March 2012 Move Shetland Newsletter

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Hello! I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the March edition of our newsletter.

If there's one theme that has run through Shetland life in the last few weeks, it's music. There has been a feast of it, beginning with a memorable folk concert and ending with a five days of magnificent playing from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, often working with local musicians.

Shetland is, of course, a very musical community, with a host of players in any and every style who respect, and are often inspired by, each others' work. True, we may be best known for our heritage of traditional music and especially the fiddle, but every genre from African drumming to baroque finds a place. Audiences in the isles (many of whom, of course, play an instrument themselves) are equally open-minded; and it's striking that our young people embrace a whole range of music rather than tying themselves to a single strand.

I also have some news about education; if you're thinking of moving to the isles with children of school age, you'll be interested to read about the latest inspection of our largest secondary school, which is clearly providing a first-class education for our young people.

Despite the crocuses being in bloom and the daffodils not far behind, it's perhaps just a little early to wave winter goodbye. However, the days are rapidly lengthening and it won't be long until the Spring equinox. We may just catch a few more displays of the aurora borealis before the nights become too light; there have been several in recent weeks.

If you're thinking of making the move to Shetland, as many others have done, we hope this newsletter offers a flavour of the life you could enjoy in the islands. We have a large amount of essential information about Shetland on our website but we also recommend that you make a couple of reconnaissance trips to experience island life, ideally at different seasons. And if you're not about to move, but just fancy a holiday, I have some information and links below which may help.

Great Music In Transatlantic Sessions

The first of our recent musical treats came at the beginning of February, when the main hall at Lerwick's huge Clickimin Centre hosted one of those concerts that will live in the memory for a very long time. Renowned Shetland fiddler, Aly Bain, who created the 'Transatlantic Sessions' series for BBC 4 television, arrived in the islands with a remarkable troupe of 17 musicians, fresh from the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow and en route to London, Gateshead and elsewhere.

In the world of traditional music, this was an awesome gathering that, as well as Aly Bain himself, included such Scottish names as Eddi Reader, formerly of Fairground Attraction, and Karen Matheson of Capercaillie. From Ireland there was Declan O'Rourke and, from the other side of the Atlantic, we had the skilful guitar of Jerry Douglas, the delightful Ruth Moody and former Mavericks vocalist Raul Malo, with a voice that would warm even the chilliest February evening. You can find the full line-up, with links to the musicians' websites, and lots more about the Transatlantic Sessions project, here.

All the musicians were on stage throughout the concert, some providing backing vocals while others just relaxed. The result was a performance that mixed stunning musicianship with a wonderfully informal atmosphere. The thousand or so who came along were treated to almost three hours of very varied tunes; and every one of them must have gone home hoping that it wouldn't be too long before Aly brought them all back for a second helping.

There's a review from the Scotsman here.

Shetland Metal Band Wows Judges

In complete contrast, Shetland's best known metal band, Ten Tonne Dozer, have just carried off the prize for Best Metal Band in the third annual Scottish Alternative Music Awards, impressing a very knowledgeable panel of judges and winning lots of votes from the more than 18,000 fans who cast online ballots.

The band was formed in 2005 and they offer 'high-octane original music' in a 'barrage of sound'. They play regularly in Shetland, the UK and mainland Europe.

The awards, which were presented at The Garage, a Glasgow venue, aim to draw attention to Scottish bands and artists that do great work outside the mainstream. According to the event's founder, Richy Muirhead, the night was a 'buzz', with many diverse acts creating an electric atmosphere.

You can find lots of their music on YouTube - for example in this video from the Alkmaar Festival in the Netherlands - as well as on their own MySpace page.

Anderson High School Wins Plaudits From Inspectors

Lerwick's Anderson High School, which is much the larger of the two six-year secondary schools in the islands, has won warm praise from the Scottish Government's inspectors.

Their report states that the learner's experience and curriculum at Anderson High are both 'very good'. The school is also 'very good' at meeting learning needs. The inspectors also praised the way in which performance was improving and the part that self-evaluation played.

The inspectors were particularly impressed by:

  • Well-behaved, responsible young people who are keen to learn and actively support their school and community.
  • A safe, caring, supportive and inclusive environment for all young people.
  • High-quality support from specialist staff for young people with particular learning needs.
  • The staff's enthusiasm and dedication to enhancing experiences for young people.
  • The strong lead and direction from the head teacher, ably supported by the depute head teachers.

Inspectors spoke to many parents and young people and worked closely with the head teacher and staff.

They also looked at some particular aspects of the school's recent work, including; progress towards Curriculum for Excellence, arrangements to support young people as they prepare to leave school and the transition of students from Scalloway Junior High.

Staff at the school are praised for pitching tasks and activities to meet individual needs and 'building effectively on young people's prior learning at the associated primary and junior high schools.

