Squad’s colourful approach brightens the spirit
Guizer Jarl Mark Evans promised that his squad would be colourful, and so it was, with a host of warming red cloaks and sunburst shields brightening up the dreich Up-Helly-A’ day.
The promise of the tail end of America’s “snowmageddon” materialised too, in the form of the wind and rain which never deters the crowds of supporters.
But the day had started dry for the jarl, in the persona of Solmund Sigurdsson, who had risen at 5.30am and by the time of refreshment at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre had already been up more than three hours.
Here he and his resplendent guizers, more than 50 men and 15 boys, together with the pipe band, mingled with early morning shoppers for photos and drams, with the choice of lemonade and cola together with the stronger stuff.
An air of excitement pervaded the visit, cut all too short with the blast of the looderhorn and the instruction to “rank up”.
And so it was off to the raven banner-flying Legion, via a turning movement round the traffic island opposite. It was a bit of a scrum as tourists and locals strained to see the impressive sight of the Jarl’s Squad, gathered together to sing the Up-Helly-A’ song and the squad’s choice Your Cheatin’ Heart, accompanied by their own musicians.
Ex-jarl Bruce Leask was among the crowd and admired the outfits – “I’ve seen worse”, he said.
Helmets were taken off in the warmth and revealed to have a black pigskin covering, echoed in the pigskin of the kirtles. “It [the leather] is so soft you want to keep stroking it,” said squad member David Anderson.
The workmanship of the whole suit became apparent in the close confines of the room, the stitching on the cloaks and their gold embroidery, the minute details of etching on the medallions of the glinting breastplates and epaulettes and the tooled leather on the chest piece and belt, the work of Gordon Peterson, who even had a silver dragon’s head in his plaited beard.
The wood grain of the shields, made by Brian Halcrow, Kevin Anderson, Martin Malcolmson, Philip Manson and Colin Thomson, ensured they were all slightly different.
More drinks were on offer, and piles of pies to sustain the guizers. Nearby was Up-Helly-A’ stalwart Jim Nicolson, whose involvement with the festival dates from 1959.
He steered the galley on its way through the streets for 50 years, from 1963 to 2013, and still goes to the galley building.
This year’s suits were “lovely, very effective”, he said, and he was delighted the “great institution” of Up-Helly-A’ was in rude health.
He said: “I’m quite proud a lot of young boys are coming to build the galley, young blood coming through is the lifeblood of it.”
• For full coverage of the the daytime procession and visits and the best photos, don’t miss the Up-Helly-A’ supplement free with every Shetland Times on Friday.