September 2010 Move Shetland Newsletter
Here is our newsletter from September 2010. We hope you find it of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for more advice using either the contact details at the end of this Newsletter, or you can reach us via the contact page on the Shetland.org website.
Another event-packed month opened with ScreenPlay, Shetland's very distinctive film festival. Curated by BBC film critic Mark Kermode and his partner, Linda Ruth Williams, the annual gathering attracted an enthusiastic local audience and visitors to venues all over the islands. It's some years since Shetland's only commercial cinema, the much-loved North Star, closed its doors but, by the time the next ScreenPlay takes place in 2011, the new cinemas in Mareel, the islands' new arts centre, will be open for business.
This year's films ranged from a classic of the silver screen – Vincente Minnelli's An American in Paris (1951), starring Gene Kelly – to an evening of short films on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes. Documentaries featured strongly, with showings of Frederick Wiseman's new account of the Paris Opera Ballet, La Danse (2010) and of films by Irish director Ken Wardrop, who also talked about his films.
Mark Kermode wrote about ScreenPlay in last Sunday's Observer. You can read the article here and find out why Shetland appeals to him much more than Cannes.
Running in parallel with ScreenPlay, Shetland's well-established book festival, WordPlay, brought a line-up of guests that included TV wildlife star, Simon King, award winning, best selling novelist, James Robertson and leading playwright, David Harrower. Mark Kermode also appeared, talking about his latest book.
The festival featured a remarkable range of events including writing workshops, author appearances and activities for children. Themes included children's fiction, literary fiction, poetry, erotic fiction, film criticism, song writing and writing for the stage.
Musical connections were explored; Michael Gray, the world's leading authority on the work of Bob Dylan, talked about both Dylan and the great bluesman, Blind Willie McTell. Will Kaufman presented his acclaimed live documentary, 'Hard Times and Hard Travelling: the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie'. Dr Kaufman, himself no mean singer and guitarist, provides what Ralph McTell has described as "the fastest hour and a half you will ever experience" in a presentation that involved images and live performances by Dr Kaufman of the great American icon's songs as well as other songs of the period.
Drama was also included in the festival programme, in the form of a series of ten minute plays written in Shetland over the last year and performed by members of Serpentine Drama, a local community group that aims to encourage the writing and performance of new drama in the islands.
As ever, Wordplay was a richly varied event with a great deal to enjoy.
Overlapping with WordPlay and ScreenPlay was the seventh Shetland Blues Festival, which we've featured previously in these pages. This year's event included performances by six nominees for the British Blues awards and the full list of visiting artists included Connie Lush and Blues Shouter, the Guy Tortora Band, Hokie Joint, Baby Isaac, Kris Dollimore, Dale Storr and the Bad Taste Blues Band. Concerts took place in a number of venues across the islands.
In very different vein, a conference held in Shetland at the beginning of September explored the world of knitwear. The islands' knitting heritage is world-famous and beautiful knitwear is still produced in the islands, including the astonishingly fine lace that's celebrated in the Mirrie Lace project that we featured previously. However, this is an instance where the buyer must beware, for the use of the term 'Shetland' doesn't indicate that the item in question was made in the islands or contains Shetland wool. The real thing is very special and is well worth tracking down.
The conference, called 'In the Loop', was a collaboration involving the Shetland Museum and Archives, which holds a fine collection of Shetland textiles, and the University of Southampton. Although there's naturally a strong focus on Shetland's traditional and contemporary knitting, speakers at the conference bring perspectives from New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, Barcelona and the United States, among other places. Delegates did, of course, have a chance to see some of Shetland and to visit local knitters in their workplaces.
Meanwhile, a Shetland knitter has demonstrated that the islands offer speed as well as quality. Hazel Tindall won a speed-knitting contest in Minneapolis by a convincing margin. There's more on this BBC web page.
The Shetland Guitar Festival is a celebration of the guitar and, in particular, of the remarkable life and talent of 'Peerie' Willie Johnson, who developed a highly distinctive style of guitar accompaniment that featured in many performances and recordings by Shetland fiddlers. 'Peerie' means 'small' in Shetland dialect, but Willie's diminutive physical stature bore no relation to his musical reputation, as an obituary in the Independent makes clear. Martin Taylor, one of Britain's best-known guitarists, was a leading admirer.
This year's festival breaks with tradition by being spread over the months of September, October and November. There is a group of concerts over the weekend of 17-19 September, followed by appearances in late October by John Etheridge and during November by the Michael Janisch Quintet and the Lulo Reinhardt Quintet. The season promises some great music by a number of exceptionally talented musicians.
Preparations for Shetland's annual Accordion and Fiddle Festival are well under way. The event takes place from 7 to 11 October 2010 and, as always, concerts and dances are planned in ten venues throughout the islands in addition to those in Lerwick. Generally, local halls host a concert, followed by an informal supper and a dance. Twenty-four visiting bands will grace local stages; some hail from Scotland but there are others from Ireland, Norway and Slovakia. It's always a hugely enjoyable and very sociable weekend and this year's will be no exception. There's more information on the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Club's website.
Each year, throughout Scotland, there are opportunities to visit many buildings, most of which aren't usually open to the public. Some are of architectural or historic interest but in others the attraction is finding out more about what happens inside them. Shetland Buildings in the first category this year include the Anderson High School, Busta House Hotel and the Lodberrie, a very old merchant's house and trading post on the waterfront in old Lerwick. In the second category are the studios of BBC Radio Shetland and a workshop in which fiddles are made. The full list of buildings open this year is to be found here.
