24th September 2018
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Guizers mass together for final instructions

Hundreds of guizers, including Jarl's Squad members at the front of the ranks, listen intently to the instructions from the top table. Photo: Kevin Osborn

Hundreds of guizers, including Jarl’s Squad members at the front of the ranks, listen intently to the instructions from the top table. Photo: Kevin Osborn

Boy oh boy. It’s nearly that time of year again. Just a week to go till the flames flow.

Last night it was time to anticipate the fiery ranks turning back the dark nights, with the final mass meeting of guizers at the Anderson High School games hall.

They were there not for some rigorous workout involving torch-handling techniques, but the same old formalities and a bit of light vocal exercise to the accompaniment of the Lerwick Brass Band. An all male affair, there is a dispensation for female members of the brass band.

There were hundreds of guizers, the rank and file peppered with the jarl’s hairiest.

Before we knew it, the band struck up with the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme, as the stern-faced committee members filed in towards the raven-bannered table.

This year’s jarl, the affable Neil “Penguin” Robertson, was displaying a good effort at supreme hairiness. He began with “hello, hello” and explained that for him this was the beginning and end. He was beginning to look forward to next week and it was the end of his time waiting in the wings.

He first paid tribute to ex-jarl Willie “Feejur” Tait, who died at the end of last week. Feejur was Guizer Jarl in 1960 and was “such a stalwart guizer”, going out in the festival for an amazing 85 years.

Robbie Watt is at the forefront of the massed ranks of guizers at the final mass meeting in the Anderson High School games hall. Photo: Kevin Osborn

Robbie Watt is at the forefront of the massed ranks of guizers at the final mass meeting in the Anderson High School games hall. Photo: Kevin Osborn

Next it was song time, with ex-jarl Stanley Manson. He complained about only having been contacted about this rehearsal on Sunday night. Ah but he did do it last year … no real mystery.

The Up-Helly-Aa Song, words by the blind poet Haldane Burgess, was first performed in 1905 to the tune of John Brown’s Body, Stanley told us. Was that “Mrs Brown’s first boy,” he wondered. That raised a slight titter.

The music changed in 1920 when today’s tune was written by Thomas Manson. Same Mansons, Stanley explained. We were to sing just one verse, though there were seven.

Stanley reminded the “congregation” that even though spunks may fly in the face of adversity, hearty warbling was a must. In the bright gym surroundings, the singing as we went through the Up-Helly-A’ songs was a little lacklustre, despite Stanley’s encouragement for the mass to lift the roof; I guess our arms were just not long enough.

Later ex-jarl Ivor Cluness proceeded to lay down the law – like on an aeroplane the “Penguin” explained. A public service announcement then followed.

On a lighter note, apart from the torch business Ivor announced that this Tuesday was National Penguin Awareness Day. How had Neil worked that out in 15 years?

Neil then reminded guizers that squad descriptions were to be sent by e-mail (a.civico@shetlandtimes.co.uk) this year at the bequest of The Shetland Times.

Finally any other competent business brought a reminder of the pert remarks of the late John Gray: “I miss John,” Neil said, a sentiment certainly felt by many present.

The jarl wished the guizers a good night and said: “If you can have a good night, I’ll have a good night and I hope I’ll have a good night too.” I think the final good night may have been a reference to the weather.

As squad leaders muddled in for their squad starting positions the mass trickled out into the night, dark on this occasion but bound to a bit lighter next Tuesday.

• More from the final mass meeting and an interview with Guizer Jarl Neil Robertson in Friday’s Shetland Times.

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