The Orkney Folk Festival is one of the must-see events on the local calendar, with fabulous gigs, performances and concerts held in venues across the islands.
It's hard to describe how fun-filled the weekend is, so we've asked Craig Corse from the Orkney Folk Festival organising committee to look through the photo archive from the last few years to pick out some of his highlights.
I love this photo - both for the sheer volume of folk on stage, and because the average age must be under 20.
This was taken towards the end of The Gathering: Generations, the 2018 incarnation of the festival’s Gathering project, bringing together musicians and singers from throughout the county and across the generations. Taking heed from the 2018 Year of Young People, the baton of Musical Director itself was handed over to Gnoss - Graham Rorie and Aidan Moodie’s group - who brought together a great many younger groups on the Stromness Town Hall stage.
This included Hadhirgaan, Douglas Montgomery’s celebrated youth collective that has meant so much to all those who have been part of it across its 20 years (myself included!). Two of the first ever Hadhirgaan members - Laura Sutherland and Elizabeth Duncan - can be seen to the left of the photo, and shortly after this was taken they were joined by Dougie MacLean who delightedly stood in amongst the huge group playing his tune, The Gael (from Last of the Mohicans), totally blown away by the strength Orkney’s traditional youth music scene.
Speaking of Dougie MacLean, we’ve used this photo of him and Gary Peterson in our festival programme the year, as it sums up the social side of the festival brilliantly. Two pals catching up. Gary has been to the festival loads of times, both as a member of the much-loved Shetland group Hom Bru, and often just for the craic. Always with a banjo, though.
With the Stromness pierhead redevelopments now complete, we were pleased to be able to make use of the town’s new outdoor stage for the first time last year, which was a fantastic addition to the festival atmosphere around the town, during the day. There was music throughout the day up on the stage, as well as pipe band marches and performances which drew large crowds. We’re hoping for the same again - including the weather. We’ve put in a request in with the powers that be, but so far it remains a pencilled TBC… fingers crossed!
Last year was also the first in which we used St Magnus Cathedral for a full concert. On one hand, the building has been there for 850 years so we’re very slow off the mark, but it is such a special building and it has to be the right artists, whose music not only best fit the space, but do it justice.
Duncan Chisholm is one of Scotland’s most celebrated fiddler players, with a wonderfully expressive tone and connection to the natural world in his writing (check out any of his albums - particularly Sandwood). His expanded line-up of second fiddle, cello, piano, guitar and uilleann pipes/whistles is something else, and was an ideal fit.
Whilst we might not use the cathedral every year, we are back this year with the phenomenal trio Lau (Kris Drever, Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke), which promises to be a very special night indeed. In their 12 or so years, the trio have totally reimagined what three musicians are collectively capable of - combining electronics and various trickery with deep folk roots - and whilst we don’t yet know entirely what they have planned, it’s safe to say it will be unforgettable.
Though now based in Shetland, Kris is still a fairly regular face at the festival - this year with Lau, and a couple of years ago with his own band. He was also one of the original drivers behind The Gathering coming to be in 2011, and so in 2017 the festival gave him the entire night, with which he created a ‘Made in Orkney’ programme, with guest artists collaborating on Orkney songs and tunes with local musicians. This included groups from the USA, Canada, and throughout Scotland, including the one and only Eddi Reader, who flew in a day ahead of her own shows, just to be part of Kris’ show.
I was stood side of stage as Eddi and Kris sang Ghosts, his powerful, hard-hitting song about immigration and belonging: more relevant now than ever before, with her powerhouse vocals soaring high into the rafters.
Epic is an understatement. Proper goosebumps.
I also love that she’s wearing her bag on stage - clearly right at home!
Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley were also among the guests at Kris Drever’s Muckle Gathering, in 2017. I think this picture captures both their connection and craic on stage brilliantly. Firm festival favourites.
Technically not an Orkney Folk Festival picture, but it was taken at The Gathering’s 2019 trip down to Celtic Connections so it’s allowed.
We had over 50 Orcadian musicians down in Glasgow in January this year (and even sold out the Old Fruitmarket on the festival’s opening Saturday night!), from a bus full of Hadhirgaan school pupils, to renowned faces and stalwarts of the local scene. It was a genuinely lovely day - a long day of rehearsals and setup, but the mutual appreciation and community amongst everyone on stage was plain for all to see.
Billy was front of the stage throughout - playing the moothie in the house-band - and held the 700-strong crowd captive, and in full chorus, with the old Allie Windwick song, Butter on the Bow. By the looks of this photo, he seemed to enjoy it too.
A big part of the festival has always been taking concerts and ceilidhs out to village halls, and delivering world class music on folks’ doorsteps. Fara in the Birsay Hall last year ticked all of those boxes. The Orcadian quartet - Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie, Catriona Price and Jennifer Austin - are now touring all over the world, yet I believe this was their first gig in Birsay, and Kristan’s local hall.
I’ve no idea what was being said at the time, but likely better not to ask…!
As well as bringing music to as many communities as possible, the festival has long strived to make it accessible to all ages. For many years, we’ve taken groups out to local primary schools on the festival’s Friday morning - playing acoustic sets in their gym or lunch halls - yet last year our dates aligned with an in-service day, where the schools were closed to pupils. Not ones to be deterred, we invited school-age folk into the festival’s flagship venue, the Stromenss Town Hall, and held a Friday morning full production concert instead.
This photo is from Findlay’s set that morning - deep in conversation about the songs, and effortlessly engaging the audience. As he generally does, yet not necessarily at 10am - or a crowd full of school pupils.
Again, a brilliant photo that captures the social side of the festival - more so when Phil wasn’t actually booked to be there. He came up on the Sunday, entirely for the craic, at a day’s notice - I believe having seen scenes on Facebook earlier in the weekend and deciding it looked too much fun to resist. There were a few very surprised faces when he was seen out and about in Stromness, and only maybe half of those amongst the committee.
This is Maggie Rigby, of the brilliant group, The Maes, from Melbourne, catching a side-of-stage view of Le Vent du Nord, from Quebec, in the Stromness Academy. So many ace festival aspects rolled into one chance shot.
One of the leading acts in Quebec’s folk movement, Le Vent du Nord were a surprise late addition to last year’s line-up. We caught wind that they were going to be on tour in Denmark the week after the festival - so in the grand scheme of things, relatively close - and managed to bring them up to us for a wee U.K. exclusive at the same time.
They are phenomenal showmen, with a fantastically tight sound and palpable love for the Québécois traditions. We asked them to lead off one of the Farewell Concert finale sets, where most acts return to the stage for a few tunes and a song, a challenge which they evidently revelled in.
Find out more about the Orkney Folk Festival and how you can buy tickets via the offical website.
All photos © Sean Purser
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