Our May 2019 Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

Without doubt, the largest of Shetland’s events in May is the 39th Shetland Folk Festival. As always, it features a great programme of music performed by both visiting musicians and a selection of the islands’ own performers; we had a full preview back in January.

At the time of writing, tickets were still available for a few concerts, but many had sold out, including the three hugely popular foys on Sunday evening, in which all the visiting musicians perform at three Lerwick venues in what’s always a very impressive feat of organisation.

As the festival approaches, BBC Radio Shetland’s Daniel Bennett has been speaking to local people about the time, in 1988, when the festival almost had to be called off because of a seafarers’ strike. As Daniel explains, it was thanks to the intervention of Elvis Costello, who was due to perform, that the ship sailed north from Aberdeen and the festival went ahead as planned.

Music isn’t confined to the Folk Festival, though: far from it. On Monday 6 May, there’s a free lunchtime concert at Mareel which will be live-streamed from Perth Concert Hall. It features the Hebrides Ensemble and soprano Ailish Tynan. At the heart of this programme is Maurice Ravel's Chansons Madécasses, which depicts life and challenging events in Madagascar, and it’ll be partnered by Judith Weir's Nuits d'Afrique. Other works on the programme are Morpheus, a beautiful, lyrical piece from English composer Rebecca Clarke; Rosalie Burrel's Early Light, evoking indigenous North America; and the witty and charming string trio by Jean Francaix.

Music isn’t confined to the Folk Festival

On the 12th, there’s a tribute to what I think was probably the loudest band I’ve ever seen live, in the shape of What The Floyd, who’ll be bringing Pink Floyd favourites to Mareel, and in particular performing the entire Dark Side of the Moon album. They pride themselves on attention to detail and on achieving an authentic re-creation of Pink Floyd’s sound, so it should be a great night.

The String, a restaurant right in the heart of old Lerwick that offers intimate concerts on the first floor, has three Folk Festival events but there may well be more music there later in the month. There are also traditional music nights at the Asta Golf Clubhouse, a little way north of Scalloway, and at the Aith Hall on the westside.

Cinema fans will have plenty to occupy them during the month. For many, Avengers: Endgame, currently packing cinemas everywhere, is the must-see, but it’s just one of many offerings and the full programme can be found on the cinema website. Among the more unusual features are the Australian Ballet’s interpretation of Spartacus and a return visit, by popular demand, of A Private War, the powerful drama based on the extraordinary life of celebrated war correspondent Marie Colvin.

There’s plenty more to see and do during May. At the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, about twenty minutes’ drive north-west from Lerwick, the latest in the series of Shetland Made exhibitions continues until the 19th. Like its predecessors, it features a range of applied art from a number of Shetland makers and everything is for sale; we have a feature on it here.

In May, it’s definitely time to go down to the sea again, and those of us with a boat will be getting everything tidied and ready for a spot of fishing, picnicking on the uninhabited island of our choice or just sightseeing. Many people in Shetland own boats, ranging from small dinghies to luxurious cruisers, and sailing is popular. It helps that there is an excellent network of marinas, not to mention a deep well of nautical wisdom, based on generations of experience, that’s freely offered.

For those who want to join an organised sailing trip, our own sail-training vessel, Swan, will be busy during the month. There’s a day sail to the island of Noss on the 4th and others to Papa Stour, on the 11th, and Foula, on the 12th. Between the 19th and 28th, she’ll be cruising the waters of both Shetland and Orkney. Later in the summer, she’ll be in Norway, taking part in the Tall Ships Races, and there’ll also be a visit to the Faroe Islands. Details are on the Swan website.

The largest ships that we’ll see in May, though, are the cruise liners. There will be 20 such visits during the month and on some days there will be two or even three ships in port.

Back ashore, Mareel will be presenting the National Theatre of Scotland’s revival of a classic piece of theatre from the 1970s, The Cheviot, The Stag & The Black, Black Oil. Originally produced by the 7:84 Theatre Company, it tells the story of the exploitation of Scottish lands, waters and people over the centuries. It was much-praised at the time and a reprise is surely welcome.

Last but not least, the nights shorten even more during May and, by the end of the month, and with just three weeks to go until the summer solstice, there’s no proper darkness. It’s a magical time of year to visit Shetland and wonderful, too, for those of us fortunate to live here.

a magical time of year

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