Tag: Music

In the boatshed

boat building workshop

Up-Helly-A’ is over for another year, and those of you who have completed a dry January are hopefully toasting your success with a glass of something strong and sweet. We’ve really enjoyed seeing all your #myshetlandlife posts and photos this month – keep ‘em coming, we love to hear from you.

For this month’s issue of Shetland Life, we’ve immersed ourselves in the past. And, what better place to escape February’s biting cold? We visit Tommy Isbister in his boatshed and find out about his love of boat building and woodwork.
Maybe you’re thinking about celebrating Candlemas this year? Then let Alex Garrick-Wright take you on a journey through Shetland’s fascinating world of calendar traditions.
Or have you ever wondered about some of our place-names? Eileen Brooke-Freeman discusses some of the piggy place names around Shetland – this is the Year of the Pig after all.
And for those who are in search of a good story, and the odd trow, there are plenty of those to while away the last of the winter nights…

Finally, looking ahead we’ve been thinking about ways to get fit and beat the bulge. If you want to find out what we’re planning, pick up a copy of Shetland Life – out tomorrow!

A new year, a new start

This month Shetland Life are set to dive into the New Year feet first and we hope that you will join us for the ride. We go through the keyhole, taking a sneaky peek behind the scenes of Squad 43. And, with Up-Helly-A’ looming, we meet this year’s Jarl, John Nicolson, and discover how he became the fourth Nicolson Jarl – following in the footsteps of his father and brothers before him.

For those opting for better health and wellbeing in 2019, look out for our new columnist, Ali Grundon Robertson who this month focuses on consumerism. Finally, our new feature – in collaboration with RSPB Scotland – introduces a monthly Nature Calendar and examines the health benefits of a daily dose of fresh air, ensuring that you put your best foot forward into the New Year.

What are you waiting for? Look out for this month’s Shetland Life, in shops and online now!

April’s issue: out now!

As this issue is sandwiched between two major musical events (namely the Schools’ music festival and the 37th Shetland Folk Festival) it seemed fitting to go for an all-out musical extravaganza. Whatever your musical taste, you’ll surely find something in here to make your heart sing.
This has been an easy issue to put together. Why? Well, Shetland is so ridiculously well-endowed with musical talent that you really don’t have to look very hard for interesting people and stories to feature.

So, what have we got for you this month? Chris Cope visits local music promoters Neil Riddell and Davie Gardener to find out just what this glamorous sounding job entails. Louise Johnson, Folk Festival Committee member, gives us a preview of what we can expect from this year’s Folk Festival. (Tip: it sounds stupendous – get these armbands right now if you haven’t already done so!) If you fancy winning a free Folk Festival pass, then turn straight to our competition page.

This month, you can dip into the quirky world of local band Big Time Quell, take a visual tour of Tommy Isbister’s fiddle workshop, and learn the intriguing story of Heavy Metal Buffet TV. We also go behind the scenes at the Shetland Community and Training Orchestra and hear about the BBC Ten Pieces Event from one of the young participants.

There are musical blasts from the past too – don’t miss John Coutts’ stunning musical images from the 1960s and check out our Life Story feature to hear from two local legends.

Music is the food of love, but all the tunes in the world won’t fill an empty stomach, so if you’re feeling peckish head straight for our food column on page 28. Our distinguished guest this month is Bruce Gilardi from Walls Bakery, who has kindly shared a delicious recipe for rhubarb torte. If Bruce’s bread is anything to go by, this is going to be good.

Wishing all our readers a wonderful April filled with music and merriment. Next month we’ll be courting controversy with our “Issues issue”. Looking forward to it already! See you in May.

The month in music…

Roll up, roll up for April’s musical extravaganza! Here are just a few of the music related features we have for you this month:

Chris Cope talks to Neil Riddell and Davie Gardener. Just what does the role of music promoter entail?

Fiddler’s Bid Maurice Henderson takes us on his favourite walk – and shares a reel inspired by the beauty of Fetlar’s Moo wick.

Alex Garrick-Wright delves into the quirky world of local band, Big Time Quell. And if you haven’t heard their music yet, here’s a taste of what you’ve been missing:

Aleks McKay interviews Siobhan Tekcan of Shetland Community Orchestra, while Ishbel Mackenzie reports on her recent experience of taking part in the BBC Ten Pieces initiative.

