smith. Paul Geoghan, of 'Songlines', said that they were delighted to feature Shetland given its reputation in musical circles.
As we suggest on the Shetland.org website, one good way of finding out whether you'd want to join the many others who've made the move to Shetland is to take a holiday here. In fact, we'd advise you to pay at least two visits, one around midsummer and one during the winter, perhaps fitting in one of the Up Helly Aa events. There's lots of information for visitors to Shetland on our companion Visit.Shetland.org website – where you can also sign up for a regular newsletter – and the islands often feature in travel magazines.
The latest of these features – one of the best and most accurate we've seen for some time – is in the January 2011 edition of Practical Motorhome, now on sale. It charts the journey made by staff writer Jeremiah Mahadevan all the way from south of London in a Volkswagen California. Jeremiah and "best mate" Shannon were determined to get as close as possible to Britain's most northerly point, Out Stack, which lies to the north of the island of Unst. On their trip, they found an "epic" place, with wild, glacial landscapes and the rugged, red-granite scenery of Northmavine: our photo shows the Dore Holm, off Eshaness. They also sampled Shetland's outstanding archaeological sites and took the unforgettable boat trip to the sea-bird cliffs of Noss. Jeremiah points out that in north America, crossing the 60° line of latitude is something of a badge of honour, and that, having done so in coming to Shetland, he can see why. "It's not just that places like this are extreme and testing", he writes, "but that they are invariably stunning".
A concert by Brit-nominated, chart-topping singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner, was one of several musical highlights in Shetland during November. Those attending the sell-out concert at the Clickimin Centre in Lerwick heard him do full justice to many of his best-known songs as well as fitting in his take on Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Thoughtful lyrics, performed in arrangements that stand out for their simplicity and clarity, are Faulkner's hallmark. His guitar playing was exquisite.
Newton Faulkner is best known for chart topping albums such as 'Hand Built by Robots' (2007) - which soared to No 1 in the official charts - and 'Rebuilt by Humans' (2009) which reached No 3 on release,plus the single 'Dream Catch Me', which reached No 7 on the singles charts in 2007.
Supporting performer on the night was a Shetland singer-songwriter, Malachy Tallack, whose style complemented Faulkner's very well indeed.
Davie Gardner, manager of Atlantic Edge Music Services and co-promoter of the concert, said he was delighted that artists of the quality of Newton Faulkner continually expressed a desire to play places like Shetland. "Shetland's had its fair share of great names in this respect over the years, but it's always a real thrill when another 'big name' wants to follow in those footsteps and do a gig in the isles", said Davie.
This was by no means the only memorable concert during November. Lulo Reinhardt, great-nephew of Django Reinhardt, paid a return visit, playing as part of the Peerie Willie Guitar Season with his 5 piece band, the Lulo Reinhardt Latin-Swing Project. Earlier in the month, Shetland's young people were treated to the Love Music Festival, which featured groups or soloists from Bulgaria, Mali, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Turkey, Tuva and the UK.
People are often uncertain about Shetland's location, which is perhaps not surprising given the variety of ways in which cartographers position the islands. Indeed, there is a page with more than 1,100 followers on Facebook ('Get Shetland on the map!') that records the many places in which Shetland appears, or indeed does not appear.
As a new display of five historical maps at the ShetlandMuseum and Archives suggests, things were much the same four hundred years ago. The islands were far away, somewhere in the north Atlantic. However, some traders, mainly from the Netherlands and Britain, did visit regularly. As numbers increased, so did knowledge of Shetland. One of the first maps of the Northern Isles was drawn by a minister from Caithness, Timothy Pont. He visited the islands around 1610, and drew a splendid map, though it was not published until Hendrik Hondius released Atlas Novus in Amsterdam in 1636. Hondius's atlas was influential, so Pont's Shetland map was copied for over a century.
Dutch mariners had more of an interest in Shetland than British ones, as their fishing and merchant vessels were regularly in these waters. Dutch mapmaking was the best in the world, so it was natural that most Shetland maps were produced in the Netherlands. The maps have Dutch names for places in Shetland, such as Swijnborgerhooft (Sumburgh Head), Wtscheren (Out Skerries), Blauwebergen (Ronas Hill), Larwyk (Lerwick), or Buyse Haven (Bressay Sound).
One of the best maps was drawn by Shetlander John Bruce. He was fluent in Dutch, a skilled surveyor and navigator. His work was published posthumously in Amsterdam in 1745.
