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By Adam CivicoDecember 1st 2023

Shetland’s thriving and supportive creative culture has nurtured an array of terrific talents over many generations. Several Shetlanders are among the cream of Scottish talent named as the “Hot 100 of 2023”.

A comedian, two emerging musicians, and an artistic director are among the Shetlanders included in an influential entertainment website’s selection of the most talented in Scotland.

The List magazine published its “Hot 100” list to celebrate the “best cultural players” of 2023.

And with four entrants in the list, including one in the top three, the selection shines a spotlight on Shetland’s creativity and the talent that continues to emerge from the islands.

Those who caught the eye of the judges at The List include Shetland comedian Marjolein Robertson whose Edinburgh Fringe Festival show “Marj” attracted several 5-star reviews, musician Amy Laurenson whose debut album will be launched early in 2024, Shetlander Helen Nisbet who is artistic director and curator of a London-based arts organisation; and Queen of Harps, aka Anise Pearson, a Shetland-born “hip-hop artist”.

A lot of it comes from the encouragement young folk get, and the traditions of Shetland music and storytelling. Music and performance is such a huge part of our identity.

It is an eclectic combination of talent, but with such inspiring surroundings and a supportive creative culture, that should come as no surprise. It certainly isn’t for the top-placed Shetlander Marjolein, who was named third most influential “cultural player” in Scotland. She is delighted that three others from Shetland also made the list and said it was indicative of the islands’ thriving cultural creativity.

“A lot of it comes from the encouragement young folk get, and the traditions of Shetland music and storytelling. Music and performance is such a huge part of our identity. Look at Amy and Anise, they are going from strength to strength in music, but it’s not just traditional music it’s contemporary, too. Shetland music has always been open to funk, jazz, rock – that’s the beauty of Shetland.”

Read on to find out more about the Shetlanders named among the hottest 100 in Scotland.

Queen of Harps – Anise Pearson

Impressed by her combination of hip-hop, harp music and poetic language, The List placed Queen of Harps at number 69 in the top 100. The judges also reflect on her appearance at several festivals throughout 2023.

One of those performances was in Lerwick in July when as part of the celebrations when the international Tall Ships Races visited Shetland’s main port.

Born in Shetland, Anise speaks fondly of the islands and remembers attending previous Tall Ships festivals in the town. She told organisers, “As a Shetlander, coming back to Tall Ships 2023 as an artist is the best feeling. I have been coming to this festival since I was a peerie lass, so being able to return and share my music is … so exciting.”

Pianist – Amy Laurenson

Taught and inspired by some of Shetland’s most well-known and revered musicians, Amy Laurenson enjoyed a big 2023, scooping the BBC Radio Scotland Traditional Musician of the Year award in February.

One of the bonuses of winning that award was securing a performance at May’s Shetland Folk Festival. At the time, Amy said, “Growing up in Shetland I had access to lots of great music opportunities, including playing in the Shetland Youth Wind Band and at the annual Schools Music Festival.”

She went on to be taught Shetland’s most celebrated pianist Violet Tulloch, and now appears to be on her own path to musical success with a debut album expected in early 2024. But 2023 will be seen as a breakthrough year, and enough to earn her position number 62 in The List’s rundown.

Amy’s rendition of traditional Shetland tune “Da Trowie Burn” was used in Promote Shetland’s Find Your True North winter film.

Art director – Helen Nisbet

Originally from Cullivoe in Yell, Helen now lives in London but has long flown the flag for her Shetland roots and still spends a lot of time in the islands.

Helen was responsible for organising the successful “Shetland night in London” events which celebrated islands culture and food in the capital.

But her inclusion in the Hot 100 list is down to her influence in the visual art sector, as chief executive of Cromwell House, a members’ organisation offering work and exhibition space for artists in London. Meanwhile she is a non-executive director of the Shetland arts organisation Gaada.

Helen’s growing reputation also saw her selected to be one of four Turner Prize judges for 2023, something she was hugely “honoured” to do.

Comedian – Marjolein Robertson

Shetland comedian Marjolein Robertson says she was stunned to be named number 3 in the Hot 100 list admitting that it “doesn’t feel real”. Having been invited to The List’s part she realised she’d made the 100, but “had no idea I was number 3. I was so chuffed!”

Adding, in her typically self-deprecating manner, “I was like they made a mistake”.

She has been performing for almost a decade, and says the opportunities she had to hone her skills in Shetland played a huge role in her development.

“Comedy is such a naturally ingrained part of Shetland culture. Whether that is storytelling, or squads heading out at Up Helly Aa, people doing sketches, or even Smirk [the caricaturist and cartoonist], comedy is ingrained.”

Although Marjolein cut her comedy teeth at Amsterdam improv nights (her mother is Dutch), she values the way Shetland’s creative community rallied around her and other performers.

“I mind coming home from Amsterdam and going to open mic nights and asking if it was okay to tell some jokes. Folk are so open to people trying things in Shetland, it’s so lovely.”

She says that was seen when she and friends formed The Imposters an improv group, which frequently pulled in good crowds.

“Every time we put on a show, people wanted to come and see it. That kind of support is unprecedented elsewhere.”

Marolein was just one place behind Bathgate comedian Fern Brady who is “one of the people I look up to, while Edinburgh band Young Fathers took the top spot.

If finishing third in such good company marked an excellent end to 2023, Marjolein already has big plans for 2024.

She will return home to Shetland for the festive season before gigging in January and going on her first national tour in 2024, with dates expected to be announced before the end of December. If you can't wait until then, why not watch Marjolein narrating our "What the Helly Aa?" film about Shetland's fire festivals, or listen to her storytelling.