February 2013 Move Shetland Newsletter


Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the February 2013 issue of our monthly newsletter.

As I report below, the fire festival season really is in full swing and both the Scalloway and Lerwick events (including the junior Lerwick Up Helly Aa) were as spectacular as ever. More fire festivals will follow, well into March so, if you'd like to see one this year, you still have the opportunity: more details are available through one of the links below.

Although the evening of Lerwick's Up Helly Aa was windy and wet, much of our weather in January was benign, with a run of clear, calm frosty days. Apart from a light dusting, we missed the snow that was such a feature farther south. However, the main thing we notice at this time of year is the rapidly-lengthening days.

During January, each day is three and a half minutes longer than the last, meaning that we have almost two hours more light at the end of the month than we had at the beginning. The days lengthen more quickly than anywhere else in the UK, so that, by the summer solstice in June, there will be no proper darkness.

Music is at the very heart of Shetland life and we've news of two music festivals. The Jazz Festival, which takes place this month, is the new kid on the block but is rapidly building audiences and attracting performers of real distinction.

The Folk Festival, in May, has been delighting both audiences and performers for the past 32 years and is now one of the best-regarded events of its kind on the international calendar; the 33rd is shaping up to be a great one, too.

If you're thinking of making the move to Shetland, one of the fire festivals or either of the musical treats would be an excellent hook on which to hang one of your reconnaissance visits, because - in their different ways - they convey so well the spirit of what is a remarkable community. Don't forget that our sister site, Visit.Shetland.org, has masses information to help you plan a trip.

Isles' biggest fire festival lights up Lerwick

Every year, on the last Tuesday in January, the streets of Lerwick are the stage for the spectacular fire festival of Up Helly Aa, much the largest of the several fire festivals held in Shetland between January and March.

The festival dates back to the 1880s, when it replaced an earlier, riskier and messier tradition of carrying burning tar barrels along the main street. In all that time, it has been cancelled only during the war years or, in 1901, for the death of Queen Victoria. There is never a postponement for bad weather.

The history of the festival is explained on the Up Helly Aa website and there's lots more information there about every aspect of the celebrations. Although the torch procession - this year with almost 900 torches - is the thing that most people associate with Up Helly Aa, the event actually lasts for more than 24 hours. It begins at around 6am on the Tuesday with the positioning of the Bill at the Market Cross; it's a huge placard noted for its witty commentary on local events and public figures.

By 9am, the Guizer Jarl and his squad of Vikings are on the move, marching through the town. The procession takes place in the evening and is followed by parties with dancing in eleven halls, which don't end until 8am on Wednesday morning.

Around dawn, the streets are briefly alive with Vikings, pirates, soldiers, wasps and rather heavily-built ballet dancers (among other disguises) wending their weary way homewards to enjoy a well-earned public holiday.

This year, the sun shone for the morning procession, bringing out the gorgeous blues of the Jarl's Squad's tunics and the beautifully-crafted galley. Helmets, axes and polished pewter simply sparkled. By evening, though, it was wet and windy. It took longer than usual to light the torches - always a spectacular moment - and the route was shortened a little, but the burning of the galley was as dramatic as ever.

Some readers may have watched the live web presentation provided by Promote Shetland, which was seen by almost 12,000 people around the world, with particularly big audiences in Australia and New Zealand as well as in the UK.

A visit next year would certainly be an excellent opportunity not only to see the festival but also to help you decide whether or not Shetland is somewhere you'd like to live. You do, though, need to plan ahead, as flights, ferry sailings and accommodation can fill up quickly.

Although the procession is free to attend, some other events (such as the 'Fiery Sessions' concert on Tuesday afternoon) are ticketed. The only hall for which tickets are on open sale is the Lerwick Town Hall and information will appear here towards the end of the year; but you have to move fast.

In our beginners guide to Up Helly Aa, you'll also find the dates of all the other Shetland fire festivals, eight of which have yet to take place.

