Our December 2018 Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

It’s December – already – and, with the winter solstice approaching, this is the darkest month of the year, when the sun rises only a little way above the horizon. The upside, of course, is that those extra hours of darkness create more opportunities for aurora-spotting, and it would be unusual if we didn’t have some sightings over the next few weeks.

Longer evenings don’t mean that things slow down indoors. On the contrary, we can look forward to lots of Christmas events during the month, along with a remarkable variety of music.

Several local communities will be running fairs and markets. To list just a few examples, on the 2nd we have the choice of a Christmas Craft Fair with Sunday afternoon teas in Whiteness and Weisdale Hall, north west of Lerwick, or a Christmas Fair with soup and sweet in the westside village of Aith, which is just a few miles farther to the west. Fitting in both won’t be a problem. There’s also a Christmas Market that day at Carnegie Hall in Sandwick, in the South Mainland, which also hosts a Christmas Concert on the 19th. There are several children’s events during the month. Many community halls will be holding parties and Santa Claus is going to be pretty busy.

If the big screen appeals, our arts centre, Mareel, has an excellent seasonal film programme that includes, among other treats, Simon Callow’s one-man adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, together with the CBeebies Christmas Show, Thumbelina; The Muppet Christmas Carol; Elf; and that classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart.

But there are more challenging films too, including Utøya, Peterloo and the remarkable feature, They Shall Not Grow Old, which uses digital techniques to restore footage of the Western Front during the First World War. Other highlights include, on the 9th, a film about the work of French painter Edgar Degas, Passion for Perfection and, on the 27th, a new filmed production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, direct from London’s Vaudeville Theatre. There’s a full listing on the Mareel film page.

However, as so often in Shetland, music is everywhere. Quite a lot of it is informal, in the kind of sociable evenings that are so much a part of island life. To give just a flavour, there’s an open mic session at Mareel on the 2nd, and there are similarly informal music nights later in the month, for example at the Asta Golf Club, in the central mainland, on the 6th and 20th and in the Rankin Lounge at the Aith Hall on the 8th. The Bigton Hall, in the South Mainland, has a concert by the Ness Fiddle and Accordion Club on the 12th and there’s a country-music Christmas concert in Lerwick’s St Columba’s Church on the same night.

But there are bigger musical events, too, stretching all the way from Americana to arias. Shetland band, Kansa, will launch their new album, The Rowan Tree, at Mareel on the 8th. The group’s music is flavoured by bluegrass, but they have ventured into funk, blues and jazz, too.

The Americana theme continues on the 12th, when award-winning American singer songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews will round off her UK solo tour. The 27 year-old has released acclaimed albums including Honest Life (2016) and this year’s May Your Kindness Remain, and promises to play “lots of new songs, old songs, and in-between songs” along with “lots of strange stories about van breakdowns and Super 8 motels in the middle of nowhere”. In January she won international artist of the year at the UK Americana Awards, while this September she is up for emerging artist of the year at Nashville’s Americana Music Honours and Awards.

she won international artist of the year at the UK Americana Awards

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the annual Shetland Choral Society Christmas concert in Lerwick Town Hall; it’s on the 14th and includes a ceremony of carols by Benjamin Britten, commemorative pieces recently sung at Shetland’s Festival of Remembrance and, of course, more carols from the well-known repertoire, with audience participation.

That same evening, there’s an “alternative Christmas party” at Mareel, which includes stand-up comedy from Marjolein Robertson, improv from The Imposters, music from Kant and burlesque from Missy Malone, all hosted by “the hostess with the mostest and big bad bingo caller Timberlina”; and you can boogie the night away with DJ Some Chick Called Bob. A lively evening is guaranteed!

And that is by no means all. As the month and the year draw to a close, Mareel presents a concert recorded outdoors in Berlin at the Waldbühne amphitheatre, featuring the ever-popular tenor, Jonas Kaufmann. He’ll be singing a programme of timeless Italian songs and well-known arias.

timeless Italian songs and well-known arias

At Hogmanay, Mareel is once again the scene of a rather special celebration. Headlining the night are the Peatbog Faeries, whose music was described by The Scotsman as “high octane…powerful melodies are dextrously pumped out with a smart degree of techno attitude, while cross-rhythms ricochet over a heavy bass that hits you forcefully like a massive heartbeat”. The Skye-based band has been around for more than 25 years, winning awards and touring to many parts of the world. They marked the achievement with a recent album.

The evening will begin with a traditional Shetland variety concert with local bands and musicians. That’ll be followed by supper and the chance to relax in one of the cinema screens, while the stage is re-set for the Peatbog Faeries to bring in the bells. Afterwards, the party continues with dance music by Mareel’s mixology DJs and the Alan Nicholson Dance Band.

For those not at Mareel as the minutes tick away, there’ll no doubt also be the traditional gathering at the Market Cross in the heart of old Lerwick, where the sound of the Town Hall bells will mingle with a chorus of ships’ sirens from the harbour. It’s always a sociable way to say goodbye to the old year.

the Town Hall bells will mingle with a chorus of ships’ sirens from the harbour

Looking ahead a little farther, January marks the beginning of Shetland’s season of fire festivals, which runs all the way through to mid-March. The largest of them is Lerwick Up Helly Aa, on 29 January, but there are many more around the islands.

Whether you've attended dozens of fire festivals, or are experiencing one for the first time, they're unforgettable experiences and testament to the spirit of their communities.

You can find a full list of dates on our Up Helly Aa page and we'll have more details in the diaries early next year.

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