Friday 3rd May 2019 - Day 2
It wasn't until Friday's concert-party bus for Burravoe, in Yell, was approaching the ferry at Toft, that one of Da Committee gig-wranglers in attendance thought to mention that this was her first isles concert in years – because she had a jinx. Broken-down buses and boats alike were littered through her previous history of venturing off-Mainland, with associated tales of begging lifts from car-drivers – even commandeering a henny-night minibus – to transport musicians, instruments and all their kit, by hook or crook, to where they needed to be. 2019, however, was the year she’d decided, at Da Committee’s annual “Wha’s gaein' whar?” planning meeting, to try her luck and see if the jinx had lift
And now we’d already been late setting off, thanks to some of our first-time musical visitors having a) not fully appreciated the full exigent meaning of their transport-schedule instruction: “THE BUS MUST LEAVE AT 2 O'CLOCK SHARP TO CATCH THE FERRY” (ie “OR THE GIG WON'T BE HAPPENING”), and b) been caught while hurrying to Islesburgh by one of Friday's episodically ferocious salvos of horizontal snow, which – laden with gear as they were - had somewhat hampered their progress, given that said gear, amidst the searing gale-force blasts, included a double bass.
(These savage icy squalls had begun in the small hours, also catching some unlucky souls unawares as they departed the Festival Club's opening night - among them Rob ‘Tea Pad' Heron: “I ended up walking home backwards,” he recalled the next day. “Anything to escape the hailstones in my face.”)
Anyhoo, we reached Toft with time to spare, though the ferry was in – but what should we espy as we pulled up in the vehicle queue, but a Shetland Islands Council engineers’ van reversing onboard. . .
Thankfully, any issue there may have been was swiftly sorted, enabling us to board and sail on schedule, before a somewhat lively passage across Yell Sound, bathed in brilliant sunshine but bounced by winds best euphemistically described as brisk and bracing. As to the jinx, fingers remained firmly crossed for the rest of the day and night, but at time of writing, the weather's crazy caprices were the worst that had transpired.
Cape Breton singer-songwriter and multi-instrumental ace J.P. Cormier is now on his fourth Shetland Folk Festival trip, having debuted here in 1997, during which time he's cultivated a particularly diehard pocket of fans in Yell, thanks to playing the island's halls on every visit, firstly by popular request, then downright demand. Absent any jinxed mishaps directly involving modes of transport, the organisers’ chief concern ahead of the show, once we'd safely arrived, was missing the special late ferry back afterwards, if JP's devotees refused to let him off the stage/out of the building.
Mind you, after Vair’s Erik Peterson casually let slip, upon leaving the bus in Burravoe, that the Yell gig and whatever followed were also doubling as his stag night, heaven alone knows what might have happened by the time you're reading this.
For non-Shetland visitors, it's always eye-opening to get the lowdown on locals' determination and ingenuity when it comes to shoehorning in maximum festival fun while sustaining at least a minimum of life's necessities. Conversations among local mums, for instance, comparing arrangements for covering childcare and shifts at work, between concerts and nights at the club (and the mornings/days after), leave actual military planning positively in the dust. Shetland is also one of the few festivals in its league where you find yourself repeatedly talking about lambing, as a good many members of both organising team and audience attempt to juggle outrageously the late nights with round-the-clock attendance to their expectant/nascent flock.
‘On call’ has another meaning again for one of this year's Folk Festival hosts, also long-time supporter of Shetland music - whose ‘day'-job currently finds him working with the Island Medics production team, as they film the next series. The two spheres incidentally collided the other night, as they probably only could in Shetland, when emergency services were scrambled to winch someone off a yachtful of 20-odd Norwegians - en route to the festival for their third successive year - who'd unfortunately broken his ankle. With some of the featured medics also being folk fans and/or players – and with the show touching sometimes on their off-duty hours - there'll likely be some filming at the odd concert or session, too, so remember and smile for the camera.