The use of well-planned theme days and projects was felt to help to bring their learning alive and sporting, cultural and volunteering activities have allowed student to develop 'important skills in leadership, teamwork and creativity'.

The report commends the fact that almost all students continue to study a modern language to the end of S4 and notes that exam results for S4 to S6 students have been 'consistently above national averages over a number of years.

It seems that the Anderson High School's practice in some areas is likely to serve as a model for others. The inspectors say that they want to work with the school so that innovative work being done there can be shared more widely.

During their visit, inspectors were also able to identify aspects of innovative practice at the Anderson High School which they would like to "explore further in order to share the practice with others". The inspectors will "work with the school and local authority in order to record and share more widely the innovative practice".

The councillor who chairs the Council's education committee, Betty Fullerton, welcomed the report.

'The fact that Education Scotland want to share the innovative practice found at Anderson High with other schools in Scotland has got to be the ultimate compliment and speaks volumes for the quality of teaching. All the staff and pupils deserve praise for this exceptional report'.

You can read the inspectors' findings online.

Shetland Smartcard A Step Closer

There's been more innovation at a Junior High School in Shetland's south mainland, where school students have begun paying for school meals with a smartcard.

Sandwick teenagers can now use their Young Scot cards to pay for meals and snacks at the canteen, without the need for cash. Parents and guardians can load money on to the cards (in cash or online), and pupils can pay for their meals through contactless card readers at the canteen till.

If the pilot at Sandwick is successful, the scheme will eventually be rolled out to all secondary schools in Shetland. This is the first step towards an integrated Shetland Smartcard to improve access to a range of public services. The Shetland Smartcard project aims to introduce cards for everybody in Shetland that will be capable of being used for library book loans, leisure facilities and public transport.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra Pops Up All Over Shetland

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra has just left Shetland after five days of music-making throughout the islands.

It's not often possible to organise a visit by a major orchestra to Shetland. The last was in June 2007, when the Scottish Chamber Orchestra performed to very appreciative audiences; it's more than 20 years since the RSNO last made the trip.

And what a trip the 2012 one has been! The music making started at Sumburgh Airport, when several members of the orchestra struck up some tunes as soon as they'd reached the arrivals hall, to the delight of waiting passengers.

That was followed, on Friday 2 March, by visits by sections of the orchestra to each of Shetland's remotest islands, Unst, Skerries, Foula and Fair Isle, where they were joined by local musicians in simultaneous concerts linked by video. Each of the island audiences was able to enjoy all the music and the concerts were also streamed to the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick.

The players had an incredibly busy day on Saturday. Splitting into smaller bands, they performed 'mini monster music' concerts in Lerwick and Brae in the morning and in Yell and Sandwick in the afternoon. Aimed at children from 2 to 7, they combined live music with stories and singalongs. The afternoon also featured a brass concert at Bigton and a solo violin recital - accompanied by a cream tea - in the beautiful setting of the Long Room at Busta House, Brae. All of these were very well attended and much appreciated.

At night, a slimmed-down orchestra played the intimate setting of St Columba's Church in Lerwick, a venue with a particularly fine acoustic. The centrepiece was Mozart's first violin concerto and there were also pieces by Bartok, Purcell, Elgar, Bach and Grieg. A standing ovation produced an encore, the Strauss Pizzicato Polka, which brought many smiles and, inevitably, another ovation. Three Shetland school students, two violinists and a cellist, had the very special experience of joining the orchestra for some of the pieces.

Sunday evening saw the entire forces of the RSNO come together for a concert in Lerwick's Clickimin Centre which drew an audience of around 800, probably a record for a concert of this kind in Shetland. Britten's four sea interludes were followed by the first performance of Tingaholm, a commissioned work by Shetland fiddle maestro Chris Stout. On first hearing, it was engrossing, rhythmic and very melodic, the fiddle tunes in the opening bars being woven, like Fair Isle patterns, into an increasingly intricate composition that drew on all the RSNO's considerable forces. In the second half, the audience enjoyed a searingly good performance of Sibelius' first symphony that filled the huge hall; this was assuredly a great orchestra on cracking form. Before they left on Monday, seven hundred Shetland school pupils were treated to another concert at Clickimin.

Such visits may not happen very often, but there's no question that this one offered something for everyone. The other great thing about it was the way in which the orchestra merged into the community, welcoming local players into their ranks and meeting many local audiences in far more intimate settings than is ever possible in large city concert venues. Local audiences will be hoping that, especially with the opening of Lerwick's new cinema and music venue later in 2012, more large-scale music making of this kind will become possible.

Emily and Nicole March For Equal Marriage Rights

I've previously mentioned the work of Shetland's representatives in Scotland's Youth Parliament, or MSYPs as they're known. Emily Shaw and Nicole Mouat have been busy lately and, on one of their recent visits to Edinburgh, they joined more than a thousand people in a march to demand that the Scottish Parliament legislates for equal marriage, regardless of anyone's sexual orientation.

