Part two - going OFF
26.05.2016 - 30.05.2016
We started the Orkney Folk Festival weekend in a very pleasant way indeed - with a walk around the golf course! We spotted seals and golfers, and a rather hipster looking fellow with beard, kilt and dog in tow. We rounded off the morning by finishing what we had started the night before - a game of Joe. Simon was the winner, by a mere five points. An impromptu session started among some campers, and when they played Morch's Tune, Lois just couldn't believe her luck!
After lunch we put our tourist hats back on, and took Bruno to see the sights of Skara Brae and Skaill House. The neolithic houses were amazingly intact and appeared remarkably comfortable and well sheltered from the wild winds - but we couldn't help but wonder if there may have been an odour associated with being built into a midden of decomposed food...
The Ring of Brodgar was next - like Stonehenge, except that you could walk right up to the stones. Some of the stones had been split by lightning strikes, and it inspired me to be nowhere near there should a storm come through.
Time for a quick dinner and then we were off to the opening concert of the festival! It was an excellent start to proceedings - made all the more impressive by the compere's moustache. The show began with pipers (of course), and was then followed by the Orkney Accordion and Fiddle Club. These guys were concentrating hard and taking their music very seriously - all except for the bodhran player, who was having a wow of a time and didn't seem too fussed about keeping in time. Which, for a drummer, is not an ideal situation. Perhaps that explained the grim faces of the accordion players. They were followed by Liz Carroll and some of the finest foot-tapping-while-fiddling I have ever seen. After her came Zoe Bestel, a young girl who needed a haircut and to be told to stop grimacing through her breathy songs. Great voice, mad ukelele skills but too vocally abusive for my liking. To finish the concert, Session A9. And as Tony would say, yowzers! This mob could really play. Buckets of energy - but the best thing was that they genuinely looked like they were enjoying themselves and having an absolute blast. The banter between songs just added to it. Amazeballs.
After that concert it was straight on to the pub for the next one - no rest for the wicked. No Soond were a spunky young group, and my only complaint about them was that the set was too short. Maggie Adamson and Brian Nicholson were an unlikely duo, who were technically very skilled but his constant goofy faces were offputting. Most of the time I spent wondering how the heck the two of them had ended up as a duo. Final performance for the night was Frigg - friggin' brilliant! A bunch of Finnish performers playing Nordgrass (Nordic bluegrass) with an intriguing stage presence. The female fiddler had a look on her face that said "I have just killed your father, I'm about to kill your mother, and I haven't even had my breakfast yet." And it seemed that wherever you were, she was looking straight at You. A kind of murderous Mona Lisa, if you will. And then she smiled - briefly - before returning to her Resting Murder Face. But she wasn't the only one on stage - combined with her six male band mates, it was a brilliant visual and auditory experience. Man bun, double bass, Finnish version of Pete Coverdale... They had it all. We walked home to bed feeling very satisfied with our decision to come to Orkney.
Friday arrived and delivered another cracking day of sunshine - not that we were in any particular hurry to get out of bed to experience it! Once we were up and had made it into town, we found music in every pub. We found Frigg at the Stromness Hotel, and made friends with Graham from No Soond - who enlightened us about the state of farming in Orkney and claimed that Orcadians sound completely different from the Welsh (I beg to differ). We found a steak and ale pie at Argo's bakery, and then we found Gnoss and Gleemro at the Ferry Inn. We found a friendly couple from Canada there too, before we found ourselves walking home to collect Bruce and park him more strategically for the evening. We found puffins on the way back to the Ferry, and then some interesting people found us. Sarah with her iPad practically bullied us into a lunch date, which we managed to turn into just a phone number instead. A couple from Leicester found Simon in the Royal, so he didn't hear much of the Edinburgh Uni Folk Society. A band found Tony, and next thing you know we were in the front bar hearing Ring of Fire and Pub With No Beer and wondering why there were only male toilets in this part of the pub. Lois managed to get a waltz into them and that was about as cultured as it was going to get.
Off we went to the Academy, and Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra played a most entertaining set of... I'm not sure what exactly. He was a Newcastle-born dandy cowboy, and was accompanied by an Orcadian accordion player, a mando/banjo/mouth organist, guitarist and the most effortlessly cool double bass player. The tunes were mainly upbeat but revolved around the timeless themes of being kicked out by your wife, being dumped by your girlfriend and having your heart broken. Oh and high speed trains.
RURA followed on, with what I shall describe as techno-trad, interspersed with angsty trad ballads about waiting for love and giving up on life. I could appreciate the skill involved, but I found the sound too loud (because I'm old) and I couldn't pick out the individual sounds of the instruments - it was a bit of an aggressive mash of violin and bagpipe, I'm afraid. But anyway - a good time was had by all, and then Bruce escorted us home at the end of it and that was day two of the festival done and dusted.
