The Shetlanders: the rocking oilman

The Revellers aren’t exactly your average kids’ band. They call themselves the ‘Renegades of Folk’, and sound a little like Metallica with banjos and fiddles—or maybe the Levellers, their original inspiration, after a few too many Red Bulls.

Yet here they are, on a Saturday afternoon in May, rocking out the Whiteness and Weisdale Public Hall to a crowd of mostly primary school age children, who are bouncing around on their parents’ shoulders and forming a friendly mosh pit. And as is often the case in Shetland, the gig is for charity, raising money for Shetland-based mental health charity Mind Your Head. Later, they’ll play an adult gig, which will draw a few hundred of Shetland’s youngish folk for a sweaty, bouncy singalong.

To the left of the stage, Adam Priest, the bearded, bequiffed bassist, is doing his thing: providing the groove, whilst not hogging too much of the limelight. This, it seems, is Adam’s way—he’s the quiet facilitator, the guy who makes things happen and just gets on with it. Away from the stage, he’s a mechanical engineer at Sullom Voe, Shetland’s oil terminal, as well as a girls’ football coach and occasional Viking.

We first meet at Sullom Voe, in a little Portokabin on the edge of the terminal, where Adam’s main responsibility is the overhaul and upkeep of the huge tanks that hold half a million barrels of the black stuff. The oil started flowing through Sullom Voe in 1978, and more than eight billion barrels—around a fifth of all UK oil in the years since has passed through the terminal—have been processed at the terminal since.

After school, he had a four-year stint in the merchant navy, before studying engineering at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, where one of his summer placements in 2001 was at Sullom Voe. By 2005, he was working here full-time.

For Adam, like many Shetlanders, a big part of the appeal is bound up with family—not just his wife, Emma, and three daughters, aged nine, six and two, but easily accessible aunts, cousins and grandparents. “For me, that proximity to family is important,” he says. “The wider family is a real part of the culture here. But, even for incomers, you get that element of freedom, the abundance of wide open spaces, and being part of a community where people really look out for you. It’s a great environment to have a family.”

The other thing that Adam loves is Shetland’s music. “There’s a real culture of session music here, and a tradition of people playing in their homes,” he says. “You’d have a fiddle hanging on the wall, and just about everyone could get a tune out of it.” Adam’s daughter, Lauren, gets fiddle lessons from Debbie Scott, one of many talented fiddle tutors who are recording artists in their own right. “I’ve said to Lauren it’s not about winning awards, it’s about keeping a tradition going. If it isn’t a living, breathing thing, it withers away.”

Adam tells a story that illustrates how the Shetland community works. The Revellers recently played at the Shetland Folk Festival, which is largely funded by local businesses and run by volunteers, with visiting bands staying with local families.

“We played at Skeld, out on the west side, with KANSA, the other band I play in.” says Adam. “We got to the hall, which is run by community volunteers, who cooked us a lovely square meal and fed us with tea and fancies [biscuits and cakes]. Then we played to a packed hall and everybody had a great time. I was trying to think how much it would cost to do that if it wasn’t a community-led exercise. But up here people just do it for the good of the community.”

The community, he says, “runs through just about every activity up here. So much is put on for local charities or to support local projects. There’s a Shetland dialect phrase of ‘I’ll no see de stuck’, literally I’ll not see you stuck. Everybody’s busy, but they’ll never see anyone at a disadvantage if they can help out.”

Adam seems to embody this aspect of Shetland life. His nine-year-old daughter, Lauren, is also keen footballer who currently plays mixed football. “One day she asked me if she’d have to give up when she was twelve or thirteen, when the mixed football ends,” Adam recalls. “And I said: Well, there’s no good reason why you should.” So, he gathered a group of other dads who coach (volunteers, of course)—and, in 2017, the Shetland Junior Football Association had a girls’ football team.

He’s busy, but he’s doing his bit, being part of things: making sure that teenage girls can play football, and primary school kids get to rock out in a safe space. He’ll be one of the many people making sure that Shetland’s most important engine—that nebulous thing called community—keeps on running.