Month: May 2016

Park Life with Liam Anderson

Trainee gardener Liam Anderson is one of two Shetland apprentices who were honoured in the Scotland-wide Lantra awards scheme recently. Genevieve White spoke to him at the Jubilee Flower Park in Lerwick where he is developing his horticultural skills.

On the wall of the staff kitchen at Lerwick’s Jubilee Flower Park, the front cover of a 1997 summer edition of Shetland Life shows the park in full bloom. Award winning apprentice gardener Liam Anderson smiles as he points it out. “I would’ve been about two years old then.”
Although Liam adds that he “probably wasn’t doing much gardening at the time,” it seems that his lifelong interest in gardening did not take long to flourish.

It was Liam’s late grandmother who nurtured his love of gardening and the outdoors. “I remember my granny teaching me all the Shetland names for wildflowers and finding it really interesting.”

His childhood home at Gonfirth, near Voe, also provided him with inspiration. “We had a lot of trees in the garden – a mixture of willow, whitebeam and fir. My dad was a fairly keen gardener, but I think that my granny did more gardening than anyone else.”

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Liam started to get serious about gardening as a teenager, when a neglected polytunnel provided him with a blank canvas on which to experiment. “I would’ve been about 14 or 15. The first couple of years my parents did quite a lot with the polytunnel, but by the third year they were too busy.

“I decided to get to work on it myself, and started growing lobelia, tomatoes, peppers and lettuces. It was amazing having that space all to myself.”

As a high school student, a biology lesson got him interested in propagation. Liam laughs as he remembers his teenage antics. “I think I drove my parents mad. I had plants propagating all over the place – in the kitchen, in the bathroom and in the utility room. I don’t think there was a spare bit of windowsill to be seen in the whole house. At that stage I was experimenting with some weird and wonderful plants too: I had a Venus fly trap which I enjoyed feeding – and some cacti.”
This love of gardening has never waned. In addition to his full time apprenticeship at the flower park, Liam tends his own garden in Yell, which he describes as being “quite different” from the relative order of the Jubilee Flower Park.

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“It’s a lot more exposed. There are no trees, and there are a lot of alpine plants. Actually, it’s a bit mad. I love growing things in strange containers – I’ve got plants growing out of a tea pot, a cement mixer drum which I found in a quarry and a rusty bread bin.”

Liam feels “privileged” to work in the Jubilee Park gardens. “I’m allowed to use my own initiative, and the work is both relaxing and fulfilling. I’m really interested in the art and design side of gardening, and every year I’ve been given a bed to do myself.”

Liam has certainly risen to the challenge, with last year’s Celtic knot design (a mixture of bedding plants and topiary) standing out as an example of his artistic talent.

The young gardener’s enthusiasm, talent and knowledge are very much in evidence in the popular blog he co-writes with Diane Inkster.

“Diane and I were encouraged to start a blog by SIC chief executive Mark Boden, who saw it as a way of encouraging more visitors to the garden. I really enjoy writing it. It has photographs of what’s going on in the garden, describes the work we’ve been doing, and it’s a space to answer the questions we’ve been asked by visitors.”

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Unsurprisingly, Liam likes visiting gardens in his spare time. He names Lindaal, near Tingwall, as his favourite Shetland garden. “I like the different levels in this garden – it just flows nicely. It feels hidden too – no one realises it’s there.” Outwith Shetland, he cites Kellie Castle Garden in Fife as a favourite. “I like old fashioned walled castle gardens, and this is a great example. There are fruit trees trained to the wall – it’s beautifully done.”

Asked whether he ever tires of the challenging Shetland climate, Liam admits that he sometimes gets frustrated.

“Yeah, there are times when I’ve spent time growing something, then a gale comes along and finishes it off. I think why am I doing this?”

With characteristic positivity, Liam sees these events as learning experiences and tries to work around them. “I’ve spent time researching which plants do well in windy places. Apparently, Argentina is one of the windiest places in the world, so I’m looking up things which grow well there”.

Our interview over, it’s time for Liam to get back to work. The flower park is bursting with signs of spring and the sky overhead is blue. It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant way to spend the working week; it’s equally hard to envy this hard working young man his richly deserved success.

