An international bill of leading folk artists from Scotland, England, Norway, Denmark and Canada will feature as part of this year’s online Orkney Folk Festival – alongside a number of newly commissioned performances from homegrown Orcadian artists. Dubbed the Virtually Orkney Folk Festival for 2021, the award-winning festival’s organisers are recreating as much of the treasured live event as possible within a brand new digital programme, with exclusive content. This follows the success of the festival’s Big Lockdown Special in 2020, where unearthed archive footage was screened to mark the festival weekend, amassing over 31,000 views just two months into the UK’s lockdown.
This year’s four day event, streaming over the festival’s regular long weekend of May 27-30, promises numerous new concert performances and workshops, alongside iconic programme fixtures – including Saturday night favourite, The Stomp, and the annual Fiddlers’ Rally with massed performances of traditional tunes; a cornerstone of the festival since its very first outing in 1983.
Renowned for profiling local Orkney talent alongside leading international artists for almost four decades, this year’s festival offering is no exception – featuring the online world premiere of a new suite of music composed by Orcadian fiddle and mandolin player, Graham Rorie.
The Orcadians of Hudson Bay – inspired by Graham’s fellow islanders who travelled to The Hudson’s Bay Company in Northern Canada to make their living in the fur industry during the 18th and 19th centuries – features an all all-star band, of James Lindsay (double bass), Kristan Harvey (fiddle), Padruig Morrison (accordion), Rory Matheson (piano) and Signy Jakobsdottir (drums and percussion). The album accompanying the project will also be released during the festival weekend, on Friday 28 May.
A bumper line-up of Orcadian artists will take centre stage with brand new performances – including festival favourites The Chair, following the hotly-anticipated release of their third album, Orkney Monster, in December; home-grown, world touring quartet Fara; acclaimed local duo Saltfishforty – aka Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty; and award-winning young group Gnoss, hot on the heels of their new album release, The Light of the Moon. They will be joined by a number of high-profile artists from throughout Scotland’s folk scene – also all presenting brand new and exclusive sets as part of the Virtually Orkney Folk Festival programme – including Blazin’ Fiddles, Skerryvore, Talisk and Siobhan Miller.
Contributing festival sets from from slightly further afield, international artists on the digital event’s line-up include Canadian roots duo Madison Violet, Danish folk virtuosos, the Blum and Haugaard Band, and live-wire Norwegian/Swedish quartet SVER. Yorkshire songstress Edwina Hayes is making a welcome return to the Orkney Folk Festival bill, whilst exciting young Scottish group Tannara and celebrated Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Dean Owens both mark their debuts.
As has long been the case for the Orkney Folk Festival, musicians and singers from the islands’ rich local music community form the backbone of the festival programme, welcoming visiting musicians and audiences into the fold in their droves. Online audiences can also look forward to newly filmed sets from artists including fiddle and piano duo Eric Linklater and Jennifer Austin, local singers Sarah Jane Gibbon and Emma Grieve, popular youth trio Lyra, the much loved Shetland/Orkney song pairing of Brian Cromarty and Jenny Keldie, renowned singer Jo Philby, East Mainland family group The Brewers, and local stalwarts Hullion – who are celebrating their 30th year performing together in 2021 – amongst further acts still to be announced.
Filming for the Virtually Orkney Folk Festival is already underway in the county, on location in a number of venues in Orkney – including popular Stromness hostelry, and the scene of countless Orkney Folk Festival sessions over the years, The Ferry Inn. Shooting is also due to get underway in production facilities on the Scottish mainland very soon – all in adherence to, and under continuous review with, the prevailing covid-19 health and safety workplace guidance.
Recording such an unprecedented volume of brand new festival footage – particularly of Orcadian artists – has been made possible through grant funding awarded from EventScotland’s Event Recovery Fund, created in response to the covid-19 pandemic, alongside the festival’s annual support from Orkney Islands Council and commercial sponsorship.
All artists appearing at the Virtually Orkney Folk Festival were due to appear live in 2020, prior to the event’s cancellation amidst the UK’s first national lockdown. Having initially been rebooked for 2021, in the hope that it would be a live event, they will now appear both as part of this year’s virtual event and live when the festival returns to an in-person event in 2022.
Edwina Hayes who is amongst the artists appearing at the Virtual Festival
With further artists and the festival’s full programme to be announced in the coming weeks, all-inclusive weekend streaming tickets are now on sale, at just £40 per household.
Festival Director Bob Gibbon said: “I can’t explain what it means to be able to bring this virtual line up to you all this year. Being prevented from putting on a live festival again yet again was painful, but we have successfully managed to turn it around to a tremendously positive outcome.
I know online isn’t quite the same, but music is engaging no matter how it is done – that’s the beauty. There are musicians out there literally champing at the bit to be playing again, and this is what we are endeavouring to do; to connect the performer to the listener and hopefully spread some positivity in these desperate times. Not only will there be online concerts, there will also be the chance for folk to join in with a Zoom-style Fiddlers’ Rally and an online Folk Festival Choir – not to mention workshops as well. Basically, all is not lost; life goes on, music lives on, Orkney Folk Festival lives on!
Orcadian musician Graham Rorie said: “The Orkney Folk Festival has been a huge part of my music career so far and it’s always a real honour to take part in such a world-class event. To have the online premiere of ‘The Orcadians of Hudson Bay’ on the festival line up is very special, especially with so much of the story based around the port of Stromness where the Hudson’s Bay Company’s ships set sail for Canada. Whist it’s a shame that the show can’t be taking place live in Stromness itself, to be playing the music to an Orkney Folk Festival audience will still be a real treat!”
Paul Bush OBE, Visit Scotland’s Director of Events, said: “We are delighted to be supporting Virtually Orkney Folk Festival through a tumultuous time for events and the wider industry. It is inspiring to see festivals like this find new ways to put on an event for the people of Scotland and further afield.”
Here’s some highlights from last years event to get you in the Orkney Festival spirit !!
For further information and to keep up to date with further artist and programme announcements, head to orkneyfolkfestival.com.