Musicians from Orkney and Shetland are set to join forces in spectacular style this May, through a collaborative project being staged by both islands’ folk festivals.

Inspired by the success of the Orkney Gathering project, which premiered at the 2011 Orkney Folk Festival and sold out Glasgow’s legendary Old Fruitmarket at Celtic Connections in 2013, “The Isles Gathering” will unite several generations of Shetland and Orkney musicians for two exciting performances in May.

Joint musical directors Douglas Montgomery and Margaret Scollay will each bring together 12 musicians to form the concerts’ house band, with each performance also featuring other guest musicians native to the hosting islands. With the concert programme being drawn from both islands’ heritage, the project will put the rich musical traditions and distinctive folk culture of the Northern Isles firmly in the spotlight.  

Many of those involved in the original Orkney project will also be part of the Isles Gathering, including veteran moothie ace Billy JollyKristan Harvey, the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2011; accordion whiz Billy Peace and multi-award winner Kris Dreverwho forms one third of the folk powerhouse Lau.

Joining them will be a cast of Shetland’s finest musicians – from teenage fiddle star Liza Fullerton, to dance band legends Jim Halcrow and Peter Wood as well as the acclaimed singer/songwriter Freda Leask, of Shoormal fame.  Two members of Shetland’s hugely popular up and coming folk band Väir, Lewie Peterson and Ryan Couper will join the crew as will two musicians of “dual citizenship”; Shetland singer and multi-instrumentalist Jenny Keldie, who is now resident in Orkney, and Orcadian-born Andrew Gifford, of Shetland’s Fiddlers’ Bid.

Whilst many of the musicians will have met and played together in sessions at either festival, this will be the first time that most have met each other on stage. Indeed some of the band will have never met prior to the first day of rehearsals, just the day before the first concert scheduled for Saturday 4th May in Mareel. After their first whirlwind weekend together in Shetland, the 24-piece band will reunite three weeks later for a performance on Orkney’s largest stage in Kirkwall’s Pickaquoy Centre Arena on Saturday 25th May. 

Co-musical director, from Orkney, Douglas Montgomery said: “I can’t wait for these two concerts - they’re going to be great. I’ve been immersing myself in as much Orkney and Shetland music as I can lay my hands on recently, and Margaret and I have come up with some pretty exciting ideas for the programme. The response to The Gathering so far has been beyond what anyone expected, and so to now be partnering up with musicians from Shetland is excellent. I hope they’re ready for us!”

Margaret Scollay, Shetland’s musical director, added: “The combinations and possibilities within The Isles Gathering are endless - I’m delighted to be involved. There’s a real mixture of seasoned players with an injection of youth, giving the chance for the two island groups to pull together some real one-off performances. Look out for some special guests and exciting arrangements from both communities as well as the band on stage – it really is going to be unique!”

Meanwhile, the Shetland Folk Festival website has just been updated with biographies of all local artistes performing at this year’s prestigious event as well as two visiting bands recently added to the line-up.   Fresh from winning the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year, accordion player Paddy Callaghan has been invited back to Shetland accompanied by Danny Boyle on flute and Adam Brown on bodhrán.  Joining them are three-piece Fionia Stringband, all from the Danish Island of Fuen, featuring Jes Kroman who is no stranger to Shetland along with fellow fiddler Michael Graubæk and pianist Theis Juul Langlands.

Excluding the Gathering contingent, that brings the total number of visiting bands at the 33rd Shetland Folk Festival to fifteen whilst over 50 different local bands/solo artistes will also be showcased at various concerts over the weekend.

With Advance Membership closing on the 28th February, the ticket booking form will be available to advance members from mid March and then to the general public from April 5th.