Islesburgh abuzz as folk festival is underway

The 37th Shetland Folk Festival got off to a flying start as over a dozen acts from around the world kicked off the festivities at Thursday afternoon’s Opening Concert, in the Festival’s spiritual home of Islesburgh Community Centre.

Islesburgh was buzzing with activity as crowds of attendees filed into Room 16 to see the concert, which was live-streamed to another room in order to accommodate the large audience.

After a brief introduction by the Chair of the Folk Festival Society, Christine Fordyce, the festival was officially launched by special guest Joella Foulds, former Artistic Director of the Canadian Celtic Colours folk festival, Canada. Ms Foulds, who was presented with a trip to the Shetland Folk Festival as a retirement present by the Celtic Colours committee, said that she was thrilled to finally be able to attend what she considered their ‘sister festival’.

“I can’t believe it’s taken 37 years,” she said. Foulds, who has never been to Shetland before, said it was “wonderful” to be able to finally see the isles and attend the Folk Festival.

John Langan of the Langan Band Photo: Dave Donaldson

The brief formality of the speeches quickly gave way to the main attraction- the music. Scottish act The Scott Wood Band had the honour of being the opening act of the festival; a high-energy blast of bagpipes and fiddles setting a lively, exciting tone for the proceedings to come.

The Scott Wood Band were swiftly followed by the wonderful, bluesy Lonely Heartstring Band, a quintet from Boston who were making their UK debut at the festival.

Acts that followed included the excellent Glaswegian ‘supergroup’ Ímar, award-winning Estonian band Trad.Attack!, Canadian acoustic trio Ten Strings and a Goatskin and the wonderfully bluesy Lonely Heartstring Band from Boston, who are making their UK debut at the festival. 14 acts, both from home and abroad, played short, one-song sets to the eager audience as a taster of things to come.

While the bands kept Room 16 (and Room 10, via livestream) buzzing, but the rest of Islesburgh was also getting into the swing of things as it was converted from community centre to Festival Club, and hub of the festival for the weekend. The bar was already busy, and the mixture of volunteers, musicians and families milling around the first floor gave the entire floor a party atmosphere.

Molly Tuttle of the Goodbye Girls Photo: Dave Donaldson

Attendees were surprised and delighted when members of the Let’s Circus troupe, led by ringmaster Steve Cousins, appeared to showcase some spontaneous acrobatics.•

“The circus is in town,” bellowed Cousins, as Kenyan acrobat Francis Odongo wowed the crowd with his impressive physical feats to banjo music.

Let’s Circus, a contemporary UK-based circus troupe, will be performing “large scale, but intimate” shows across the various venues throughout the festival, according to Cousins, with bigger performances in Mareel and Brae.

Cousins is no stranger to the Folk Festival, having delivered workshops and performances a number of times over the last few years, but he said that this was the first time that the circus was a true part of the programme.

“The folk music, folk scene, folk community, it’s similar to the circus,” he told The Shetland Times. “Very giving, and we all love what we do…Music has the focus; we’re the fringe. The first Folk Festival Fringe.”

With such a varied showcase of talents on display, The Shetland Times asked Louise Johnson, the Folk Festival’s Publicity Officer, about what the audiences can expect over the coming days:

“A huge amount of variety, a fantastic line-up of talent, a chance to see some local performers that always do Shetland proud. And don’t miss out on the fun and games that is the Festival Club!”


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