Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Islesburgh Centre

Dale Smith, manager of the Islesburgh Centre, is kindly allowing me to post this photo he took during the 2010 Frenzy, with Eunice giving me a lesson on one of the staircase landings. The Islesburgh is a wonderful setting that I associate more than any other with the events most associated with Shetland music (in particular, it has always been 'home' to the Shetland Folk Festival). Next year, the Frenzy looks as though it will finally relocate to Mareel but I for one will miss the atmosphere we are enjoying at the moment.

60° North

I'm grateful to Abby from Shetland My Love for pointing me towards this wonderful video.

60° North - A British Adventure from Joe Sheffer on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Sunday: Day 1

In High Level Music on Saturday afternoon a local resident was describing returning on the Friday night ferry. She reported that there were "thirty single women, all with fiddles on their backs" and that they all seemed to be "beginners". Even though it became apparent as the conversation progressed that single meant unaccompanied rather than unattached, it suggested a shift in the balance of the student make up from last year.

Looking round the hall at registration, yesterday's intelligence did not feel as wide of the mark as I thought it would probably prove. And the slow learners class was very heavily subscribed, all the more so when people moved down from the faster classes as the morning progressed. I knew that last year I had been spoilt, in a class of four with two tutors and getting quite a bit of one-to-one tuition was never going to happen again, but it felt I'd gone from one extreme to the other.

Two of last year's fellow beginners, Pam and Ged, are back and in the same group as me, with only Vic missing. Our tutor is Jim, who had taken some of our classes last year, so it all feels very comfortable. But the range of abilities within the class becomes apparent as soon as we learn our first tune ('Spring'?). Although I get all the short phrases, we quickly move on to putting them together before I have managed to commit them to memory and I'm feeling lost. I'm not too worried, since I know I'll be able to go back and practice from the recording I'm making, but there are quite a few others who seem to be finding it difficult too.

It might have got worse when the class grew further, but we moved on to learning the two tunes I had come away from last year able to play most confidently ('Da Bonnie Polka' and 'Da Seven Step Polka'). Now of course I'm ahead of the game, and slightly surprised that neither Pam or Ged remember the tunes. Maybe learning by ear has its advantages.

As things stand, I'll survive at this level. Even if I don't keep up in class, I'll be able to work on the material afterwards. But I can't help feeling the sheer size of the class makes it a little unwieldy, and Jim's got a tough week in front of him.

With no fiddle tuition in the afternoon, time for a dancing class (very badly needed) and my first contact with Jennie Bradley and the knitters. Jennie is very encouraging of my intention to knit a Fair Isle fiddle blanket, and I've knit a few rows of plain stitch just to get some practice before I start.

The evening concert at the Clickimin Centre has Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham headlining and their performance (and crack) is consummately professional, it's no surprise that they drew a large audience. Opening were Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch, and I was slightly disappointed that their set was so brief. Their more workmanlike presentation can be deceptive, but I'd be surprised if anyone matches the astonishing quality of their set this week, and I'd have liked to see them as one of the week's headliners.

The evening rounded out with a dance that was very lively and I was quite exhausted when it rounded off at 1 in the morning. One useful lesson, I won't be dragooned into making up a group for 'Strip the Willow' again until I've learnt the proper sequence of steps!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Lodeberries

Lodeberries are houses that are built at the very edge of the shore, so that boats can come directly alongside, and often credited as smugglers' haunts from days gone by. Here at the southern end of Commercial Street they are some of Lerwick's most distinctive buildings.

It was happy chance that the Bressay ferry crossed over while I was filming this. I was more concerned with exploiting the welcome improving light ahead of the incoming tide which was minutes away from cutting off my route back to the steps up the sea wall.

2011 Fiddle Frenzy starts tomorrow

The Frenzy's nearly here, and I'm really here, I travelled up on Monday. I'm back at Woosung and the Frenzy is back at the Islesburgh Centre since Mareel (the new arts complex) is behind schedule as is the norm for such projects.

How's my fiddle playing come on since last summer? Not as well as I'd like, to be honest. It's often felt like one step forward, two steps back, particularly after an enforced break through the winter months. And I've missed playing with other people, there's a limit to how far I'll progress when I'm practising alone. But playing back recordings of classes from last year has made me somewhat more confident, as I realise how much quicker and tuneful I've become.

I've found that it often takes me two goes before I start to make progress in any new area of learning, and I had always intended to return here for a second year. In the end I regarded last year as a success well beyond what I expected, and I've mentally committed for a third year as a consequence. But I'm probably going to find this year tougher. The reason I committed to Fiddle Frenzy initially (beyond appreciating the fiddle style) was because they promised teaching by ear. I know already that staves and dots don't connect well in my brain. When I arrived I found that the beginners class was an exception, and although I was accommodated I noticed that this year they specifically state that the beginners class will work with music. So I've moved myself up to the slow / medium learners class; I'm conscious that I'll lack the playing skills of most of the other participants at that level and will have be careful not to disrupt proceedings, but perhaps that pressure will be good for me.

I'm also still intending to give the knitting a go. I've only booked myself in for one full class, and maybe I'll do a class a day, but I'll just see how it goes. I do remember how I found four hours fiddle tuition a day slightly more than I could absorb last year.

As for this blog, some slight changes this year. Less talking heads, more written posts. But hopefully the videos will still give a good flavour of the event. And I'll be trying to shoot still scenes as moving videos, an idea I looked at last year and want to explore further.

I've already seen lots of familiar faces about, and I'd be surprised if there's not a session in the Lounge tonight. And come 10.30 tomorrow it'll be all systems go. I can't wait!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

My Sketchblog

Not mine at all (I'd taken my painting materials but ended up not even getting them out), but a nice blog from Caroline Parkinson.

Her posts from her recent Shetland holiday (she gets extra brownie points for her mention of Maggie and Brian) are linked from my sidebar, but you'll want to explore further I'm sure.

By way of a taster and without any sort of permission (anyone who "makes a mean Victoria sponge" surely has to be far too nice to mind) here's one page of her 'Frenzy' sketches

Go and look at the rest.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Hillswick Concert

The Friday night dance at Hillswick was preceded by a concert, probably the most low-key one in the week in that there were no 'stars'. This did not of course diminish the pleasure in the slightest. First up were the Northmavine Fiddle and Accordion Club, very much a local group (they meet weekly in the Hillswick Kirk). There was a brief discussion as to whether they were called the 'Accordion and Fiddle Club' but either way round it made no difference since accordionists were conspicuous only by their absence.

Not so with the next group, Fradner Gamla (they helpfully translate their name at the start of the video). Two of the fiddlers from the Northmavine Club lead this smaller group, who play music with a slightly more Scandinavian feel. Darren Stewart is the accordionist, and appeared again later with the dance band Leeshinat (or Leeshinaat, depending where you look)

Finally the Shetland Fiddlers Society, whose history goes back to the days of Tom Anderson and whose approach to the music has remained that of the preservationist.

Monday, 23 August 2010

In theory at least I should be able to play this!

Eunice and Kirsten demonstrate a set of three tunes we'd learnt, adding some harmonies we hadn't (I had thought that my speciality).

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Last early morning thoughts for Shetland 2010

Just gone 5 o'clock, we're about 30 miles out from Aberdeen and it's as if I'm on a ghost ship, just the occasional body stretched out across the seats. Then my laptop battery expired...