Inventive squads poke fun at local life
Most people have probably never seen Michael Jackson take part in a Boston Two-Step, but at least Up-Helly-A’ revellers can now truthfully claim to have witnessed first hand this remarkable event.
Of course, it wasn’t the real pop sensation that took to the dance floors in halls throughout Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, although the stand-in’s masked face did seem almost as artificial as the real thing. But he did offer a convincing moonwalk in homage to the genuine pop star.
Part of squad 19’s Thriller, the Jackson routine provided a promising start to the night at Sound School.
The crowd had been expecting to see the Jarl’s squad before anyone else, but a window of opportunity arose for the Thriller act’s main character to rise from a coffin and dance 80s-style as ghoulish characters gathered all around.
Before long, however, squad 19 bid farewell, giving Stephen Mouat and his men the chance to make an appearance.
He paid tribute those who had put in time and effort at the Sound School to make Up-Helly-A’ a memorable event.
In particular, he thanked the canteen staff for preparing the soup, and the 14 couples who have acted as hosts and hostesses over the years.
Three of those – Alisdair Gair, Audrey Spence and Grace Malcolmson – have been doing so since the hall opened in 1978.
Another dance, and it was time for A Sheik Up At Sullom, providing obvious reference to last year’s effective take over of the oil terminal by a Middle Eastern oil giant set up by the government of the United Arab Emirates.
Featuring sailors and wealthy Arabs with at least one money bag each, the sketch also offered the welcome sight of a red-nosed Peter Leask posing as “Clowncillor Clueless”, collecting whatever he could for $andy’s $lush Fund.
Perhaps too shy to sing themselves, the squad played a recording of a specially prepared song, which was sung to the tune of What Shall we do with a Drunken Sailor?, and referred to the convener as the Twageos Sheik.
Squad 35 gave a nod to the Territorial Army, now in its centenary year, with a military-themed sketch that provided more chuckles than an episode of Dad’s Army.
In fact it was the familiar theme tune from the comedy show that blasted through the PA system as two supposed part time soldiers took to the floor on minuscule bicycles.
They were joined by their colleagues who quickly assembled a cannon out of card-board components they had carried in with them.
There were three cheers for the TA as the cannon gave a bang, and out popped a union flag waving patriotically at the crowd.
There were obscure performances as well, notably from squad 13’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, which saw participants supposedly on horseback, as one poor soul followed behind banging two halves of a coconut together, Monty Python-style, to get the desired clip-clop sound effect.
The Cut Hair’s Kirkwall Carnage meanwhile, highlighted Orkney’s supposed jealousy of Lerwick’s fire festival and featured guizers decked out and ready for Kirkwall’s Up-Helly-A’.
Things went from the peculiar to the bizarre, with squad 33’s football-themed performance giving way to a combination of Rocky and an episode of Benny Hill, with scantily-clad nurses providing added comical effect.
Big Spenders was obviously designed to poke fun at the controversial Mareel project, with lucky audience members being handed 50,000 “Mareelian” notes, with a picture of – you guessed it – Sandy Cluness on the back.
There was a growing sense of nostalgia when the Banana Splits entered the hall. Characters from the 70s children’s TV show danced around before giving way to DangerMouse, who was almost convincingly fired from a cannon into a wheely bin.
This year’s Up-Helly-A’ wouldn’t have seemed right without at least one squad poking fun at Shetland’s new air franchise, and it was down to Fly B Wis to deliver the goods.
The squad’s sketch was clearly designed to highlight the excessive charges and luggage weight restrictions controversially introduced by FlyBe when it took over from British Airways last year.
In the end, though, the night belonged to the Fine Young Cannibals.
After all, it would have to be a good act that could still get a laugh after apparently spearing several of the audience members to death.