Thursday, 29 May 2008

Orkney Folk Festival

Orkney Folk Festival in its 26th year also came under new management. I can report that the sun split the Stromness sky. Outdoor sessions were a pleasure. Concerts high value. At a time when some traditional arts organisations are in a funding crisis they could well look to OFF. A glance at the the list of corporate patrons and sponsors shows the local support for this popular event. Orkney's various festivals include blues, jazz and St Magnus classical music. However the folk festival penetrates further than the others with venues on Rousay, Hoy and South Ronaldsay as well as Harray, Orphir, Kirkwall and seven venues in Stromness.

My visit coincided with that of our Culture Minister Linda Fabiani. She judged the open stage, always a danger for elected members. But she has had practice at Celtic Connections in January. My stand outs acts were all those I heard. Some are new to me such as Crooked Still and Martin Simpson, others familiar but exciting such as Annie Grace, Karine Polwart and Corrina Hewat. Also Duncan Chisholm and Ivan Drever were sublime and Dochas tight as ever with Julie Fowlis and Jenna Reid seemingly irrepressible forces. A special word is due for the Song Shop Choir, an Orkney women's harmony ensemble led by Aimie Leonard. In islands far famed for their fiddling prowess the singers are doing just fine.

Bob Dylan songs popped up from Crooked Still - very blue grass nouveau - singing Oxford Town, while Martin Simpson's rendition of Boots of Spanish Leather is a classic. Julie Fowlis's North Uist anthem Eilean Uibhist Mo Gradh and Ivan Drever's Walking Beside your Shoes linger long in the memory of a great musical treat. Meeting so many friends is the essence of such occasions. Old lags from the Dingwall Festival days are always in evidence. But when you see how many Bob Gibbon has in his team and how much local sponsorship they achieve it just goes to show the survival of our Dingwall event for 21 years was a wee miracle.

Orkney Folk Festival is a lesson to the Scottish Arts Council that doing their best each year is a big success and a turn on for visitors, high quality acts and local alike. Check it out.