Music Festivals in August

Fiddle Frenzy

Fiddle Frenzy curators

When? July 31 – August 7

Where? Various locations

Who? Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, South Mainland Young Fiddlers, Shetland Fiddlers Society, Clinkin’ Fiddles, Lewie Peterson, Catriona Macdonald, Fiddle Frenzy students, Scani Sessions

Why? The popular bow-themed event sees new curators Eunice Henderson and Claire White take the helm for the first time this year, with a packed programme based in Lerwick’s Mareel. While its roots are in tuition led masterclasses, there is a regular array of fiddle-fantastic gigs for the public, with renewed duo Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham topping the Shetland Arts backed bill.

Concerts will take place in Lerwick, Sandwick and Unst, with a plethora of Shetland fiddlers ready to show why the isles are so highly regarded when it comes to traditional music.


We Came From Wolves

 When? August 13

Where? Da Wheel Bar, Lerwick

Who? We Came From Wolves, Patersani, Damn Teeth, Get It Together, Pure Grief, Black International, Brundlehorse, Forgotten Sons, The Dirty Lemons

Why? After taking a year off in 2015, rock festival Shetfest returns with a bang. Continuing its penchant for punk and alt tendencies, a host of Scottish bands will make the trip north. With Da Wheel’s cosy capacity at a premium, the atmosphere looks set to be one to savour – even if it is royally sweat-stained.

Perth alt-rockers We Came From Wolves will head to Shetland armed with praise from the likes of The Herald and nationwide music magazine Rocksound, while local trio The Dirty Lemons will be ones to watch as they keep the party rolling with punked-up merriment.

Peerie Reel

 Dakota Blonde

When? August 13

Where? Saxa Vord, Unst

Who? Jim Salestrom, James Salestrom, Livingston Taylor, Dakota Blonde and more

Why? Last year’s Reel Music festival in Unst was ambitious, sprawling across the entire Saxa Vord site and promising music across the whole weekend. In 2016 the festival has gone ‘peerie’, with a compacted line-up dedicated to one day. With a smattering of US folk and country talent set to sail over from across the pond, there will be a chilled-out vibe streaming through Britain’s most northerly music festival.

Headline act Jim Salestrom is known for playing guitar with Dolly Parton, while US folksters Dakota Blonde are heading to the isles for the first time. Many more local acts are set to be announced in due course, ensuring that festival fans will be spoilt for choice on August 13, with Shetfest scheduled for the same day.

The Buffet 2016: Shetland Rock Festival


When? August 26-27

Where? Lerwick Legion

Who? Vasa, The Amorettes, Death Watch, Ten Tonne Dozer, Quantana, Atlas : Empire, Little Hands of Silver, Semperfi and more

Why? Local podcasters turned promoters Heavy Metal Buffet have made a big name for themselves on the Shetland rock scene in the last few years with their annual festival. The latest effort juggles a host of top Scottish talent and local acts across two stages, with oodles of headbanging and moshing guaranteed.

Open to all ages – which gives the weekend a surprising family vibe – this year’s two-dayer will see the likes of instrumental progressive rock stalwarts Vasa share the bill with the jumped-up AC/DC-esque Amorettes, while local bands will be represented through the likes of the effervescent sludge purveyors Ten Tonne Dozer and polished metal outfit Quantana.







Tracks of My Life: Davie Gardner

Of all the people associated with the music scene in Shetland, none is more significant than Davie Gardner, the busiest promoter on the isles. He was keen to do this interview, but finding a slot in his packed schedule of things proved difficult. However, Jeff Merrifield eventually caught up with him, sat him down in the Bop Shop and fired off some questions, before he had to rush off to his next meeting. As was to be expected, Davie’s tastes in music have grown with the years and he is as enigmatic now as he has ever been. You’ll be sure to enjoy his choices.

I was born in Lerwick, so I’m born and bred a Shetlander. My parents lived in Bressay and I lived there. I got married in 1980 and I was working for Shell. A couple of years later, I got the chance of a supervisor’s job, but had to move to Lerwick to do it; and I’ve lived here ever since.