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Photos: Dave Donaldson

Eamonn Watt: The Virtual Conductor

Sandwick composer Eamonn Watt has already produced a prolific back catalogue in just four years of music releases.

Mostly working from home Eamonn produces his tracks using Cubase music software. He favours this method of composition because it allows him to produce intricate compositions with only a computer keyboard and “mouse clicks.”

Appropriately he releases his music under his nom de plume, The Virtual Conductor. His love of virtually composed music began early in life with a video game called Music 2000: Music Creation.

Music 2000 was a Playstation One game which was designed to simulate a music studio. Players were given the opportunity to produce tracks using samples pre-programmed into the game.

Eamonn was re-introduced to the concept of virtually composed music later in life when he started to study music. He was introduced to Cubase at Secondary School during his Higher and Advanced Higher music courses.

After Secondary School Eamonn continued to study music further, graduating from music courses offered by Mareel. From there Eamonn enrolled in an applied music course with the University of the Highlands and Islands.

He favours Cubase because it allows him to “experiment and play about with sounds.”
“It is a great way to compose an entirely new piece of music and it’s a lot of fun.” He added.
The Cubase database gives Eamonn access to a “lot of virtual instruments which have a very realistic sound.”

The 23 year old musician does not just sit behind a computer when pursuing his love of music. He is also the drummer for star of The Voice Lisa Ward, with her band The XYY.

With three solo albums and an EP to his name Eamonn has already compiled an extensive archive of music. He will also be providing drums and electronica samples for Lisa Ward and the XYY’s upcoming album.

Recently Eamonn has been experiencing success on a wider level as a finalist in this year’s online International Songwriting Competition (ISC).

For this competition Eamonn put forward his western-inspired composition The Tale of Buckaroo Bill. This track, from his second album Haar, was competing in the instrumental category of the competition and is in with a chance of winning the People’s Choice Award.

In order to win this award Eamonn had to count on votes from the public, who could give their favourite composition a ‘thumbs up’ via the ISC’s website. In this category Eamonn was competing against musicians from around the world, and during one update from the ISC he was sitting in the top 5.

Voting closed on the 15th April with the winner due to be announced in late April or early May. If successful Eamonn could take home a grand prize of $25,000 (approximately £17,500) plus a package of musical equipment and services.

The song which Eamonn put forward is an orchestral piece which blends the music of old Westerns films with Shetland reel style music.

Eamonn chose this song because he said it was the composition he had the most faith in. He describes it as “high speed and very progressive” adding that composing the track was the “most fun [he] ever had making music.”

On the success of his track Eamonn says he is “absolutely surprised to have made it this far in such a prestigious competition.”

Despite his surprise, this is not the first time Eamonn has had success in a songwriting competition. In 2012 he entered his track Raconteur into the UK Songwriting Contest and ended up as a finalist.

As evidenced in the musical blend that made up The Tale of Buckaroo Bill, Eamonn’s influences are wide and varied while his albums are often developed down thematic lines. The La Mariposa EP, for example, is a release made up of flamenco guitar style compositions, inspired by the musical style of Spain.

Eamonn’s most recent release Pianissimo takes its name from the Italian word for music which is very quiet. It is composed of 22 peaceful and hushed virtual piano compositions.

A key musical influence for the album was the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. Eamonn also lists Claude Debussy and the minimalist piano compositions of Max Richter as sources of inspiration

It is not just classical pianists who inspire Eamonn but also pianists who lean towards the jazzy end of the spectrum. George Gershwin is one such influence on his work. Eamonn’s track Broadway in Blue was a tribute to Gershwin, and takes its name from his piece Rhapsody in Blue.

Haar, Eamonn’s second album, is named for the title track which was originally composed by his sister Jenny. Eamonn enjoyed the piece and asked if he could adapt it for his own musical project.

Eamonn has grown up in a musical house, with all three of his siblings playing a different instrument. Eamonn says, however, that there is little chance of a family album in the near future, joking that his Mum always says “you all play music but you never play together.”

