Da Final Blog 2019

As has long been customary, at the close of four packed days and nights, taking in 25 previous concerts the length and breadth of Shetland, the folk festival rounded off yesterday with the annual organisational miracle that is the Sunday Foys. There can surely be no other festival in the world that culminates with three simultaneous five-hour concerts, all featuring the same 15 acts, running in meticulously dovetailed rotation. More than one debutant performer had again been heard expressing scepticism that such a feat was even remotely plausible – only to find themselves eating their words in awe at the whole operation, after successfully being whisked between shows in Mareel, Clickimin and the Shetland Hotel, then delivered, somehow still in one piece, back to Islesburgh.

Committee backstage and Rob Heron
Members of the committee and Rob Heron back stage at Foy - Photo Chris Brown

Before setting forth on the evening’s adventures, Blazin’ Fiddles were very touched to be given a care package-cum-picnic by their experienced festival hosts, containing a tasty selection of nibbles and snacks to sustain them through the journey. (They then cajoled their minibus driver into stopping off at the Co-op, supplementing their supplies with £100’s worth of liquor.) Other artists had been fed slap-up Sunday dinners of roast Shetland lamb – and were still rhapsodising about the experience, in tones of deep and heartfelt gratitude, hours later: the sense of salvation was palpable. Yet another had opted for the Sunday ‘breakfast’ buffet in Saffron, where he was pleased to find curry-house staples complemented by such unexpected extras as sweet-and-sour chicken and mozzarella sticks.

Blazin’ Fiddles’ various provisions left them sufficiently fortified not only to play the three Foys, but then to take the stage in Room 16 at 1.45am, for the last of this year’s Festival Club late slots – and what a fabulously epic finish it proved. Delighted dancers in the crowd included visiting guitarist and fiddler Pablo Lafuente and Charlie Stewart, having a wee waltz together before a final blitz of reels, and wounded local hero Ross Couper, cutting quite a caper on his crutches despite a newly sprained ankle. The Elephant Sessions’ Euan Smillie was spotted up the front actually standing upright on somebody’s shoulders – though thankfully further injury was avoided – while such was the frenzy onstage that Bruce MacGregor even removed his waistcoat.

Bruce Macgregor- Blazin' Fiddles
Bruce MacGregor, Blazin' Fiddles - Photo Chris Brown

One of Blazin’ Fiddles’ frontline, Rua Macmillan, had brought a newly-restrung bow to the festival: he likes them with around 160 horsehair strands. After three nights’ playing in Shetland, it was down to about 30. Despite the visceral raucousness of Sunday’s Festival Club crowd, though, MacGregor pointed out afterwards that a Shetland late-night rammy is unlike such occasions elsewhere – and he speaks as a man who’s played his fair share down the years. “They’re so up for it, but also totally on it musically,” he marvelled. “They respond to every single tune switch and key change: it’s just amazing to play for.”

If there were a prize for the festival’s most random Facebook message, this year’s would definitely go to the correspondent whose communiqué was received around 2am Sunday night, just as Da Committee were enjoying kicking back and basking in a job well done, toasting the weekend with some exceedingly well-earned large drams – at which point somebody wanted to know, “When does the 2020 festival merchandise go on sale?” Okay, so the T-shirts and hoodies sold out fast this year, but even Da Committee would agree there’s such a thing as being too organised. . .

Returning to Festival Club
Returning to Islesburgh after the Foys are over. Photo Chris Brown

The tendency of Shetland Folk Festival nights to extend well beyond dawn – well beyond any normal definition of ‘night’ – was neatly highlighted by a conversation at Monday morning’s blissful post-Festival Club garden party, off one of Lerwick’s town-centre lanes, as yet more pints were quaffed in unexpected brilliant sunshine, before breakfast at the Harbour Café. Talk having turned to looming real-life responsibilities, one respondent attempted reassurance by suggesting, “Tomorrow’s a new day, though” - before swiftly realising her error: “No, it’s not, is it?” As the curtain falls and the dust begins to settle on another truly splendid Shetland spree – albeit with the antics continuing at tonight’s Da Final Fling, then beyond until the last visitors depart on Tuesday’s boat – we can only hope that the day after might be, or at least the one after that. . .

Safe home, a’body – and see you next year, for the big 40th festivities!