As far as music is concerned, my mam and dad had one of those old-fashioned radios, and I can always mind turning the dial on that radio looking for music. This would have been about 1962, the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I’d be about six at the time. There was no TV then, so there was no access to music there, so what we heard was on the radio. My father was a big Scottish dance music fan, Andy Stewart, Calum Kennedy, Kenneth McKellar, that style of thing. Later on, I once sat on the next table to Calum Kennedy at some do or other and I got him to sign the programme for my old man. Quite an incredible moment. Back then, though, it was the music that there was. I kinda liked it, but there was nothing else.

One day, my old man came home with a pile of 78s, the old records, and among them were a couple by Hank Williams. This would have been about 1965/66 and I was just absolutely blown away. It was something I had never heard before, great voice, and there was something that resonated with me about the country music. There was something about the words that I loved, even though I was only 10 at the time. This was great music. I only found out later how troubled Hank Williams was, but I ken that, even then, at 10, I thought that this was a guy with a problem. It was there in his voice, his style of singing.

Now, that kind of left me wanting to explore for musical things on my own. I came across Johnny Cash and loved him. And at that time, listening to the pop music that was around, you were beginning to hear The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I really liked the Rolling Stones, but then I didna really care much for The Beatles. That changed, later, but it was very much veered towards country music in the early days. I remember the first time of hearing Creedence Clearwater Revival and seeing this as a way of moving from liking country music into liking rock.
Simultaneously, there was rock’n’roll. I had a fantastic love of rock’n’roll. There was a tremendous programme on the radio on Sunday afternoons, for a few months, I think maybe on the Light Programme, called The History of Rock’n’Roll, and I came to that and first heard Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry. Immediately, I thought this music is what I want. And my father kinda liked it as well. It was the music I was bringing to him and it wasn’t a million miles different from country music. He’d been listening to Jim Reeves and Hank Williams, and liked that. I brought Johnny Cash to him and he thought that was, okay.

When I went to the Lerwick School, in 1968, and that was a sort of eye-opener. I was meeting people who talked about music and stuff. Up until then, I’d just been on Bressay and my friends didna listen to much music and certainly didna talk about it. And you didna have the money to buy it, you were too young to buy it. But then Radio One came along, we had telly by then and there was Top of the Pops, and suddenly you were hearing new things. The two things that changed things for me were hearing Cream for the first time.

I didna know what it was, and I didna care too much for it, but then I heard Sunshine of Your Love, which really made me sit up. There always seems to be a track that gets me into something, and that was it, for me. And then, of course, you go back to everything else and find what you were missing. And the other thing, the really seismic shift, came when I heard Jimi Hendrix on Top of the Pops and thinking, what the hell is this? He was playing Hey Joe, his first single, and it was so alien. I can’t say I really liked it, when I first heard it, but I liked the look of him and I wanted to like it, I was determined to understand it. And I did, eventually. Soon after Voodoo Child became one of my favourite records of all time, one of the all-time great tracks and some fabulous guitaring. He performed that on the Lulu Show.

That whole time was when I was hearing bands that would influence me to listen to everything that I have been listening to since. The Creedence, the Cream, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, all of that, and Johnny Cash. I still loved country music. And then you had the likes of Gram Parsons. Then Prog Rock came along, I loved Yes and I loved Genesis, and I still do today. And, of course there was still the love of the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. The Sergeant Pepper album of The Beatles really made me sit up and like them.

On the back of all that, I got into punk rock, I heard the Sex Pistols, and just as it had been with Jimi Hendrix, here we were saying, what the heck is this, again. These are the big moments of music. It never happens now, unfortunately. That excitement of finding new things started to fade in the 1980s. But the full era of the late 60s and the 70s, that was my absolute favourite time for discovering new music.

If I was to pick any tracks from that time they would all be from that era. Those jaw-dropping moments when you just come across something that musically changes your life. David Bowie did it to me and Joy Division, but they were a short-lived thing, not around for long. Nirvana came pretty close to it, but they were never that “jaw-dropping moment” for me. That mid-seventies thing, when there was the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, The Clash, Talking Heads, that was a helluva time. There was something that was new every week. Ah, Patti Smith, she is my favourite female artist of all time. And still going strong.

I loved the stuff that grew out of punk, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, they werna punk, but they thrived in that era by being different.