His releases are not always inspired by other musicians but sometimes also by imagery. His track What If? was inspired by Film Noir cinema in the same way that The Tale of Buckaroo Bill was influenced by Westerns.

Eamonn also lists animated films as a major influence and says that sometimes he composes music to accompany “animated pictures running through [his] head.” Some of his quirkier compositions have their roots in old Looney Tunes cartoons, which he says inspire him to write “weird and wacky” music.

Primarily Eamonn says that it is his orchestral compositions that are inspired by imagery, with his piano tracks tending to evolve from music popping into his head.

After completing his music course with the University of the Highlands and Islands Eamonn hopes to move into music composition full time. He also hopes to learn the piano which will allow him to perform some of his Pianissimo tracks live.

Another album idea is currently gestating in his head which he says could be a successor to Pianissimo it is called Pianissimo Grande.

Where the former used the sounds of an upright piano, the latter would be composed using the larger and richer tones of a grand piano.

It seems certain, then, that Eamonn will remain a staple fixture in the Shetland music scene for some time.

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Photos: Dave Donaldson

Aim to be Different

This month Richard Shucksmith gives some advice to budding wildlife photographers on how to make their images stand out from the crowd.

Today’s photographic world is a fast moving place, the days are gone of a small number of professional photographers producing imagery for commercial use.

The onslaught of the digital era has opened up photography to everyone, and with the world wide web and social media the “world” can be accessed from a click of a mouse. We are visual creatures, so naturally when we want to tell the world what we have done we do it using imagery.

This has created a world which is awash with pictures, there are 1.8 billion images shared every day across all the different social media platforms. Obviously many of these are phone snaps, however, among that mega number are many images where people have spent time thoughtfully capturing the world around them, making creative images.

Wildlife photography suffers from being awash with imagery from the amazing to the poor, causing images to lose their power and potential to make an impact. The number of images makes it difficult for any to stand out; it also becomes harder to create an image that has not been done before.  I also wonder about the longevity of an image, the way we use social media means we post, we “like” at a click of a button and move on to the next. Most images are lucky if they get more than 24 hour coverage before they are forgotten.

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So how do we make images that stand out from the rest in wildlife photography?  In my eyes there are two ways, being creative with a common subject or to photograph the unusual; the rarely seen.

Creative photography means experimenting and often the only constraining factor in our creativity is our own minds. Creative photography is fun and really comes into its own when you can be creative with lighting, this maybe in the mode of using flashes or natural light or a combination of both to show your subject in a different way.

Artificial light or flashes are the best for control as you can manipulate every aspect of the light hitting your subject – from how powerful the light is, to the colour of the light by using coloured filters over the flash. For example, you can use an orange filter to give the light warmth which replicates the warm glow of a sunset. You can change the angle of light to highlight different parts of the subject and so on.

Photographing the unusual or rarely seen can be very time consuming. You need to know the animal inside out and the only way to do this is to spend a lot of time in the field observing. That means often spending many hours without taking any images.

However, if you really have a passion for your subject and for being outside this is some of the most rewarding photography you can do. Often the end result is a set of images that have a strong impact and tell a story.

The key to successful wildlife photography is to be persistent, as many ideas can take time to evolve as you try different methods which need to be refined before you get the desired result. But most of all it has to be fun, that way you will spend more time and work harder at getting those unique images.

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Photos: Richard Shucksmith

Culture Commentary

Is the Fair Isle ganzie to a Shetlander what the kilt is to a Scotsman?

Smack bang in the middle of the first oil boom the new school in Mossbank had the lingering smell of fresh paint. Everything was new – the building, the teacher and the classmates.

As one of the few pupils from a local family the first baby steps into education were marked with a realisation. That was simply that the home-made tightly fitted Fair Isle ganzie was one that wouldn’t be part of the personalised school uniform – not if there was a desire to blend in with fellow pupils.

A decision was made early on to keep the ganzie to special occasions – like the tattie holidays and wearing at home. There were many who saw the Fair Isle ganzie as something to poke fun at or brand the person wearing it as a “Magnie” – the stereotypical name for a local. Of course, locals returned the compliment by branding everyone a sooth­moother. However, there was something that stuck internally – that wearing your ganzie was not really cool.

