SE violin, Laura Ghiro, looks back on our action-packed 4-day Shetland residency. ‘Thanks Shetland for the fun and the memories!’
Following a successful recording session in Dundee with Chris Stout (fiddle) and Catriona McKay (Scottish harp) to record Seavaigers by Sally Beamish, and a concert as part of the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, we were all looking forward to our 4 nights in Shetland, a first for the Ensemble.
Arriving at Aberdeen airport, however, was rather strange. Women seemed to have eluded this place, as we passed through a sea of large rugged men. Later in duty free, as James (violin) was sampling some very fine whisky, one of the staff explained that the oil riggers had been stranded for almost 2 weeks due to fog. Fingers crossed our flight would not be affected…. Thankfully all was well, and after our inflight refreshments of tea and Tunnock caramel wafers (not had one of them for years!), served by Ian, possibly the most polite air steward I have ever met, we landed safely at Sumburgh airport.
Most of our events were to take place in the Mareel, a recent addition to Lerwick providing the community with a state of the art cinema, cafe/bar and an auditorium for concerts, shows and conferences.
Our first evening saw the Ensemble divided, with some giving a live performance to the silent film Faust with DJ Alex Smoke in the auditorium, whilst Liza (violin), Jo (violin), Naomi (cello) and I spent a lovely couple of hours in the Green Room, coaching some very friendly and enthusiastic local musicians in preparation for our flash mob performance (the location of which very hush hush!)
Liza taking the coaching session
By now we were all ravenous, so decided to try out the Hay’s Dock restaurant just next door in the Shetland Museum. Not only was the food delicious, but the view was spectacular as the clouds had lifted and a glorious evening now ensued.
After meeting up with the rest of the Ensemble for a couple of pints of “Bitter & Twisted”, our concert soloists Shetlander Chris Stout (fiddle) and Catriona McKay (Scottish harp) took us to the legendary Lounge bar. The place was packed and local musicians were providing an electric atmosphere with some truly incredible playing. Cheryl (violin) even remembered her dad playing with Ally Bain in this bar! With our heads spinning and our feet tapping, we all departed for bed.
Day 2 began with a surprising view for Liza. Upon opening her curtains she spotted James swimming in the sea! AAARRRRRRRRR!!!
Today was our “Out and About Day” with the Ensemble split into 3 quartets giving informal concerts around the island. I was in a group with Jon (violin), James and Di (d. bass) performing some new arrangements by Julian Milone. After a quick rehearsal and a spot of lunch, we set up in the Boat Gallery in the Shetland Museum. Not only did it have a lovely acoustic, but it was an amazing room with boats suspended from the ceiling.
We had time for a coffee and piece of chocolate cake in the Mareel cafe, before heading off to Scalloway Museum in our people carrier, with Di at the helm. We were accompanied by Lynda, one of the team from Shetland Arts, who informed us that the Museum had been built to commemorate the Shetland Bus. Apparently during WWII, sailors from Shetland tried to help the people of Norway during their German occupation. For years the Shetlanders, under darkness, carried supplies to Norway and tried to evacuate as many Norwegians as they could.
View from the museum
Our audience were very appreciative, even asking for an encore of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” By the end we were met with lots of questions about the Ensemble and the Tea Dance scheduled for the following day.
By now we were ready for a relaxing drink and met up with Chris and others in the bar. He told us of a small early morning boat trip he had managed to squeeze in for some of our players, before they started work that day. They had a brilliant time, even managing to spot some seals and porpoise and Chris managed to catch a few mackerel.
It seemed he had not been the only one in the family fishing that day, as his dad had caught over 60 mackerel when out that morning! A very gracious invitation then came to join Chris and his family at their house to savour the said mackerel. Catriona promised a great view from the conservatory but the journey there didn’t look too hopeful, as a thick fog suddenly descended. Thankfully by the time we arrived it had cleared, and the views were breathtaking.
Chris’s parents, Andrew and Kathleen, were the most wonderful hosts and even let Jon help with the preparations. A feast of grilled mustard-glazed mackerel, oatmeal fried mackerel, salad and Shetland beremeal bread was enjoyed by all. It was without doubt the best mackerel I have ever tasted.
We had all had a great day and were looking forward to the next……
On day 3 we all met at the Mareel at midday for our rehearsal of the Tea Dance music. The tables were all being carefully arranged, plants placed strategically and our stage had been beautifully backlit with fairy lights…… “Strictly” eat your heart out!
