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Our May Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

With the summer solstice now just seven weeks away, those Shetland evenings are drawing out rapidly and we’ll soon move from a few hours of overnight darkness to the ‘simmer dim’, that twilight in which the northern sky is filled with the afterglow of an unfinished sunset.

Despite those endless days, there are still never enough hours to get everything done in the garden, around the house or on the boat, not to mention exploring the many miles of cliffs and beaches around our coast and maybe checking up on the puffins at Sumburgh Head or the gannets at Noss. Some folk will be dusting down the golf clubs or digging out the fishing tackle. And we need to remember to fit in a generous Sunday afternoon tea at one of the many local community halls that offer them.

But there’s a long list of other things to do. The first major event in May is the 38th Shetland Folk Festival, which brings performers from far and wide to entertain this very musically-inclined community. I previewed the programme back in February and there’s a lot to look forward to. There are a few tickets left, but most of the concerts sold out some time ago. However, there’s always the opportunity to see all the visiting bands at the ‘foys’ that take place on the last night.

Over the same weekend, we’ll have the opportunity to take a first look at the masterpiece by Hans Holbein, A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling. Part of the collection in London’s National Gallery, it’s paying a visit to the Shetland Museum and Archives as part of a national tour that also takes in Walsall and Brighton. The lady and her companions will be with us until the middle of July.

It’s back to music around the middle of the month, with another helping of ballet following the showing of the Bolshoi’s Giselle and the spectacular live performance of Matthew Bourne’s take on La Sylphide, Scottish Ballet’s Highland Fling. This time, Mareel is showing English National Ballet’s version of Giselle, choreographed by Akram Khan and winner of an Olivier Award.

There are two musical theatre productions aimed at younger audiences. First up is a production by Imaginate and Windmill Theatre Company, who’ll present their version of an old Russian folk tale, Baba Yaga. It’s part of the touring programme from the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival and has been described as ‘one of the most imaginative shows for the young you will find’. That’s followed by Eddie and the Slumber Sisters, presented by the National Theatre of Scotland and Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, a ‘whimsical, heart-warming fable blending music, magic and imagination’ that’s particularly aimed at helping children who have to face difficult times.

On 20 May, Americana is on the menu, with a full-band show by Birds of Chicago that’ll set feet tapping with a show that draws on rock ‘n’ roll and gospel influences. The band has just launched a new album , Love in Wartime.

At the end of the month, the musical spotlight falls on Ireland, and the Mareel audience will welcome the winner of the ‘Best Group’ category in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Lankum. They’re described as ‘the most exciting thing in Dublin right now’ and a Guardian reviewer gave them all five stars: ‘urgent, desperate and detonating, full of lyrics and sounds smacking together like waves shattering stones in a storm’.

May wraps up with the arrival of vehicles entered in the Shetland Classic Motor Show, which, every second summer, allows us to indulge ourselves in nostalgia. From modest beginnings, it’s now one of the country’s larger classic events, with somewhere around 180 classic cars and 160 motorcycles on display.

That’s not all: there’s an eclectic collection of working stationary steam engines, a selection of buses and lorries from yesteryear, dozens of pedal cycles from the penny farthing onwards and lots of model vehicles. Some exhibits are under restoration and it’s possible to see the progress made by enthusiasts as they lavish love and, no doubt, a certain amount of money on bringing their pride and joy back to working order. Trips in classic cars are also on offer.

These are just some of the events we can look forward to during the month. Among many others, I see there’s an RSPB event focused on curlews; a week’s exploration of Shetland on our sail-training ship, Swan; a Risograph printing workshop – which sounds intriguing – and yoga workshops.

That diary is looking pretty full.

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