For all that, there is something about the ganzie which strikes a chord internally – somewhere deep that is not just memory. It specifically does that when you are away from Shetland.

It’s like reestit mutton and Balta biscuits – when you don’t have it you miss it. On a cold winter’s day you often wish you had the lovely scratchy Fair Isle ganzie to protect you from the bitterly cold wind. When you see someone wearing one you notice it – it’s like a big patterned beacon. Stirring thoughts of home.

Of course Fair Isle is worn by many people outside of Shetland. It has also been going through a little bit of a fashion boom, not least of course thanks (or not) to the big fashion “copy” house that is Chanel.

For someone from Shetland it’s not a trend though. When you are walking along a high street south and you see a Fair Isle ganzie or Fair Isle design you twitch and stare longingly before tut-tutting in a knowing way at the price tag before moving on wistfully.

For anyone from Shetland who has worn a ganzie (arguably that list would include hoodies and the James Morton tank top special) then the feeling of hankering after that unique and often scratchy garment is one that will be appreciated by any owner – past or present. Whether your old ganzie has been made into a Burra Bear or not quite often it is an item of clothing that forms part of our identity. An item of clothing being so closely aligned to identity is not that unusual. The most obvious example would be the kilt and Scotland.

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There’s no denying that anywhere in the world if you were to ask someone to describe a Scotsman they would inevitably be wearing a kilt (and playing the bag pipes, eating haggis, reciting Burns and tossing a caber). The stereotype is one that has been embraced within culture.

Modern day weddings in Scotland often see the groom and his best man wearing kilts. That has become almost the norm. Kilts and tartan litter tourist shops and the stereotype and identity is one that is solid in its acceptance. It is celebrated and there’s no sense of shame attached – Scottish people are proud of their kilts.

Has Fair Isle reached the same dizzy heights? If we were to describe a stereotypical Shetlander would they be wearing a Fair Isle ganzie? Or, do we still hide behind the not cool feelings of the late seventies and eighties – with not enough time past to help heal that wound?

There was a time when you could safely have said yes – Fair Isle jumpers definitely are what identifies a Shetlander. That’s not the case now – in exactly the same way that Scotsmen don’t wander about every day wearing kilts.

There has been a major change though – thanks to trends and changes to our attitudes it’s no longer uncool to wear Fair Isle. 

That can only be a good thing.


Laughs You Can’t Predict

Marjolein Robertson stumbled into improvised comedy when she was living in Amsterdam. She’s now adept at the art form and is passing on her knowledge to others with a view to setting up a monthly comedy night. She explains more about “improv”.

From a young age I would always sit down to watch Whose Line Is It Anyway? with the family. I used to prefer the dry humour of the British series, yet adored the improvisers from the American show.

In 2013 I moved to Amsterdam and I found myself at a loss for interest groups, having been previously in Shetland and surrounded by music clubs, the Heavy Metal Buffet and Maddrim Media.

In a new city, with another language, my favourite haunt was a metal pub. Unfortunately it was right in the middle of the red light district and was frequented by myself, tourists and bikers (both of the latter only ever in town for a night at a time). I felt at a loss for hobbies and making new friends. It was then I came across English speaking comedy group Easylaughs who taught improv – improvised comedy – and hosted a weekly show.

There is something about improv which draws people together quickly, perhaps you learn who someone is faster the more masks they don in front of you. However, through Easylaughs I found friends in a new city and a love for improvised comedy.

In essence, improvised comedy is performing to the audience, most often in pairs or groups of three, a completely on the spot sketch using suggestions from the audience to kick you off. This can be in long form (an entire 45 minute play from one word) or short form (akin to that of the sketches from Whose Line Is It Anyway?).

