25th September 2016
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Fiddlers play to big audiences and enjoy life down under

The Hjaltibonhoga members in front of the mock Edinburgh Castle in Melbourne's Etihad Stadium.

The Hjaltibonhoga members in front of the mock Edinburgh Castle in Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.

The Shetland fiddle band Hjaltibonhoga is currently performing in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Led by Margaret Robertson, the band members have just completed their fifth show in Melbourne, marking the halfway point of the tour, and are now beginning their next set of rehearsals in Wellington.

Hjaltibonhoga have been rehearsing since first arriving in Australia. The rehearsals were spread over four days and saw the Shetlanders massing with the Melbourne Fiddlers to form a 45-plus strong string section for the Melbourne shows.

Rehearsals were held at Mooney Valley Racecourse in the city and saw bands and groups spread out over the buildings and grounds rehearsing music, dance steps and drills.

Hjaltibonhoga member Jillian Copland said: “The rehearsals were extensive but very worthwhile and enjoyable. The heat a long side of the day long rehearsals allowed us to prove our staying power with the military bands.”

The performances began on the Friday with five shows over the weekend in the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. The stadium sat a crowd of 35,000 and included a lifesize replica of Edinburgh Castle at one end, providing a tattoo experience on a much larger scale than that of the Edinburgh Tattoo for both audience and performers.

This tour sees an amalgamation of bands and groups from the 2014 and 2015 Edinburgh Tattoo casts, so in turn, this has made the experience feel very much like a reunion.

Fiddler Maggie Adamson spoke of her enthusiasm to be in the group: “Who could refuse a stadium gig to 35,000 standing in front of the biggest live band in the world.”

And she wasn’t kidding considering Hjaltibonhoga play along with another 900-plus military musicians and pipers.

Helen Whitham said: “At first I couldn’t comprehend just how vast the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne was. The sight of so many people intently focused on the arena floor was hard to take in, and only really sunk in after I had the first three shows under my belt.

My favourite moment so far was the last performance on Sunday night. I decided to really enjoy our last show in Melbourne and go out with a bang, which I think we did.”

Leader Margaret Robertson puts some of the band members through their paces during a rehearsal.

Leader Margaret Robertson puts some of the band members through their paces during a rehearsal.

Copland said: “One of my favourite moments was when we are waiting at the draw bridge to enter for Hector the Hero, and we hear Margaret on the stadium floor playing solo fiddle.

“After all the hard work that Margaret has put into the tattoo and the overseas tattoo that this gives her her moment of well-deserved limelight. It’s incredibly emotional and makes us all very proud of her.”

Band member Marjolein Robertson added: “Even with a cast of 1,300 members there’s this great harmony and enthusiasm throughout that you just cannot fault.

“I have never been anywhere, nor can I imagine anywhere, where you can turn around to the stranger next to you and start a conversation and every time be greeted with warmth and interest.”

The fiddlers have now arrived in Wellington in New Zealand and are embarking on another week of rehearsals. The group again are joined by more fiddlers, this time New Zealanders, to increase the numbers, and were all practicing hard together to be ready for the first show on Thursday.

AboutJim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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