Shetland rugby team moves up the league

Now that the Six Nations is under way, rugby fans are likely to have several Saturday and Sunday afternoons set aside over the next few weeks. However, those of us in Shetland who follow the game don't have to travel to Murrayfield, Twickenham or Stade de France to see a good, competitive match. There's a healthy interest in rugby in the islands and the Shetland team is currently runner up in its league, the RBS Caledonia Regional League Div 3 North.

They climbed to that position in mid-January, when they overcame Aberdeen Wanderers by 61 points to 12. It was a great day for rugby: dry, bright and reasonably mild. Shetland took a while to get off their mark against the Aberdeen visitors but gradually built up an unassailable lead, with some great breakaways and several thrilling tries. It helped greatly that Paul Grant's boot was so reliable; he successfully converted eight out of nine attempts.

There's a Shetland Rugby website where you can find out more about the team and follow their progress.

Shetland library marks ten years of storytelling

Shetland Library is celebrating ten years of providing rhyme and story sessions for under fives throughout Shetland.

The scheme was first introduced in January 2003 under the name 'Bookstart' and was re-launched seven years later as 'Bookbug', now a firm favourite with the under fives. The programme adheres to the principle that every child should have access to books and be able to enjoy them from an early age. Sessions run monthly at the Old Library Centre in Lerwick and various locations across Shetland, and incorporate song, rhyme and live music.

Morag Nicolson, co-ordinator for Shetland Bookbug, says: "Parents, carers and grandparents all really enjoy coming along to borrow new picture books, join in the activities and meet up with friends. You can tell babies and young children enjoy taking part and are responsive to the songs and rhymes well before they are able to communicate." Councillor Steven Coutts, who regularly attends the sessions with his family, says: "Both my bairns enjoy it and always look out for Bookbug when they go to the library. It's great to see a love of books and libraries being promoted in this age of technology and screen-based entertainment. I sincerely hope that Bookbug continues for at least another ten years."

Shetland chippy impresses Seafish judges

The most northerly fish and chip shop in Britain has again demonstrated that it's one of the best, carrying off four awards in a national competition.

Frankie's Fish and Chips occupies a recently-built, bespoke building in the village of Brae. Customers can order a takeaway or eat in, and in summer there's an outdoor terrace overlooking the waters of Busta Voe. The shop has built up a very good reputation locally since it opened in 2008, offering not just the usual chip shop menu but also such delights as moules marinières, the mussels being locally-grown. There are homebakes, too, and many appreciate the gluten-free and wheat-free options.

At an ceremony held in London, comedian Rory Bremner handed over awards for staff training, an innovative new recipe using roe, and knowledge and skill in turning potatoes into chips - the 'field to fryer' award. Carlyn Kearney, one of the staff, carried off the fourth accolade, for 'Young Fish Frier of The Year'. They came close to winning in a fifth category, the 'Good Catch Award'. All the firm's representatives who attended the ceremony were delighted with the results of their efforts.

As the shop's website demonstrates, this isn't the first time that Frankie's has featured in national awards and we suspect it won't be the last. We congratulate them and wish Carlyn and her colleagues every success for the future.

February Music Diary Features Jazz Festival

The main musical event during February is the annual Shetland Jazz Festival and it features an impressive line-up.

The festival kicks off on St Valentine's Day with two performances embracing poetry, be-bop and film. There will be a reading of Allen Ginsberg's poem, Howl! which caused a sensation - and provoked a censorship trial - when it was published in 1956 by Laurence Ferlinghetti's City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Shetland's outstanding young saxophonist, Norman Willmore, will provide an accompaniment and a documentary about the poem will be shown.

On Friday 15 February there are concerts in the village of Bixter, in Shetland's west mainland, and in Lerwick, with local and visiting performers. The Shetland Improvisers' Orchestra will play an afternoon concert on Saturday 16 February and, that evening, there's an outstanding line-up with Lighthouse (praised by The Times as offering "sure-footed virtuosity, a dazzling standard") and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland Collective. Lighthouse, a trio, includes Grammy winner Tim Garland (who regularly works with Chick Corea in America), Mercury nominated pianist Gwilym Simcock and the hugely impressive Asaf Sirkis on percussion.

