Shetland acts at the Edinburgh Fringe

by Alex Garrick-Wright -

The Edinburgh Fringe is, without a doubt, one of the most important and influential arts festivals in the world. Every year, hundreds of performers of every creative type flock to Auld Reekie to show what they’re made of and this year three Shetlanders are doing just that.

Promote Shetland spoke to fiddler Chris Stout, harpist Sophie Rocks, and comedian Marjolein Robertson about their 2019 Fringe performances.

Chris Stout – Scottish Jazz & Beyond Parts 1, 2 & 3

Chris Stout is one of Shetland’s greatest musical exports. Born on Fair Isle, he has been playing fiddle since he can remember, and has made a career of combining the traditional with the experimental. Much of his career has been spent alongside Dundonian harpist Catriona McKay; over the last 20 years the award-winning pair have produced several highly-acclaimed albums, and in 2018 scooped the Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Duo. This year, however, Chris's performance at the Fringe offered something quite different.

“My colleague Catriona McKay and I have played the Fringe every year for 20 years now,” Chris said. “I think this is the second year we’ve missed it. We’ve always done this beautiful acoustic concert in St Andrew’s and St George’s Church.

“Every year we do it and it’s always really, really nice but I’m afraid that things just filled up too fast and we couldn’t do it this year. But hopefully next year, back to the Fringe as a duo again.”

Chris appeared last week as part of Scottish Jazz & Beyond, a short-run of vibrant three-part concerts featuring some of the most exciting musicians in the Scottish scene.

“The people who head up this series are all best known as jazz musicians,” he said. “I say ‘jazz’ but it’s as broad in music as I am. They’re broad-minded musicians, to label them ‘jazz’ is almost not really doing them justice.”

The first part of the concert, titled The River, saw Chris and his fiddle paired with highly acclaimed guitarist Graham Stephen. Chris relished the chance to play music written by someone else for a change, and was especially excited to play alongside a musician he has a massive amount of respect for.

“Graham Steven is a guitarist and composer, and his music is amazing,” Chris explained. “It’s really inspired and amazing. [It’s] very inspiring to me to play his music – it’s really dynamic and emotional. I suppose it’s cutting edge as well, but it's got a huge heart.

“To play with Graham, who’s such an amazing improviser and composer, is great because as much as I give of myself in every concert, you walk away fulfilled and energised by being given something else, when somebody else writes music for you to play, which is a great honour when it’s music of that level.”

Sophie Rocks – Notes from Shetland to Shanghai

Until 24th August at the Space on the Mile, Radisson Blu Hotel

An immensely talented harpist, Sophie is a true virtuoso. She first ran her fingers across a harp at the tender age of four, and her parents, half hoping she would just forget about it, promised her harp lessons for her sixth birthday.

“Apparently, and I don’t know if this is true but I do love this story, I didn’t mention it until my sixth birthday and I said ‘When’s my harp lesson?’” Sophie laughed.

“I was really lucky at the time… obviously with Shetland being so small, the amount of opportunity is so good, and they had a clarsach available from the council. And I got to use that for I think two or three years!”

Sophie left Shetland at just 11 years old, when she qualified for the prestigious Aberdeen City Music School, which she boarded at. Since then, her music career has taken her all over the UK, but for her new Fringe show she has returned to her Shetland roots – even collaborating with Chris Stout for Notes from Shetland to Shanghai.

“His voice is in my show! Just his voice,” Sophie said. “So… Notes from Shetland to Shanghai is a pairing of classical, contemporary and traditional harp music, with poetry from all over the world along the theme of migration. So what I’ve done is, for most of the pieces I’m playing, I’ve paired them with a poem that looks at a different perspective on migration.

“The first piece is The Slockit Light by Tom Anderson, and I’ve paired it with Chris Stout reading a poem by Christine de Luca called Moments of Separation. When Tom Anderson wrote The Slockit Light, it was inspired by everyone leaving Shetland at the time… He lived in Eshaness and was inspired by the lights going off in all the houses – ‘slockit light’ is the extinguished light. It’s the idea of people leaving."

The music Sophie has selected is truly international, with music from Shetland, Israel, Canada, Russia and China, and poetry to match. Much of the music was performed last year as a recital, but for the Edinburgh Fringe Sophie has reconfigured the entire performance to make it a truly special experience:

“This year I was looking at ways to incorporate a little bit more, to challenge myself a little bit more, and also to make it a bit more accessible, because not everyone thinks to go to a classical harp recital. And that’s when I came across the poetry… I’ve cut some of the pieces, blended them, so it feels more creative than it did last year.”

For tickets and further information on Shetland to Shanghai, head to the Made in Scotland Showcase website.

Marjolein Robertson- Da Shetland Spree

Until 25th August at The Stand 2

A fast-rising star of the Scottish comedy scene, Marjolein grew up on Shetland’s sunny West Side before deciding to go into a life of comedy. In the last few years, Marjolein has become well-known in and out of Shetland for improv comedy (as part of the Imposters comedy troupe), her online comedy work for the BBC, TV appearances on the new channel BBC Scotland, and of course stand-up – even opening for Sarah Pascoe at a sold-out show in Lerwick.

Marjolein moved to Glasgow in 2019 to further her comedy career, refining her act at countless comedy nights and guest spots in preparation for her Fringe run. A great deal of Marjolein’s comedy is steeped in her Shetland roots; if anything her time spent in Glasgow has just focused it even more.

Da Shetland Spree is a wild account of living and loving in the isles. The Fringe audiences are already loving it, with a number of sold out shows already under her belt, and as Marjolein is something of a household name in the isles, plenty of islanders are seeking her out too.

“There’s always a few Shetlanders – sometimes there’s not though,” Marjolein said. “There’s been a few without Shetlanders, but that’s less common. It’s nice, because there’s in-jokes you can throw in.”

While she has done pay-what-you-want shows at the Fringe before, Da Shetland Spree is a step up; a ticketed show at a major venue. In the Stand’s programme, she even appears on the same page as comedy legends Omid Djallili and Limmy.

“I think if you shut the book, I kiss Limmy!” Marjolein laughed. “It’s exciting; it’s really exciting. The ticket sales have been good, actually! I’m really happy because it’s been a lot better than I expected.”

“When I first got offered the room, I was like ‘Do they know it’s me?’ It feels quite nice to have made the move to try stand-up full time, and I feel like to go and be with the Stand, it’s like ‘Nice, this is actually working!’

“I like the Stand… it’s a nice organisation to be part of. They really look after you as well, as a performer… So you get more gigs around your show as well. I think it’s 24 shows, but this weekend alone I’m doing eight or nine spots as well at other people’s shows.”

In addition to Da Shetland Spree, Marjolein is indulging in her other creative love: Shetland folklore.

“I am really excited to do the Shetland Storytelling Hour with the BBC,” she said. “Last year, for one week of the Fringe I did telling a folklore tale- Da Hillswick Wedding – the trowie story of Tammy the Fiddler. But this year I got to do it in the BBC tent on Monday 19th. It’s free and it’ll be really cool!”

Information on Da Shetland Spree and ticket details are available from The Stand website.

Posted in: Creative Scene

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