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I attended Easylaughs improv workshops weekly, also undertaking a long form improv course and stand up course, as well as a storytelling course through another organisation. After a time of studying I became part of a long form improv troupe performing Sherlock Holmes stories that had never been heard by human ears before (as we made them up on the spot). I performed around Amsterdam with the Holmes Troupe and in various improv shows and open mics.
After a time though I felt a longing for home, the salty air that never rests, the empty hills and redder cans.
In October of 2015 I headed for a journey to New York. I was severely missing the comedy I had grown to love, and, in many ways, depended on in Amsterdam. I travelled to an island, similar in size to Yell, and enrolled in New York’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade Improv 101 course, a week-long intensive in improv. During this time I rehearsed, read, watched, studied, performed and breathed improv.

It was great, and New York wasn’t at all as scary as 80s movies make it out to be. 
Now back and focused, my aim is to remain on my true love, Shetland, and set up a monthly comedy night with improv and stand up.

After sending the word out, I started up classes at the end of November. We rehearse every week, focusing on a different aspect of the artform each time. Practice includes warm ups, short exercises to focus the mind and learn how to set up then develop a sketch, as well as rehearsing the short form improv games we will be performing on the night.

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Anderson High School pupil Paul Sansom has been coming to the classes.

He says: “When I first heard about this improv I was apprehensive, I’ve always enjoyed acting and felt I had an alright sense of humour, but this seemed to take both to a new level.

“I was nervous as we started the first session, but with Marjolein’s great direction, the atmosphere soon warmed up! After that first day I was hooked. Every week we learned more about the elaborate world of improvisational comedy, and the more I learned, the more I loved it. Improv unlocked a whole new level of awesome self-expression that was unbeknown to me before. Most of all it’s just good fun, every part of it, and I’ve made some new friends to boot.”
The classes to date have been going great, with many participants new to improv, mastering techniques and creating hilarious sketches. The real test will come on the night, the audience is in and the nerves are on.

Contrary to what many people say before, and sometimes after, seeing an improvised show, there is nothing prepared. Even after receiving the suggestion from the audience, you may get an idea, turn to your partner to act it out then they come out with something completely different before you can speak your line. Improv is always changing and growing, it’s the role of the improviser to listen, accept and keep moving with the sketch.

The first night will be on Friday 22nd January in the Lerwick Legion, for all ages, although discretion is advised as words and themes may not be suitable for younger members. No censorship in comedy here.

After this first night we’ll take some time to regroup and focus.

My aim is to have a group of improvisers, and a name for said group, one that can host the monthly comedy night. Then as well as that, there will be weekly classes for those interested in taking up and trying their hand at improvising.

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Photos: Dave Donaldson

Strike Up the Band

Shetland’s many musical activities were recently added to with the formation of the Shetland Mandolin Band. Jenny Henry, who teaches the instrument 
‘aboot da night’ at the High Level Music Centre in Lerwick, got the group going – sooner rather than later, due to her incompetence with social media – 
and they met fortnightly during November.

Like many a fine musical idea it started with a session. But – unlike a lot of those ideas – the Shetland Mandolin Band was not forgotten once the music stopped.

Organiser Jenny Henry says: “The idea of a mandolin band, or ‘orchestra’ even, has been spoken about tentatively whenever a few players have got together at the folk festival or a session of some kind, but none of us ever got round to doing anything about it.

“Since I started teaching, and with pupil numbers increasing, it became fairly obvious a group of some sort would be a great help to new players. They could meet together, preferably with more experienced mandolinists, to share tunes, pick up tips, and just enjoy playing along with other folk rather than just sitting with me for half an hour at their lesson.

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“I thought I’d message a few folk I knew of who played and see what their thoughts were. After adding some names to a Facebook message I logged off thinking I’d write the actual ideas down later when I’d thought about it a bit more… then I got a couple of ‘pings’ asking what this empty message was about! Obviously Facebook doesn’t like you hanging about, so I said I thought it was time to get a mandolin group together and would they be interested?

“The response was very favourable, so I just went ahead and booked a hall, set a day and time, set up a group page on Facebook and invited lots of folk. I couldn’t believe it when player after player turned up on the first night – 30 in all, plus a double bass player. It was a great night and the consensus was to meet fortnightly.”

The first meeting of the group was informal, but plans have quickly developed to help the less experienced to learn from accomplished players – including some of the isles’ most famous musicians.