Day three dawned, and we took in a bit of Session A9 sessioning in the Ferry in the morning, before taking in a bit of local produce. Steak and session ale pie from the bakery, followed by fudge, cheese (whisky cheese!) and jam from the market, and all rounded off with an Orkney icecream. Winning. We found a cosy corner at the Stromness to sit and let it all digest, before heading off to our workshops - ukelele for Simon, foot percussion for the rest of us. Essentially we found ourselves enrolled in a Zumba class for the lower limbs, which was equal parts exhausting and entertaining. We went to Julia's for pre-dinner dessert (because life is short) and then tried all the pubs for a session but all the good ones had no room and all the ones that had room were no good. We ambled back to Bruce and Bruno and somehow created an amazing pasta carbonara out of leftovers and then sat down to a serious game of cards to complement the ongoing Game of Indecision that Lois had invented. Maybe.
It was tempting to stay in and finish the cards, but we forced ourselves (and Bruce) out to The Stomp. Good decision, team! Armed with nothing more than Irn-Bru and a panadol to defeat a threatening headache, we had an amazing night with Frigg and The Chair. Frigg made a solid bid for the job of Alison's Favourite Festival Band, while The Chair had obviously established themselves with the locals many years ago. They were HOT - high octane trad. Not necessarily much to look at, but from the moment they entered the stage to the sound of the Star Wars theme, it was an entertaining show. Certainly the Edinburgh Uni Folk Society crew enjoyed themselves - they were dripping in sweat and constantly coming up with choreographed moves to force onto others (except dreadlock man, who was most definitely above all of that). The crowd even demanded an encore from The Chair, at the risk of not being able to get a taxi home. We made a swift exit at the end, not wanting Bruce to be mistaken for a public transport option. Ears still ringing, it took awhile to come down from the fun and excitment and get to sleep. Or maybe it was just all the sugar in the Irn-Bru that was the problem...
Sunday morning came and woke us up with sunshine. We had a leisurely breakfast, and finished the cards - I won Joe, but I think Lois won the Game of Indecision.
We headed out of town, past Outertown Road, and found ourselves at Birsay with some sunbathing seals. The tide was in, so we couldn't cross the causeway but it needs to be documented that Lois got her feet wet. The water wasn't cold, but not exactly warm, either. Let's say it was refreshing, but totally swimmable.
Here we met the second wife of the laird of Skaill House, the laird's son (slightly damp on account of falling in the water) and the laird's two dogs. Couldn't have asked for better company to share the sunshine and the view!
Finally we dragged ourselves away to the Orkney Brewery and saw Lynched, an Irish mob with killer harmonies. Literally - we're talking murder ballads, folks. Because that's what we'd been missing, up until that point. And I loved it. Plus there was beer, and delicious beer cake.
On our way back into town, we stopped to watch Orkney take on The Rest of The World in a football match. Comedy highlight of the weekend. There was a fair bit of swearing, some dubious scoring and refereeing, and more tabasco sauce references than I expected. Poor Paddy 'potty mouth' Callaghan seemed to disagree with pretty much everything that happened, especially when his goals kept on being moved. It was sometimes hard to identify who was playing for which team, so we just cheered for Team Graham. One player copped a blow that has surely ruined his chances of producing offspring, and we were briefly concerned for his wellbeing, but he was up and moving again by the end of the game. Apparently the final score was World 6 - Orkney 4, but I don't think anybody knows how that happened.
We had just enough time post-football to grab a quick bite pre-finale concert. This concert was a blur of all the artists we'd seen (plus a few we hadn't seen) doing very short sets. Unfortunately we were seated near some people who were most offended that the sound guys had the nerve to talk in order to do their job, but we were impressed at their ability to cope with ten bands in one night, especially since some of the bands insisted on using different instrumentation for each of their three songs. And so at ten thirty on Sunday night, the Orkney Folk Festival officially came to a close. Sigh. We shared a wee dram of Glenmorangie to mark the occasion.
Monday morning marked the end of Bruno and Bruce's adventures together, because after one last coffee at Julia's it was time for Lois, Tony and Bruno to embark on the next leg of their journey, starting with the ferry back to the mainland.
That left Simon, Bruce and I feeling a little lost and lonely, so we did what we do best and went exploring! We booked into Maes Howe - and found ourselves in the Neolithic chambered cairn with members of the Edinburgh Uni Folk Society, who were a lot calmer than when we had last seen them at The Stomp. Our guide showed us all the rune carvings and gave their translations, which roughly equated to what you would expect to see written on toilet doors. We continued on to the Broch of Gurness (can you tell we have a Historic Scotland membership?), an Iron Age village that was being scaled by small English children and their incredibly disparaging parents ("I've seen a whale climb with more grace than that, Oliver.") But on the bright side - we saw a seal.
After getting stuck in an Orcadian traffic jam (i.e. cows), we came back to our campsite to have spag bol with Bruce and watch the ferry come in. Not a bad way to recover from a delightful weekend.