Looking forward to the Folk Festival Looking forward to the Folk Festival

Looking forward to the Folk Festival

In just two weeks time, the streets, pubs and venues of Stromness will be playing host to some of the finest musical talent found anywhere, when the 2015 Orkney Folk Festival gets underway. The four day event runs between Thursday the 21st and Sunday the 24th of May, and once again welcomes artists from across the world - and some from much closer to home too.

According to the organisers, more than five thousand tickets have already been sold for the various performances and ceilidhs. But there are still seats available for many of the concerts, and anyone interested should pay a visit to the Festival's website as soon as they can.

To preview the event, we've asked Folk Festival Committee Member, Craig Corse, to take a look through the archives and pick some of his favourite images from Folk Festivals gone by. Click on each photo to see larger versions.

BBC Radio Scotland’s Travelling Folk, recorded live at the festival - 2013 - image by Sean Purser
BBC Radio Scotland’s Travelling Folk, recorded live at the festival - 2013 - image by Sean Purser

I love this photo. The festival hosted BBC Radio Scotland’s flagship folk programme at the festival, in 2013, who recorded an “as-live” version of the programme on the Thursday afternoon (recorded in advance only as the host, Bruce MacGregor, is also in Blazin’ Fiddles, who were performing whilst it aired, in the evening). They requested four acts, to each perform live sets, chat a bit and what not. This photo was taken at the soundcheck, where Boys of the Lough’s Cathal McConnell was snapped listening in on Basco – a quite “out there”, Danish and Swedish folk-fusion group. The genuine interest and appreciation shown for other folks’ take on music, here, always makes me smile.

Blazin’ Fiddles pre-match warm up - 2013. Image by Sean Purser
Blazin’ Fiddles pre-match warm up - 2013. Image by Sean Purser

The festival has become known – at least amongst musicians travelling to it – for the informal, rule-lacking, Orkney vs. Rest of the World football match on Sunday afternoon. As you can see, Blazin’ Fiddles do not do anything by halves, and so chose to proudly display their strips at Thursday night’s Festival Club, some three days ahead of the game. Anna Massie is waiting on the sub-bench, just out of shot, with her hair up like Robbie Savage’s… They were proud as punch.

Eddi Reader, Stromness Town Hall – 2012. Image by Leila Angus.
Eddi Reader, Stromness Town Hall – 2012. Image by Leila Angus.

After a few years of trying to make diaries work, we managed to bring Eddi Reader to the festival in 2012 – wonderfully aligned with the event’s 30th anniversary. I remember reading on Twitter, a few hours ahead of Eddi’s performance in the 350 capacity Stromness Town Hall, a tweet from an audience member, loosely along the lines of: “Heading out to see Eddi Reader in the Stromness Town Hall. Never thought I’d be saying that!” Ace.

Farewell Concert Finale – 30th Anniversary – 2012. Image by Leila Angus
Farewell Concert Finale – 30th Anniversary – 2012. Image by Leila Angus

The farewell concerts, and their finales, where we bring as many folk together on stage as we can, are always great craic – but for the 30th anniversary we decked the Town Hall in the old banners, alongside our new branding, To me this very much sums up what the festival strives to do – bridge the old and new. As for the tiger onesies, I never did get to the bottom of that….

Jeana Leslie, Siobhan Miller and Jenn Butterworth – Stromness Primary School – 2012. Image by Leila Angus.
Jeana Leslie, Siobhan Miller and Jenn Butterworth – Stromness Primary School – 2012. Image by Leila Angus.

A big part of the festival’s programme is engaging with communities throughout the isles. This often means geographically, but a big part of our morning activities (and the morning we see at the start, rather than end of a day) is having visiting artists deliver concerts or workshops to primary schools.

Mark Radcliffe and Aoife O’Donovan – Italian Chapel – 2014. Image by Sean Purser.
Mark Radcliffe and Aoife O’Donovan – Italian Chapel – 2014. Image by Sean Purser.