Jenny says: “We just played tunes off the cuff, trying to do some of them a bit slower so beginners could join in where they could, and there wasn’t any structure to it. But you forget how intimidating things can be for a learner, whatever the subject, and we’ve now decided that the first half-hour or so of our sessions will be planned beforehand and aimed at the less experienced players, so they can learn up the tunes between times.

“The band’s lucky to have the likes of Gary Peterson – of Hom Bru fame and probably one of the main reasons there are so many mandolin players in the islands – along with accomplished players like Christine Hughson, Grant Nicol, Trevor Jamieson and Terry Irvine to name a few, coming along.

“That’s a great boost to those who are newer to the instrument, maybe playing it as a second instrument or even those who’ve played in the house for a long time but haven’t played much along with other folk.

“The biggest challenge, I think, is going to be making sure the experienced players don’t get too bored and the beginners don’t get too scared! But everybody seems keen to make it work as an inclusive group, and the idea is that we’ll arrange the music to suit all levels so that everybody can play a part in whatever tune we’re playing.

“It would be great if there were more mandolas or other bigger mandolin-family instruments, but it’s mostly mandolins at the moment, accompanied by May Gair’s excellent bass playing, and we’ve had a couple of guitarists along too which is splendid; it makes a big odds having the accompaniment.

“Much of what we’ve played so far is ‘traditional’, but we’re planning to branch out and play a selection of musical styles. And there are some great ideas being suggested, so if we ever make a public appearance there should be something to suit everybody, and some surprises for the audience as well.”

As well as getting more involved with playing and teaching lately, and getting the ball rolling with the band, Jenny would like to find out more about the history of mandolin playing in Shetland, with a view to producing a publication in the future.

She is looking for stories and photos relating to local players, visiting artists, instruments, concerts, concert programmes, in fact anything to do with the instrument, even shop or makers’ receipts and records.

Having played since the 
mid-70s, she knows a bit 
about the recent history, but anything previous to that 
era would be particularly welcomed.

“I’ve found a few bits and pieces in the museum and archive’s online collections, 
but I’m sure there has to be 
more out there and it would 
be most splendid if folk got in touch with even the peeriest 
bit of information,” Jenny 

Contact Jenny via email on;
by mail to 126 Sandveien, Lerwick, ZE1 0RW; or phone 
07787 344073.

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Photos: Kevin Jones

Embroidered Leaves

There are two ways to annoy a Shetlander: First call Shetland “the Shetlands” which will instantly set their teeth on edge; second complain about the lack of trees. This usually results in either the mention of Kergord or a defensive/passive aggressive “who needs trees anyway?” response.

This month’s craft is somethiang I’ve been wanting to try for a while – embroidered leaves. It’s partly inspired by Tom Of Holland’s Visible Mending Program and partly by the transience of nature.

First, find your tree. Look around for fallen leaves or pull one or two off (shh!). The type of leaf you use will affect the result you get.

Rubbery leaves last longer and so your piece will change less. Other leaves like oak will wither thus altering your piece with time.

I would try a mixture to see what effect you like best.

Equipment & Materials needed

  • Glycerine (two small bottles);
  • Plastic tub;
  • Thread;
  • Small sharp needle;
  • A small shape punch (usually used for card making) or small sharp scissors;
  • Some kind of varnish either spray varnish or clear nail varnish;
  • A plain white ceramic tile or canvas covered frame for mounting them on.


  1. First steep your leaves in a mixture of one part glycerine to two parts water.
  2. After a couple of days remove the leaves and pat dry with kitchen roll.
  3. You can either cut or punch a regular shaped hole out of the middle of your leaf
  4. or carefully cut an abstract shape from the inside of your leaf. Or you can leave the leaf whole.
  5. If it tears you can mend your leaf by sewing two parts together. You can also sew around the edges of the hole that you cut in the leaf.
  6. It’s very relaxing when you stop questioning the point of it all.
  7. Either paint on clear nail varnish, spray on clear varnish or leave to wither with time.
  8. They look great mounted on tiles or on a plain white canvas.