Eight local groups or organisations have won awards for environmental projects demonstrating sustainability, innovation and best practice.
There was praise for the Belmont Trust's work, over fifteen years, in restoring Belmont House on the island of Unst, the best example of a Georgian house in the northern isles. It dates from 1775 and was in a state of near-collapse when they took it on. Now immaculately restored to the highest conservation standards at a cost of £1.2m, it will be available for holiday letting and for events such as weddings.
Primary pupils at nearby Uyeasound School have mapped Unst's older buildings and uploaded the results onto a national database. One of the houses surveyed was Valind, the family home of Captain John Gray of the SS Great Britain. The pupils' investigations resulted in partnerships with the Shetland Museum and Archives and the SS Great Britain Museum, for which they have developed materials.
BBC Radio Shetland won an award for its monthly programme covering environmental and outdoor topics including gardening, recycling, archaeology, outdoor sports, marine mammals, the built environment, eco-schools and community projects. The youth club in the village of Brae gained an award for transforming a piece of unused land at the back of the Youth Centre into a welcoming garden for all to use; they maintain the garden as part of their programme of activities. Meanwhile, staff and pupils at Ollaberry Primary School, a few miles farther north, redesigned their school garden and grounds to improve habitats for birds and small mammals and make the area more valuable for education.
Inspired by recent memorials built on the island, the Foula Heritage Ranger Service undertook a unique access and interpretation project linked to an old island tradition. Based on traditional stone rests - sheltered seats which were once used by islanders pushing barrows or carrying kishies of peats to stop and rest for a while - the project created seating to encourage visitors with a broader range of abilities to enjoy their unique island setting.
In 2008 Lerwick Port Authority became the first Scottish port to gain certification to the internationally recognised environmental standard ISO 14001:2004 and it has gone on to cut electricity consumption at their operations centre by 26%, improve fuel efficiency by 8% and make other big savings. All of that was recognised in another award. At the other end of the scale, local people in Gulberwick nominated Peter Kenny, appreciating his personal efforts to keep Gulberwick beach litter free, on an entirely voluntary basis.
Brian Gregson, Chairman of Shetland Amenity Trust, said that the award winners had all shown an outstanding commitment to our environment.
For a number of years, Shetland has offered live views of the islands through webcams in various locations. The network of cameras has now been improved and there's a brand new web page that allows easy access to all of them. The intention is to enable visitors and potential new residents to see Shetland in every season and in all weathers. That said, local people also find the cameras very useful for checking on what's happening in Lerwick Harbour, at Sumburgh Airport or other places.
Chris Rocks, a Shetland fencer and member of the Shetland Fencing Club, has become 'Sportsperson of the Year' in Shetland in the annual awards sponsored by the Shetland Recreational Trust and the Shetland Times. Chris, who won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Championships in Australia, is currently living in Hull. His coach, Andy Alderman, has been named as 'Coach of the Year'. A new lifetime achievement trophy was presented to Joan Nicolson, one of the pillars of the Shetland hockey community. Other awards went to the inter-county badminton team, the AndersonHigh School netball team and Felix Gifford, a young swimmer.
Ralf Ohlemuller, from Durham, was one of the many 'hamefarers' (homecomers) who made emotional returns to Shetland earlier this year, rekindling old friendships or, in his case, tracking down ancestors. He subsequently entered a short article about his visit in the Guardian's travel writing competition and was one of the three runners-up. His piece (which contains a misprint in the first line) can be found here: just scroll to the bottom of the page.
Our blog this month comes from one of the many artists working in Shetland. Jim Tait (who describes himself as 'the grumpy old painter' or 'the artistic curmudgeon') is best known for his oil paintings of ships and seascapes. There are several of them on his blog site. The usual disclaimer applies: we're not responsible for the content of external links.
As usual, people in Shetland are preparing for Christmas, with carol services, Christmas concerts and the annual quest for the perfect gift. Beyond that, there's the New Year celebration and two months of Up Helly Aa events that begin with Scalloway's fire festival in early January and include the largest such event of them all, in Lerwick, on Tuesday 25 January. As our feature on Shetland Christmas Past explains, the observance of traditions at this time of year has a fascinating history. All of us at Shetland.org would like to take this opportunity to send our warmest good wishes to all our readers for Christmas and New Year.