Just last year, BBC Radio 2 brought their Folk Show to the festival – presenter Mark Radcliffe, and three production staff – to record an Orkney Folk Festival special edition of the nation’s most listened to folk programme. To have them visiting a festival in Scotland other than Celtic Connections was a big deal, and one which brought us a great deal of attention. They had roughly planned what they wanted to do whilst here – including a recording session in the Italian Chapel, as pictured here – but once they got here, found themselves recording as much as possible, overwhelmed with the volume of activity going on.


Aoife O’Donovan, from New York, visited solo last year, having been in 2008 with the bluegrass band Crooked Still. Since then, her solo career, as well as the band’s, has gone stratospheric – and having her just solo, without any backing band was a real treat, as it showed off her vocals to their full capacity. Truth be told, she on my “kid in a sweet shop” list of artists, that you never expect to see the light of day, but somehow we got her for the full weekend. Whilst here, she also ended up collaborating with at least two groups of musicians - one Scandinavian, one Scottish - the kind of meetings that can only really happen at a festival, where folk are in quite close quarters for a few days, and really get to know each others’ styles.

SVER – Festival Club – 2014. Image by Sean Purser.
SVER – Festival Club – 2014. Image by Sean Purser.

Scandinavian groups always go down well at the festival, but SVER (pictured right) just last year, and, before them, Basco, in 2013 both went down phenomenally. I love this photo, as after many years of seeing photos from this room (refer to Blazin’ Fiddles in football strips, from 2013) we invested in black curtains to provide a more intimate stage backing. I think it really emphasises the alcove of the stage, and the intimate nature of that room. Seeing bands up close and personal, playing to just 100 lucky folk, is a fantastic experience.

Madison Violet – 2014. Image by Sean Purser
Madison Violet – 2014. Image by Sean Purser

I can’t remember which gig this was taken at, but absolutely love this photo. Lisa MacIsaac (forward) and MacEachern were a resounding smash at 2014’s festival, and this photo really captures their essence. For Lisa to be that far from a microphone, holding court, Sean has managed to catch her mid-belt, absolutely nailing it to the back of the room. What a voice!

Family Atlantica – Family Concert – 2014. Image by Sean Purser
Family Atlantica – Family Concert – 2014. Image by Sean Purser

Alongside schools concerts, we also programme a concert for younger audience members (and those not so young, if they don’t mind finding their inner child). I particularly like this photo as not only does it show one of the more diverse acts that the festival brings in, in front of an audience just tall enough to see over the stage, but the sheer joy of playing that gig is evident throughout all band members’ faces.

The Transatlantic Gathering – 2014. Image by Sean Purser.
The Transatlantic Gathering – 2014. Image by Sean Purser.

One of the key features in recent years’ programmes has been ‘The Gathering’, in one form or another. Its first outing was as ‘Orkney Folk: The Gathering’, in 2011, where, for the first time, the festival brought together an all-Orcadian cast of musicians, to present a multi-generational programme of solely Orcadian music, and all for the Saturday night concert in the Stromness Town Hall, which, previously, had been reserved for artists brought into the festival. Orkney music was given the spotlight, and since then the concept has grown exponentially… there have been performances in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, and a collaboration with a similar project in Shetland, showcased at both the Orkney and Shetland festivals. In 2014, though, as we had amassed a few transatlantic visitors, the Gathering crossed the pond (musically, just) and joined with Cape Breton, Western Canadian, and American musicians, highlighting the common threads that run between us.

Girls vs Boys fiddle competition – The Transatlantic Gathering – 2014. Image by Sean Purser.
Girls vs Boys fiddle competition – The Transatlantic Gathering – 2014. Image by Sean Purser.

Part of the Transatlantic Gathering’s programme was a tongue-in-cheek (at least I thought so, but both sides took it very seriously) girls vs boys fiddle competition. Here, Margie Beaton, from Mabou in Cape Breton, is step dancing, about to launch into a 360 degree rotating backstep, as made famous by Natalie MacMaster. After that, it was no surprise that the girls won!

The 2015 Orkney Folk Festival runs from the 21st to the 24th of May - find out more and book your tickets by visiting the Festival's website. For information on visiting Orkney, have a look at the Visit Orkney website.