We just felt there was something missing….what was it? With two talented percussionists in our midst, we decided we needed to add a rhythm section. Fraser (projects manager) jumped into action and quickly came up with the solution….two coffee cups, unpopped popcorn from the cinema and some gaffa tape. It was all very reminiscent of Blue Peter. Would it pass the soundcheck?
As the doors were opened to the public we all headed off to change into our glamorous attire. The boys, by now, loved getting into the 1930’s feel by slathering their hair in a vat of Brylcreem.
For all of us, however, James stole the show playing his newly nicknamed “Mareel Maracas.” Jon even introduced him to the audience, where James described this unusual instrument as a Norse design!
After a delicious spread of sandwiches and numerous cakes, the Shetlanders rounded off a fabulous Tea Dance with some special requests, Waltzes and Foxtrots seeming to be the favourites here.
We had some time before meeting up with the local musicians again for a brief flash mob rehearsal. This gave Andy and James just enough time to shower and wash their hair 5 times to remove the Brylcreem! The rest of us just decided to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.
Cheryl topping up her tan
During the flash mob rehearsal Naomi decided she would try her hand at the viola. Watch out Andy! Even Di and I couldn’t break her concentration…what a pro…..the same however cannot be said of Lady Marwood!!
So far, on previous residencies, we had been to 2 large shopping malls, so where on Shetland would we go? Tesco of course! Apparently, it’s a hub of activity on a Friday night. Splitting into 3 groups and walking down the aisles, we stopped some shoppers in their tracks, making them reach for their phones to capture us on camera. Typically, the second violins managed to walk down the alcohol aisle, whilst Liza opted for ice cream instead!
Meeting behind the cash registers we brought Pachelbel’s canon to a sterling climax, before entertaining the onlookers with a rousing rendition of the ‘Dargason’ from St Paul’s Suite. Much fun was had by all.
It was then back to the Mareel for a Players’ Meeting. We can honestly say we have never had a meeting in such wonderful surroundings.
Our last full day on Shetland, Day 4. After meeting Liza for lunch at Hay’s Dock it was time for our rehearsal for the main concert tonight.
The concert opened with Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins with Jon, Cheryl, Clare and Jo having their moment to shine. Well played one and all! Next was Bach’s Double Violin Concerto. Jon was building up to the big introduction of Chris and Catriona on stage, but they beat him to it. Friendly banter ensued, giving the audience a few laughs and brought a relaxed atmosphere to the auditorium. Chris brought his creative folk style into the piece and gave it a whole new dimension. Seavaigers rounded off the first half with both Chris and Catriona playing with such impressive energy in the outer 2 movements and real sensitivity in the slow middle movement. Poor Catriona had food poisoning the previous day, making her performance all the more remarkable.
Gorecki”s Three Pieces in Olden Style opened the second half, before Chris and Catriona joined us on stage again to perform their new piece Sunstone. I, like the rest of the Ensemble have been in complete awe of these two amazing musicians. There are sounds that Catriona can create on her harp that I have never heard before. Chris can play the most difficult reels with such ease and freedom that would put most classically trained musicians to shame. It has been a real honour for us to perform with them and hope to do so again in the near future.
The audience were on their feet by the end, so thankfully a couple of encores had been prepared just in case. The first Michaelswood was written by Chris in memory of one of his fiddler friends, Michael who died when he was only 21 from cancer. His parents created Michaelswood in his memory and has become a community led project that works with schools, nurseries and local groups, raising awareness of nature and the environment. Chris’s piece has a beautiful melody and with him playing it so tenderly, I could not help but shed a tear. Isflak lifted our spirits again with lightning fast reels keeping the violinists’ fingers busy. We all looked at Chris and asked the same question..”How does he do it?!!” Coming off stage everyone was on a high with wide beaming smiles.
On the way back to our guest house we couldn’t resist the smells coming from the “Relish” van, so we had to stop for bacon butties. (Usually a cheese pastie for Liza before getting on the sleeper after our Wigmore concerts!)
Checking out of the guest house next morning, I was met by James and Andy who were going for their last swim. They are either very brave or mad…..answers on a postcard please!
We met in Mareel for the last time and had coffee and bacon butties for breakfast, before getting on our bus to the airport. A small detour en-route took us to the best place to spot puffins, but alas it was very windy and they were all tucked up in their nests.
The only puffin we managed to see
Our flight home was a quiet one with most people sleeping or enjoying their Tunnock’s caramel wafer again.
It has been a great residency and we were sad to see it come to an end at Glasgow airport. The Shetlanders have been so friendly, warm and enthusiastic that we all hope to return again very soon. Thanks Shetland for the fun and the memories!