Our March Diary
by Alastair Hamilton -
In most months, Shetland is blessed with lots of music, in many forms; and this month is no exception. But there’s drama and three excellent exhibitions to enjoy, not to mention comedy, film and the last three fire festivals of the season.
We begin with the annual spring concert, on the 2nd, by the Shetland Community Orchestra, with a programme that explores the folk influence in orchestral music. Taking its cue from the recent, highly successful staging of Fiddler on the Roof by Shetland County Drama, the orchestra will include a collection of symphonic dances from the musical, which is set within a Jewish community in Russia and draws on the klezmer tradition.
Other works include a suite of English folk songs by Vaughan Williams and Bartok’s Romanian Dances. From an earlier era, and the classical mainstream, there’s Haydn’s final symphony, No. 104 (‘the London’); but in that, too, there’s also said to be a folk influence, this time from Croatia. In a different vein, the concert will also feature a medley of iconic film themes by Ennio Morricone and a set from a new chamber choir, Resonance.
Later in the month, on the 15th, Shetland Arts brings us the sort of intriguing and eclectic programme that we’ve come to expect from the internationally-lauded Scottish Ensemble. The band has its roots in Baroque performance but, over its 50-year history, has pursued all sorts of musical, dance and theatrical adventures, including collaborations with Shetland’s Aly Bain and Chris Stout.
The Ensemble’s musicians will be joined here for a concert entitled Continental Drift by three exceptional instrumentalists – brothers Keyvan and Bijan Chemirani (who play the zarb, a Persian drum) and Sokratis Sinopoulos (playing the small, Greek lyra fiddle) – for an inventive performance blending the music of the old European masters with the breathless virtuosity of contemporary Persia and the Mediterranean. We’re promised impressive mastery of multiple instruments and a brand new sound world of melodic warmth, rhythmic verve, playful energy and exotic flair.
Chris Stout, one of Shetland’s best-known fiddlers, will himself be back in Shetland just a few days later, on the 20th. He and harpist and pianist Catriona Mackay, voted Best Duo at the 2018 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, will appear at Mareel, Shetland’s arts centre. They’ll be playing music from their new album, Bare Knuckle. It’s said to be a fresh new sound and they say they’re “so proud” of the album. “It’s a huge development for us and we can’t wait to perform it live”.
Surprisingly, this turns out to be their first album collaboration in seven years since White Nights, which won widespread acclaim: you can see them performing a track from it here. However, they’ve meantime been busy performing together and working with other artists; their beautiful, innovative sound has won over audiences in many parts of the world. The concert will also feature Shetland guitarist Arthur Nicolson.
Interwoven with these larger musical events are several smaller-scale ones. A recent and very welcome addition to Lerwick’s music scene is the intimate venue at The String, situated above the restaurant of the same name. The music there during March includes DJ Lyall with a funk and soul mix on the 2nd, the Spindrift Sessions on the 14th and an evening with Orkney traditional quartet, Fara, on the 29th. Fara will also be playing at the Carnegie Hall, Sandwick, the following night.
Fara – Jennifer Austin, Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price – were childhood friends who went on to study music at leading schools, respectively the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Strathclyde University. Since they formed the band in 2014, they’ve performed in the USA, Canada, Sweden and Germany as well as in the UK. They’ve been nominated for several awards and won the 2017 Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik (the German Critics’ Choice Award). You can see them perform at the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in London’s Royal Albert Hall.
That’s by no means all the music we’ll hear in March; some of the other events include meetings of the Shetland Mandolin Band, a traditional music night in the westside village of Aith, and club nights with the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Club. It really is a very vibrant and varied musical scene and, if it appeals, you wouldn’t be the first to move to Shetland to be part of it.
Maybe drama’s your thing and, if so, one of the highlights of the year is the Shetland County Drama Festival, which takes place over four nights between the 4th and the 7th. The amateur dramatic tradition is very much alive in the islands and the festival offers plays by several of our local drama groups, six of which are based in primary or secondary schools whilst six are adult companies. There are categories for Junior Drama, Youth Comedy, Open Comedy, Open Drama, Shetland Drama and Shetland Comedy. An adjudicator, this year Mr Bruce Adam, offers a critique of all the performances and, on the last evening, the programme also features the North Sea Highland Dancers and a comic monologue by Kevin Briggs.
What else does March offer? Well, there’s more comedy from one of the UK’s top stand-up comedians, Jason Manford, who’ll be appearing at the Clickimin Centre on the 17th. He’s also an actor and television presenter, with appearances on shows such as ‘8 out of 10 Cats’, ‘The Nightly Show’, ‘Sunday Night at the Palladium, ‘Live at the Apollo’, ‘Have I Got News For You’, and QI.
Now he’s back on the comedy trail with a huge and already successful nationwide tour entitled 'Muddle Class', promising a wealth of new material about him growing up ‘working class’ then finding, over the years, that part of him has become ‘middle class’. He’ll be taking a look at his life and the world in general and how these have changed over the years - and how his parents haven't changed a bit!
At the Shetland Museum and Archives, there’s a superb exhibition, From This Day Forward, which illustrates wedding traditions in Shetland over the past 250 years. It’s a brilliant show, and though the displays of women’s and men’s wedding attire are immediately captivating, there’s a rich vein of social history here too. It runs until 23 March.
Two other exhibitions continue into the month. ‘Natural Selection’ remains until the 10th at the old Anderson High School; it’s a beguiling exploration of birds’ nesting habits combined with an intriguing look at the exploits of egg collectors. At the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, there’s still a chance to see an excellent selection of photographs by members of the Islesburgh Photographic Club, which will be there until the 17th.
And that is by no means all. As always, Mareel has an excellent film programme and there are the last three fire festivals of the season to look forward to; the South Mainland Up Helly Aa is on the 8th, the Walls Junior Up Helly Aa is on the 9th and the Delting Up Helly Aa, in the north mainland, takes place on the 15th.
The south mainland and Delting events are two of the larger country festivals. These country fire festivals, though much younger than the larger Lerwick Up Helly Aa, are firmly rooted in their communities and all are welcome to get involved.
From mid-month, there’s a hint of the summer to come as we begin to see more cruise liners, with three calls by two ships, the Magellan and Astoria; and of course summer will also seem that bit closer on the last day of March,when the clocks go forward. That – and the rapidly-lengthening days – mean even more daylight to explore and enjoy our islands.
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