Our December Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

As Christmas approaches, many folks’ thoughts will, of course, be focused on preparing for the festive season, planning family events and trying to think of something other than socks for that hard-to-buy-for uncle; but what other distractions can we look forward to?

Christmas trees have begun to appear, and the first Saturday of the month sees Lerwick’s lights switched on. Santa will make an early visit to join the parade, no doubt doing his annual pre-flight check on our chimneys and sherry stocks.

Dinner dances and office parties will be getting under way and many local halls will be holding Christmas parties for local bairns, with more personal appearances by Santa: it’s a wonder he ever finds time to wrap all those presents.

There’s lots more to savour. Local musical talent is on show right from the start of the month, with a tour by two local bands, Beltane Ree and Fjanna. Beltane Ree is a newly formed Shetland band who play a mix of contemporary and traditional music from Shetland, Scotland, Ireland and further afield, including some of their own compositions. Up and coming young Shetland band Fjanna have scooped up many accolades locally and nationally in the traditional music scene over the last twelve months.

On the 9th, Mareel welcomes pioneering contemporary folk trio, Lau. The Guardian’s verdict was that they’re “The U.K’s best live band; Lau are remarkable — the most musically adventurous trio in British folk: exquisite and hypnotic, musicianship at its best”. On their current national tour, they’re performing music from their new album, which celebrates a decade together.

Lau comprises three of the UK’s finest traditional musicians: Kris Drever (vocals, guitar), Martin Green (accordion, wurlitzer, keys, electronics) and Aidan O’Rourke (fiddle). Lau has garnered four awards for ‘Best Group’ at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and, in this year’s ceremony, Kris Drever (pictured above) was crowned Folk Singer of the Year and picked up the award for Best Original Track. Martin Green was nominated for Best Album 2017 & Best Original Track 2017. The band has also appeared on Later... With Jools Holland on BBC2. Individual members have all won multiple awards and recognition for their solo work. In short, the evening will be a real treat.

A fixture in the December calendar is, of course, the annual pantomime, which this year is Peter Pan, presented by Open Door Drama in the Garrison Theatre. Tickets were going fast at the time of writing, with half of the 12 shows either sold out already, or nearly so, as families flock to see Peter himself, Tinkerbell, Wendy, Captain Hook, Tiger Lily and the rest, plus – we hear – “the unsinkable Big Jessie and her soppy son Little Jim.”

There are a couple of excellent exhibitions during the month. The current show at Da Gadderie in the Shetland Museum offers a taste of eight local artists’ and makers’ work: you can read all about it in another of our blogs.

Meanwhile, at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, there’s a celebration of the long and illustrious career of Shetlander Maxie Bain. After growing up in Shetland, Maxie left for Aberdeen to study at Gray’s School of Art. By the time he left Gray’s in the mid 1960s, he was already known in Scotland as an aspiring portrait painter.

In 1975 Maxie moved to England to work on a graphic design course at Salisbury College of Art, but continued to involve himself in portrait painting. He exhibited with the Royal Portrait Society in the Mall Galleries and at the National Portrait Gallery, London, as well as the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. As the graphic design course grew and developed, Maxie found himself in charge of its illustration content, but also worked on packaging design, typography and promotional design. This love of drawing and illustration found its way into his own work, resulting in the kind of detailed imagery for which he is best known in Shetland.

After 40 years in the south of England, Maxie returned to live in Shetland in 2015 and this is his first show in Shetland since then.

All kinds of other events feature in the December diary. There are carol services, of course, but there are also diversions such as an illustrated talk on “Secrets of sea and shore”, which will no doubt give a local perspective on the wonders that David Attenborough is currently revealing in Blue Planet 2. Even more intriguing is an art project open day entitled “A Social Life of Peat”.

Mareel has, as usual, a full programme of current and classic cinema, with the latest Star Wars epic, The Last Jedi, launching on both screens at one minute past midnight on Thursday 14; an aperitif, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, starts three hours earlier. Christmas specials include Arthur Christmas, from the team behind Wallace and Gromit, and the perennial It’s A Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.

Other highlights include Call Me By Your Name (showing as part of the Screen Pride strand) and, at the end of the month, a reprise for The Apartment, Billy Wilder’s timeless romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Also on the big screen, there are two performances by the Bolshoi Ballet, The Taming of the Shrew and that magical Christmas favourite, The Nutcracker.

Last but not least, Shetland features in another brand new, ten-episode television series, Island Medics, which takes us behind the scenes at the Gilbert Bain Hospital. We see hospital doctors and nurses work alongside GPs, paramedics, coastguard, lifeboat crews and police to provide emergency and medical care to our 23,000 residents, as well as workers from North Sea oil and gas rigs and visitors on cruise liners.

One case features Brian, an ultrasound engineer on an oil rig, who is airlifted by helicopter to the hospital with suspected serious neck injuries. It’s an urgent case for Dr Kushik Lalla (pictured) and his team in Accident and Emergency because, aside from his potential spinal injury, Brian has a worryingly low heart rate which requires thorough investigation.

In one way or another, every one of us has reason to be grateful for the skill, dedication and care that the hospital’s staff provide year-round, and of course they’ll be there on Christmas Day too, ready to cope with any challenge. It should make fascinating viewing and you can catch the first 45-minute episode on BBC1 at 9.15am on Monday 4 December.

Christmas will have come and gone before we know it, and we’ll be into a new year. In Shetland, that means that the fire festival season will be upon us. The first two are in Scalloway on Friday 12 January and in Lerwick – the largest Up Helly Aa by far – on Tuesday 30 January. We’ll have more about these, and all the month’s other events, in our January diary.

Posted in: Community