Emily Shaw MSYP said:

'Equal marriage is a right and this protest march and rally showed once again that Scotland's young people are ready for marriage equality to become a reality regardless of sexual orientation. I feel that we achieved something in Edinburgh that day, sending a strong and loud message on behalf of the young people of Scotland and I am extremely happy that I had the opportunity to take part.'

'Shetland Bus' Story Tops Local Bestseller List Again

According to the Shetland Times Bookshop, the late David Howarth's book, The Shetland Bus, topped the local chart in 2011. It's a moving, gripping tale of extraordinary courage and self-sacrifice.

The book tells the story of the clandestine sea connection between occupied Norway and Shetland that supported the Norwegian resistance during the Second World War. Howarth was the assistant officer in charge of the operation and his book was first published in 1951, meaning that it has now passed its diamond anniversary.

The Shetland Bus took the form of a fleet of small Norwegian fishing boats, which ran the gauntlet of Nazi warships and aircraft in order to ferry supplies and resistance workers across the North Sea. Operating as far as possible in darkness, they nevertheless lost several boats and many men, either to enemy action or to bad weather. The small boats were eventually replaced by much faster and more powerful vessels, lent by the US Navy, and there was no further loss of life.

The links between Shetland and Norway have always been close but they became infinitely stronger after the war. Anyone from Shetland who visits any of the coastal towns and villages along Norway's west coast is invariably given the warmest of welcomes.

The story of the Shetland Bus is also told on a dedicated website and in the Scalloway Museum, which will re-open in a larger building a little later this year.

Scottish Stalwart Helps Promote Youth Rugby In Shetland

Scotland lock Richie Gray has just paid a visit to the islands to mark the work Shetland Rugby Club is doing to open up the game to more youngsters in the northernmost part of the country.

Gray, 6ft 9ins and capped 19 times, was in Shetland to announce the appointment of Daniel Meadows as Rugby Development Officer for Shetland. Gray lent support to the club development officer and active schools co-ordinators from Shetland Islands Council and took part in fun rugby sessions with pupils from Bells Brae primary school and Anderson High School. He also met members of Shetland first XV.

Shetland Islands Council's Active Schools Manager James Johnston said:

'Richie is an immense talent, and being such a stand-out player with Scotland, we are sure the pupils and players he meets will be inspired to take up the offer of more rugby with Daniel and his growing team of coaches.'

A Ukrainian Take On Up Helly Aa

The fire festival season in Shetland isn't quite over, with the South Mainland one coming up on Friday 9 March and the Delting one (in the north mainland) taking place on 16 March.

However, the fame of the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, much the largest of them, continues to spread. Even if, like me, you don't know much Ukrainian, the images in this news report are worth watching, provided you have a fast broadband connection.

Time To Plan That Shetland Trip

We always recommend that anyone who is thinking of making the move to Shetland should consider at least a couple of reconnaissance visits, ideally in both winter and summer, to get a feel for the islands in all conditions.

However, we're equally delighted to welcome visitors who may have no intention of moving, but who simply want to enjoy all the wonderful things that Shetland can offer the holiday visitor. The wildlife is spectacular and often surprisingly accessible, the walking can be as gentle or as challenging as you wish and the angling is superb.

There's a wonderful heritage too: archaeology to rival any in Britain, superb crafts including, of course, knitwear, and glorious music. All sorts of other pursuits are possible: exploring by kayak among beautiful islands, photographing some wonderful landscapes or cycling on quiet roads. In summer, too, you can easily add a side-trip to Norway, because Bergen's just an hour away by plane.

Our companion website, visit.shetland.org, is loaded with information to help you plan a Shetland holiday and you can sign up there for a newsletter that will keep you up to date with events and inspire your adventures. There's an online magazine, too, 60 North. You might also like to take a look at the Shetland 2012 visitor brochure, which is packed with all you need to know when planning your visit.

Microsoft 'Borrows' The Shetland Flag

As it prepares to launch the latest incarnation of Windows later in 2012, Microsoft has turned its logo into something remarkably like the Shetland flag. The similarity has been picked up on many technical blog sites. However it appears that the logo, described as 'humble, yet confident', will actually change colour when the user changes the theme colours on his or her PC, so it may be that the result will be a whole series of Scandinavian-style flags.

Reading Microsoft's rationale for the design, it seems that - to the extent that there is a similarity - we should perhaps be reassured that the design has 'the characteristics of way-finding design systems seen in airport and subways', by which they may mean that it looks like a sign.

Microsoft also think that the new logo (and presumably our flag) do not 'try to emulate faux-industrial design characteristics such as materiality', which comes as a tremendous relief to us all.

Blog Of The Month

Our blog this month is Kozetland, a photo blog that happens to feature some more Up Helly Aa pictures and a wealth of other material.