Sunday sees a jazz lunch in the Tingwall Hall, a few miles outside Lerwick, and at night there's a concert that will delight Hot Club fans, featuring Nigel Clark, a top European guitarist, alongside outstanding local guitarist Brian Nicholson, violinist Maggie Adamson and singer Alison Kay Ramsay.

It promises to be another great weekend of music making.

May's Folk Festival promises four days of brilliant music and sleep deprivation

Our next music festival is in early May and the organisers of the Shetland Folk Festival have announced the names of the thirteen visiting bands for the 2013 event, including musicians from as far afield as the USA, Canada and Cuba. It's been said that the festival needs its own health warning, so intense is the experience, so hectic is the pace and so brief are the opportunities to sleep.

Five transatlantic acts will appear, featuring music from the Ottawa valley and Appalachia (from April Verch); Nova Scotia and Cape Breton (Old Man Luedecke and Coìg); North Carolina (Woody Pines and his four piece band ); and Louisiana (Cedric Watson), a four-time Grammy-nominated fiddler, singer, accordionist & songwriter). There will be everything from Cajun to country blues, string band to zydeco.

There will be a strong Irish flavour, too, with former Riverdance performer Niamh Ní Charra, singer-songwriter Kieran Goss and the five-piece Rambling Boys of Pleasure.

Scotland is strongly represented by Skerryvore, originally from Tiree. Having appeared in twenty countries and with four albums released, they are sure to impress.

British-based Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra offer a blend of western swing, gypsy jazz, hokum blues, ragtime, Cajun, and roots-of-country. Also from the UK, but with a distinctly American bluegrass sound is the Leon Hunt n-tet. Last but not least, Son Yambu perform authentic Cuban son straight from the streets of Santiago de Cuba.

Advance Festival membership will go on sale during February. For the first time, the Festival is introducing online sales and in 2013, advance memberships will be available through this route. Advance membership will be only be open between 1 and 28 February, with purchasing information available on the Festival's website. For more information, including all the visiting acts' biographies with sound samples, please visit: www.shetlandfolkfestival.com.

Shetland reaches out to Malawi

Shetland has a number of international links and now another is to be forged, as a connection is made with Malawi.

Volunteers from Shetland have been involved in a wide range of aid or development partnerships over recent years. There has been a sustained link with Romania, a post-tsunami project in Tamil Nadu, India and links with Zambia and Zimbabwe, among other countries.

Now, a group who've previously been involved in Romania and Zambia is planning to undertake work, particularly in schools, in Malawi. They've set out to raise funds and will be undertaking all the usual activities, including bag-packing at local supermarkets and a raffle.

Ponies in cardigans provoke international 'Aawww!'

Few recent promotional campaigns have garnered as many column-inches in newspapers and magazines around the world as these adorable cardigan-wearing ponies. So irresistible were the images that, within days, scores of news organisations featured them. They appeared on some of the busiest news websites in the world, such as the Daily Mail and Huffington Post. A video was made, too, and used by, among others, CNN in a special report. It's the first time that a Shetland theme has led an international campaign in this way.

The ponies were recruited in a joint initiative by Promote Shetland and VisitScotland to boost the 'Year of Natural Scotland', which aims to attract more visitors to the country. The ponies - named Fivla and Vitamin - come from the Thordale Shetland Driving Centre in Shetland's west mainland. Their beautiful cardigans in traditional colour combinations were created in Shetland wool by a local knitter, Doreen Brown.

'Cute' hardly covers them.

Blog Of The Month

Our blog this month features some great Up Helly Aa photography from David Gifford. On his site, just click on the main photo or on the Up Helly Aa link to the right to see more.