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Our November 2019 Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

There may be less daylight, but the coming of shorter days doesn’t mean that there’s less to do. The November diary includes a couple of our larger annual events plus, for one year only, an alternative version of a third. There’s music in abundance, too, and an exhibition that promises to be one of the highlights of the year.

The month will begin with a bang or two, as Guy Fawkes provides the usual excuse for some really big bonfires around the islands, for example in the northern communities of Brae and North Roe, both on the 2nd. At my nearest site, wood has been accumulating for several weeks and it’ll be, as always, an enormous blaze.

The month starts with a bang in another sense, too. Also on the 2nd, the Shetland Museum and Archives will be opening its much-anticipated exhibition featuring work by Grayson Perry, winner of the 2003 Turner Prize. After attracting exhibits from the British Museum and the National Gallery – including the superb Holbein painting last year – we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that the museum’s Curator, Dr Ian Tait, has managed to pull off another remarkable coup, this time involving the Tate.

Two of Perry's celebrated vases will be the centrepiece of the show, ‘A Potted Biography’. Perry is also well known for his tapestries, cross-dressing and observations of the contemporary arts scene, the latter including his four thoroughly absorbing Reith Lectures broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2013, which are available here.

Many of his pieces are autobiographical, often featuring his female alter-ego ‘Claire’ and his childhood teddy bear ‘Alan Measles’. Alongside the vases, there will be an exhibition entitled 'My Potted Biography', displaying items on loan from people in Shetland, representing aspects of their own life stories.

It’s an event not to be missed.

At this time of year, we’d normally be looking forward to Shetland’s literary festival, WordPlay, but it’s taking a break and will be back in 2020. In its place is a different literary celebration built around the concert, workshops and installation of 365: Stories and Music. Launched at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year, it’s a major new collection of Scottish contemporary literature and music in one interactive sound-art installation.

365: Stories and Music brings together the genius of Scottish poet and novelist James Robertson and Scottish fiddler and composer Aidan O’Rourke, of Lau. James wrote a short story every day for a year, each story comprising 365 words, and the collection was published in 2014 by Penguin as 365: Stories.

Aidan then matched the challenge. He wrote a new tune every day for a year in response to James's stories and his response is in the form of sparse and emotive contemporary folk music in which the fiddle is paired with bold and exploratory harmonies from recording artist Kit Downes on harmonium and piano. 365: Stories and Music runs at Mareel on 1st and 2nd November, featuring performances and workshops.

The following weekend from the 8th until the 10th, the focus shifts to crafts, and to the astonishing range of work that’s produced in the islands. Whether the makers use textiles, leather, wood, metal, glass, paper, clay or any other material, they do produce some wonderful things and it’s always a really impressive display.

There will be everything from calendars to candlesticks, pendants to ponchos and much, much more; thoughts will be turning to Christmas presents.

It’s striking how the annual fair has grown over the years, as more and more craftspeople have become active. Some have lived here all their lives whilst others, having made the move to Shetland, have found that the creative community here is not only vibrant but very supportive.

The islands are home to a number of amateur dramatic groups and, in the middle of the month, the Islesburgh Drama Group will present Arthur Miller’s classic parable of mass hysteria, The Crucible.

The play draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witchhunt of 1692 - ‘one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history’ - and the McCarthyism which gripped America in the 1950s. The small community of Salem is stirred into madness by superstition, paranoia and malice, culminating in a violent climax; the play is a savage attack on the evils of mindless persecution and the terrifying power of false accusations.

In this new interpretation of the play, Islesburgh Drama Group reimagines the town of Salem in a familiar landscape, a small island community in 1600s Scotland, and explores how the themes are as relevant today as when the play was written over 60 years ago.

Another of our larger annual celebrations takes place on the 23rd and 24th, when the Taste of Shetland Festival – unquestionably, the highlight of Shetland’s ‘foodie’ calendar – will be taking over the Islesburgh Community Centre in Lerwick. It brings together live entertainment and cooking inspiration with some of the best food and drink Shetland has to offer.

Cookery competitions, demonstrations and food and drink experiences will be on offer at this popular family event. New this year, cookery competitions for those under and over 18 years of age have been staged throughout the islands, with a final to be held at the Lerwick festival.

The winner in the senior competition will be treated to a six-course tasting dinner with matching wines at Restaurant Martin Wishart in Leith, Edinburgh. There will be an overnight stay in Edinburgh, along with return flights, courtesy of Loganair. The winner in the junior competition will heading for Glasgow, for a day of activities at chef Gary Maclean’s Saturday Cook School in the City of Glasgow College, again with flights and accommodation.

Aside from festivals, there are all sorts of other treats in store, including several musical ones. On 14 November, a veritable supergroup kicks off its new UK tour. The three participants are Shetland fiddle maestro Aly Bain, Swedish multi-instrumentalist Ale Möller, and American fiddler, singer, guitarist and banjo player Bruce Molsky. They unite to explore their Celtic, Nordic and Appalachian cultures, producing music that’s harmonious, complex and exhilaratingly diverse.

As The Scotsman put it, they offer “dynamic yet seamless diversity…with the extra warmth and zest of patent mutual ease, enjoyment and admiration.”

This isn’t the trio’s first collaboration. Aly (fiddle. viola), Ale (mandola, harmonica, wooden whistle, harmony vocals) and Bruce (fiddle, vocals, banjo, guitar) previously came together for the concert ‘Meeting Point’, which was recorded live at the Liverpool Philharmonic and released as an album in 2014.

Right in the heart of old Lerwick, The String offers an intimate performance space above its café-bar, and they have a great programme in November. Odessa perform on 2 November; on the 7th and 8th they have Daniel Meade and Lloyd Reid; and on the 20th there’s Kim Richey. You can keep up to date with The String’s events on their Facebook page.

Music – and dance – also feature in a range of other events around the islands, for example meetings of the Shetland Mandolin Band, tuition in the art of the quadrille – still frequently danced in Shetland – and a performance by the very popular rock band, First Foot Soldiers, in the north-eastern island of Whalsay on the 16th. Jazz fans can look forward to a Sunday Jazz Lunch with Girsie & the Loose Ends at Mareel Café Bar from 12 noon on the 24th.

There’s a full film programme at Mareel. As well as a string of mainstream releases such as Frozen II, there’s a cornucopia of classics: Singin’ In The Rain (1952), A Star is Born (1954), Cabaret (1972) and The Third Man (1949) – voted the best-ever British film. There is also a mini-festival, Wilderland, that features a series of short films about the natural world.

There’s opera, too, with a showing of Verdi’s Rigoletto in a production filmed on a stage in Lake Constance. Also on the menu is an exhibition on screen featuring the works of Leonardo da Vinci.

There are all sorts of other community-based events during the month. Quiz nights are as popular as ever and they’ll run in Dunrossness, in the south mainland, on the 1st, Lerwick on the 14th and at two halls in the north mainland, Voe (with curry as a warm-up, on the 16th) and North Roe (on the 17th).

Other highlights include an exhibition of the work of Tom Kidd, a photographer whose record of Shetland in the 1970s – a time of great change – is outstanding; that’s in the Weaving Shed Gallery at Hillswick, in the north mainland, from the 9th (when Tom will open it) until the 17th.

Yes, the seasons may be changing, but that diary is as full as ever!

Posted in: Community

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