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Tracks of My Life: Joy Duncan

Joy Duncan has remarkable skills. Over many years she has acquired a considerable expertise in Afro-Cuban-Latin rhythms and developed practical skills in drumming and percussion playing. These skills she has shared with 
a vast number of people, young and older, on these isles. She has brought some of the greatest exponents of 
the world music genres here and created an atmosphere of excitement and enjoyment in listening to and participating in such music. With the phenomenal kora player Seckou Keita due to play Mareel this month, Shetland’s own “lady of percussion” has also arranged to have workshops with this master player in the days afterwards. JEFF MERRIFIELD interviewed her about this and how her interest in this music was nurtured 
and fed into the tracks of her life.

I was born in the Gilbert Bain Hospital, Lerwick, but my parents soon moved to Shetland and I was brought up in Scalloway. I remember being happy just playing around the village. My dad was a fish merchant and my grandparents and uncles were involved in fish. It was a very safe and stable upbringing, with six of us in our family. My parents were both in the Methodist Church, so we were dragged along to the Methodists every Sunday. My mam and dad sang in the church choir and, on reflection, I do like how they sang in harmony, though I did not understand that at the time.

My dad played the mouth organ and we had a piano, so I suppose music has always had a place in my life, though not the sort of music prevalent in my life now. We grew up with the Sankey hymn book and there’s some really beautiful hymns. There was lots of Jim Reeves and mum bought a record player and bought a Mozart collection. The Sound of Music was a big part of my life, a record that got played a lot. So everybody in the house loved music.

There were six of us and my older brother, who was four or five years older than me, had a big sound system in his bedroom and at tea, when we were trying to watch Crossroads, he’d be playing Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath. It must have influenced me because I really love that music now. I didn’t at the time, thought it was just a racket, but when I hear Hendrix and Zeppelin now, I just love it.

When I was a youngster I was quite sporty and played a lot of hockey and netball. We’d go at weekends and dance around to The Clash, Echo and the Bunnymen, Human League, and all that kind of stuff. It wasn’t until I left home and got a job at the Leadmill arts centre in Sheffield, where they had a real variety of music. I was 18 and I was completely blown away. Orchestra Jazzera, African music and Latin bands all played live. There was a nightclub every Friday and the DJ always used to close with Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me.

My cousin Candida Doyle was there and she was linked to Pulp, which was in its early days. So I used to go to Pulp rehearsals and go on tour with them, get in the back of the van and go to their gigs.

But that music was never rockin’ me, it was more the funk, jazz, Latin, African side of things that got me. I was really inspired and I wanted this music in my life. I moved to London and started going to African dance classes in Covent Garden, on Monday nights with all these live drummers in the corner playing away. I loved it.

I was working as a cycle courier when I fell off my bike and hit a Canadian tourist, so I couldn’t dance that week. I so loved it I went along and asked if I could do some drumming.

This was about 1988 and there were lots of opportunities in multicultural London. I could access all sorts of workshops, classes and clubs in African and Latin music. And that’s exactly what I did. The trouble for me was that London was the mecca and there were so many awesomely good, fabulous percussionists and dancers, so I couldn’t kinda find my place.

After my daughter was born I started teaching and it felt right. I was good at it because I had to learn in the first place. Some of the African and Latin players had natural talents, but I’d had to learn. So I was good at teaching drumming and rhythms and dance, because I understood what it was like to be at the beginning.

We lived in King’s Cross and I soon realised that London was not the place I wanted to bring 
up my daughter. When she was two–and–a–half, my dad died and I thought, I want to go home. So I moved back to Shetland.

I had thought that was that and I’d have to leave all the drumming and dancing behind me and just bring up my daughter. But more doors opened for me here than they ever had in London. I was the big fish in the small pond, whereas in London I had been the minnow in a vast ocean. I found my voice, my place within the music, and I’m really happy and comfortable with that.

There had been some visiting musicians doing workshops, but I think my teaching work proved successful because I was a Scalloway lass, and I had this experience, I had this connection that I could share. And it was something new and different, 
but it was something that we could all tap into, what area of life we come from, what age or gender we are. The thing about the drums is it touches something deep down in us. It resonates in our lives. We’ve all got rhythm.

