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Our October Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

With the autumn equinox behind us and the clocks going back on 28 October, our thoughts turn to breezier walks, darker evenings and indoor entertainments. The two biggest events in October celebrate two of Shetland’s passions, food and music.

The Taste of Shetland Festival takes place from 5 to 7 October and is again being held at the Clickimin Centre in Lerwick. As always, dozens of local food producers will be showing us the very best of Shetland’s larder, which offers some of the finest and freshest ingredients to be found anywhere. There will be fish and shellfish, lamb and beef, vegetables, lots of bread and other baked goods. Hot food will be available too.

Aside from the many exhibitors’ stands, the festival offers many other things to see and do. Demonstrations by local and visiting cooks and chefs are always very well attended, so much so that there will be a second stage in the Bowls Hall as well as the large stage in the Main Hall.

Gary Maclean, crowned champion in MasterChef: The Professionals, will get things under way on Friday evening by hosting Ready, Shetland? Cook!, challenging two of Shetland’s best cooks to create fast, tasty dishes using local produce, then offering his own dish using the same ingredients. He’ll appear again on Saturday morning, giving a demonstration on the main stage. Gary is excited to be making another visit to Shetland: “I cannot wait to taste the produce available and meet the producers behind it.”

On Sunday morning, Manju Malhi will take to the stage. She’s brought her style of Indian cookery to many television programmes including the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen. Interestingly, she has worked on a series bringing British food to Indian television screens and she is involved in teaching and charity projects in London. She, too, is very much looking forward to visiting the festival. “I like to keep things simple and straightforward and love to be known as a crossover cook. So, I’m really looking forward to combining Shetland’s wonderful produce with my own cooking inspiration.”

For many, the highlight of the festival will be the live final of the Cooking Challenge on Sunday afternoon. The winner can look forward to a foodie weekend in Edinburgh, including flights, accommodation in an architect-designed holiday home and a six-course tasting menu with matching wines at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Martin Wishart.

A week later, from 11th to 15th October, the focus is on the islands’ musical tradition. The 31st Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival features a host of local and visiting performers. Concerts and dances will take place in thirteen venues, from Brae, Voe and Aith in the north to Bigton, Sandwick and Boddam in the south. As always, there will be a festival club at the Islesburgh Community Centre in Lerwick and, on the Sunday night, a grand dance in the main hall at the Clickimin Centre.

Though the majority of the 23 visiting bands are firmly in the Scottish country dance tradition, there are contributions from a Danish/Norwegian trio led by Soren Brix, and two Irish duos, one from County Clare and County Sligo and the other based in Cork.

Well over 30 local individual players and bands will be involved too, not counting the many other locals who’ll no doubt pitch in to informal sessions at the festival club. Some of the islands’ performers – many them known well beyond Shetland – will again be delighting audiences. You can sample videos online, for example Da Fustra, playing in Lanark with Iain MacPhail; Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch (here performing in Perth); and Maggie Adamson, setting feet tapping with guitarist Brian Nicholson in their ever-popular rendering of Vittorio Monti’s Csárdás.

What else can we look forward to in October? A new exhibition at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale will feature contemporary ceramics, drawing and performance, the work of a group of six artists from Scotland and Norway. The exhibition highlights the influence of place on the artists’ work, exploring, in particular, the cross-border, cultural connections across northern Europe and the region’s ancient and traditional maritime routes.

The work is travelling northwards over the next year, its voyage to be completed at Fjell Festning Museum near Bergen in 2019. In each new venue, the exhibition will be reconfigured by different curators, creating four versions of the narrative.

For cinephiles, there’s always a great mix of current, classic and indie offerings at Mareel. The programme in early October includes The Seagull, adapted from Chekhov’s play, starring Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss and Annette Bening. Hurricane tells the story of the Polish squadron that bravely helped the RAF take on the Luftwaffe despite also having to combat initial xenophobia in Britain.

The Screen Pride season continues with The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a coming of age drama starring Chloë Grace Moretz, and the Screen Horizons strand features The Heiresses, a Paraguayan film that portrays an elderly woman’s transformation following a series of setbacks. There’s a filmed concert featuring Cliff Richard, too.

there’s always a great mix of current, classic and indie offerings

Local halls play a large role in Shetland life and, at this time of year, their committees turn their attention from organising those wonderful Sunday teas, or, in some cases, running adjacent camp sites, to evening entertainment. In October, some halls will host the Accordion and Fiddle Festival but there are also informal music sessions, quiz nights, social evenings, Halloween parties and fish and chip nights.

It’s common for a visiting band to play one concert in Lerwick and one or more in a hall elsewhere in the islands. At the beginning of November, for example, the Carnegie Hall in Sandwick has a double bill featuring Adam Holmes and the Embers and Rachel Sermanni.

There are lots of opportunities to become involved in other activities, for example the extensive programme of adult learning classes. To name just a few of the topics, we can choose from night sky photography; drawing and painting; woodwork and woodturning; weaving; Fair Isle knitting; yoga; mindfulness; bannock making; Spanish, Gaelic or French; internet safety; or English for speakers of other languages. Fees are modest – usually around £4 per hour – with a 50% discount for those under 18, over 60 or in receipt of some benefits.

Last but not least, if you’re within reach of the exciting new V&A Dundee, which opened in mid-September, you’ll have an opportunity to see the outcome of the Scottish Design Relay. On display in this stunning new setting are the skills of the nine young Shetlanders who worked with Shetland designer Niela Kalra and artist Amy Gear. We explained the background in this earlier article. Niela’s innovative pieces are admired well beyond Shetland and were recently on show at the London Design Festival.

Once again, then, our diaries are looking rather full!

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