The dialect that native Shetlanders use from day to day is a unique blend of Scots, English and Norn, the old Scandinavian tongue. Indeed, there are variations in dialect within Shetland and sharp-eared locals have little difficulty in distinguishing speakers from Burra Isle, the island of Whalsay or the village of Cunningsburgh. The dialect was at one time in real danger of fading away, not least because earlier generations of Shetlanders were taught very firmly to speak pure English, despite the fact that (as incoming writers often observe) the dialect is wonderfully adapted to describing Shetland's life and landscapes and precise in doing so, as in the word shoormal, which is where the sea meets the shore.
However, there has been a resurgence of interest. Dialect group, Shetland ForWirds has championed it and BBC Radio Shetland has helped make it more prominent, too. Several poets and authors, not all them indigenous, have written increasingly in dialect. A recent programme on BBC Radio 4 offered an excellent insight, with some beautiful readings of poetry, and it's available until Sunday 12 September on the BBC i-Player. Otherwise, there's more about the programme on this BBC page.
Shetland Youth Theatre has never been afraid to present productions in unusual settings. Over the past sixteen years, venues have included the dramatic ruins of Scalloway Castle and a disused garage. Recently, the company broke new ground by staging a play in a former fish tank, once used for growing salmon. The piece performed was More Light by the major contemporary playwright Bryony Lavery, whose show Beautiful Burnout with the National Theatre of Scotland has stunned audiences in Edinburgh. More Light is the companion piece to Red Sky which Shetland Youth Theatre performed three years ago in Scalloway, Edinburgh and at the National Theatre in London. Set in the tomb of the first emperor of China, it focuses on the concubines buried alive in the tomb in order to accompany their master on his journey through death's gates.
Talking about the production and the choice of venue, Shetland Arts' Drama Development Officer and director John Haswell explained: "More Light is a beautiful play that examines how a group of young women discover a sense of liberation and empowerment in the most appalling of circumstances. Although tragic, it is also an affirmation of the ability of these women to create an alternative world based upon art rather than the grandiose megalomania of the emperor. The play is both epic and intimate. As it is set in a tomb, the company wanted to perform in a venue that embraced the audience in the alien surroundings. It would have been too easy to perform at the Garrison. The old fish tank at the former Shore Station is hugely exciting. It is a massive space with a fascinating acoustic. The cast will be in the tank for the whole length of the production, with the audience on the outside looking in. There is a sense of the audience being voyeurs as they witness the women's situation, and also of being archaeologists looking into the past."
The cast of 30 young actors worked intensively for several weeks on this production and adapting the tank for the production presented some unusual challenges. However, all the effort was worth it. It proved captivating; one member of the audience described it as 'splendid and memorable' and others said that they were 'in awe' and that the choice of venue had been 'a stroke of genius'.
Shetland has many overseas links and a very strong record of charitable giving. Several local organisations or individuals are active in offering aid or assistance to communities in areas as diverse as Tamil Nadu or Albania. Another new charity has recently been set up and this time the focus is on Ghana. Project Bongo, as it's called, aims to help with small-scale development and educational projects. There are more details on their new website.
This year's menu of evening classes offers the usual extensive range of skills to learn or improve. As well as the sorts of topics that feature in most such programmes, such as conversational French or computing, this year's Shetland offerings include African drumming and weekend-long watercolour painting courses. See the list of courses and book online at LearnShetland.com
A recent report, highlighted in this BBC news story, places Shetland as the third-safest place in the UK in terms of child safety on the roads. The islands are just behind Kensington and Chelsea and Richmond-upon-Thames. Although car ownership in Shetland is high, it no doubt helps that Shetland has a relatively small population and that the roads are generally of a very good standard.
Each year, around the world, local photographers take place in the Worldwide Photo Walk. In Shetland, the walk has been organised by Ben Mullay (whose blog gives more details) and participants in this year's event had the enjoyable task of finding photogenic subjects around Hay's Dock in Lerwick, site of the Shetland Museum and Archives, and the neighbouring waterfront. Gillian Okill has been declared the winner of the Shetland section of the walk and the very pleasing results of her efforts can be seen on this website.
One of the great attractions of Shetland for anyone who's keen on angling is Shetland's remarkable range of opportunities. There is of course excellent sea angling to be had; many islanders have their own boats and sea-angling competitions are associated with many local yachting regattas. Trout fishing on any of the hundreds of freshwater lochs is especially popular, particularly as they are regularly stocked by the local anglers' association and permits are both readily available and remarkably inexpensive. One recent account of trout fishing in Shetland recently appeared in the Financial Times and you can read it here.
When you're a workplace is a remote lighthouse, keeping in touch with the outside world becomes especially important. Lawrence Tulloch spent many years on the Muckle Flugga light, which is Britain's most northerly, perched on a huge rock to the north of the Shetland island of Unst. He was later to write a very engaging account of his experiences in a book entitled On The Rocks. One of his favourite ways of maintaining contact was by listening to the cricket commentary on the BBC's Test Match Special: the pace of the game no doubt suited the lighthouse way of life. Now, Lawrence has had an opportunity to meet the people whose voices became so familiar over the years and his visit to the Test Match Special team is recorded in this photograph.
Life in Shetland has many facets and we try hard to reflect them all in this newsletter. However, in our efforts to capture the essence of the place, we think it's time to enlist some help from all the many people who write regular blogs. We've already drawn attention more than once to the lively Shetland My Love one but, from now on, we'll provide a link to one of those blogs each month. The usual disclaimer applies, of course: Shetland.org isn't responsible for the content of any external link, nor does the inclusion of a link imply any endorsement.
This month's blog comes from Tom Morton, who lives in a village in the north mainland of Shetland and usually presents his weekday afternoon radio programme on BBC Scotland from the islands.