I worked with bairns to begin with and they loved it. I started a night class in Lerwick and another one in Scalloway and many people joined in. We were asked to play at the folk festival and I said there should be people from each of the classes, in the east and in the west. And that’s how Aestaewast was born.

Joy Duncan 2 660

Joy (far right) performing with Aestaewast at the Shetland Folk Festival. Photos: Kenneth Shearer

The group just took off and we were quite strong for a good number of years. But like all things, it’s had its ups and downs and just now it’s not so strong. The jazz club became Shetland JAWS to take into account the amount of world music on offer in Shetland and together we brought four of the finest drummers in the world, Sura Succo, Adiano Adewale, Bruce Ncube and Asaf Sirkis, to Shetland and they worked with large numbers of bairns and adults in some of the best workshops I’ve seen.

For them to be able to come and immediately connect with what is going on here was great. It was like being at a birthday party. It made me happy to realise that was something I’d been able to facilitate and that it happened in the village hall where I grew up. Here I was, an adult, being able to share what I’d discovered in the world, in the big world, in the village hall with our bairns. It was great, it was magic. Now Sekou Keita is coming back to Shetland, one of the master African musicians, and he’ll be tapping into our drumming reservoir here working with bairns and adults.

Expect more magic.


I Wish I Knew
John Coltrane
I went to the United States when I was 19, on Camp America. I worked as a nanny – and discovered John Coltrane. I loved the music from the first time I heard it: Blue Train and A Love Supreme. I heard a story how someone had said to Coltrane that he just played fast and that he had gone into the studio to record a whole album of ballads, just to prove that he could bring it down. That album, called Ballads, I really love and my favourite track is I Wish I Knew.

Sir Duke
Stevie Wonder
I was lucky enough to see Stevie Wonder twice at the Royal Albert Hall. On every song, he delivered. His songwriting for that period, his lyrics, everything that he embodies, I really respect and admire and love. It’s really important stuff he’s writing about, really important messages. I had every album and they were never off my turntable. It’s so difficult to choose just one track, I’d have them all, but if I’m pushed I’ll settle for Sir Duke.

Malaika (My Angel)
Harry Belafonte & Miriam Makeba
I really love to hear about musicians who have really had to struggle, who perform with a passion despite what they are up against. Miriam Makeba was up against it big time, she came through some struggle and she made it through to the end. All through her life she had tremendous losses, she had horrendous treatment, but she kept on singing, amazing songs with such history and such depth. The voice that she had – nobody can sing like Miriam Makeba, nobody can. When I hear her sing it touches somewhere in me. I’ve chosen a duet she did with Harry Belafonte called Malaika, which means My Angel. Just brilliant.

Quiéreme Mucho
Ibrahim Ferrer
When I went to Cuba, when I was about 24, something happened, something changed and life would never be the same again. Ibrahim Ferrer was a remarkable man. He was one of the people rediscovered when Ry Cooder did his project. Just a wonderful singer and I knew him personally, went on tour with him. Whenever I hear his music I feel like he’s right there, by me. He was one of a genre of singers called balladeers and I just love the passion they sing with. His vocals are second to none. There’s a really beautiful song called Quiéreme Mucho that’s got wonderful string arrangements in it and it’s from an album he did because it was always his dream to record an album of love songs. He died not long after recording it, so he left a fitting tribute, his dream.

Sekou Keita
Probably one of my favourite musicians at this time is Sekou Keita. I first met him about nine years ago at the African Drum Village, a festival held in Scotland. It was about midnight and we’d had a few gigs already at this festival, everybody was tired and energy was quite down, when Sekou came on with his kora. Within five minutes everyone was on their feet dancing, and he just delivered some magic I’d no kent before. Everyone seems to think that kora is a gentle, celestial, loving instrument, which it can be, but it can be upbeat as well. And Sekou can do everything on the kora. Again, some magic happened that night. I’ve been in Senegal with Sekou, I’ve heard him play there, I’ve been to his home and eaten with his family. I have all his CDs in my car and because I drive a lot I listen to his music constantly. It’s a part of my life.