I started doing the BBC Radio Shetland Rock Show and soon after started promoting. We did the Rock Show on a Friday night, different themes, different topics, new releases. We started getting CDs fae loads of Scottish bands. One of them was a band called the Hunt Family. They were from the Glasgow area. We loved their stuff and they asked if anybody did promotion in Shetland. We said that we thought bands just came up here off their own bat. They asked to let them know if we thought of anybody.

John Robertson, at the radio station, suggested that we took the lead on this and book them. I was working for Shell at the time and also for Radio Shetland and I thought, why not? It went well and we had them back two or three times, and then other bands started to ask us. It all snowballed from there.

We were probably bringing up three or four bands a month. Whenever we got a band up, we just had to say they were from Glasgow and we sold out! We started getting more and more bands on offer, some of them names, and we just negotiated hard and brought them up. On and off, I’ve been doing it ever since. There was a demand for good bands to come here and nobody else was making it happen. They could have promoted themselves, but we could help, we knew the halls, we knew where to get the PA and stuff, Stevie Hook, mostly. So they worked with us.

I’ve never been a musician, but have always enjoyed putting musicians on. As long as you knew your heart and soul was in it, that’s what was important. And then, I took on the music development job at Shetland Arts, and this was a job in music that I wanted to do. A lot of people got behind me, helped and advised me. We developed a lot of music. It was a great moment getting hold of the music development job and it was a wrench to leave it. But it needed new faces and I went back to promoting through my own company. I’ve loved every minute of it.

I very nearly changed one of my choices at the last minute, because I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I love everything he does. I didn’t change it as I couldn’t think of one track. All his albums are great and they stand up as albums. He’s not a singles man. And I love him for his albums, not for any tracks that stand out individually. But if I could have an extra, for a treat, any song by Bruce Springsteen will suit me fine.


You Win Again
Hank Williams
Fantastic lyrics, heartbreaking lyrics. Probably one of the greatest country songs ever, written by the greatest country songwriter ever. I was fascinated by Hank Williams, by his character, dark and deep, he was the first real rock’n’roll casualty. Incidentally, that was one of the 78s my dad brought to me, so it was the first Hank Williams I liked and still love.

Voodoo Child
Jimi Hendrix
It was hard to pick a track to represent the sixties. It might have been Creedence Clearwater Revival doing Bad Moon Rising, but I’ve played that track to death, and remembering how I felt when I first heard Hendrix, it has to be Voodoo Child, the impact at that time. The song was incredibly poignant for me. We were sitting watching the TV, in September 1970, and the news came on that he had died. And the news played out with that song, which had been a relatively new song, and for me it’s always been associated with the day that Jimi died. It was such a great moment in rock music and one of the most brilliant guitar solos. He was such a flamboyant and brilliant personality, incredibly photogenic. A real rock star, and yet he brought together rock and blues and jazz and everything.

Anarchy in the UK
The Sex Pistols
This just has to be one of the most audacious records to change the course of history. I actually heard it before all the rumpus on the Bill Grundy Show, so I didna come to them through all the controversial stuff. John Peel played it first and I heard it on his programme and I thought, rock’n’roll is back. Even though I had liked that stuff with Yes and Genesis, it was all stating to get boring, a bit indulgent. The best albums had been made and you thought how much of this stuff do you need? I had liked Dr Feelgood at the time, good old pub rock, and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, they’d made a big impact. Then this came blasting through. I thought Johnny Rotten was one of the best rock’n’roll voices I’d ever heard and the power of the bass and drums. They were a great rock band. For me, it was like hearing Chuck Berry for the first time, but louder and a lot more powerful. Anger – I thought somebody’s angry, this is great! Probably one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands ever.

David Bowie
For me one of the most consistently brilliant rock stars. I liked all the early stuff, new and fresh, but when he got to Ziggy Stardust that was just fantastic. Gobsmacking, both in terms of the quality of the music, the production, the visual images. This was long before you had your video specially made, which often ruined the music. These guys enhanced the music with their theatricality and visual presence. David Bowie for me was just incredible, absolutely incredible, and everything he did moved him on in a new direction. He had all those styles and then he got to a new thing with Heroes. That for me was another of those moments. A perfect song with that voice of his. Great stuff.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash
The Rolling Stones
They were such a big part of my life. I loved them far more than The Beatles. Probably Paint It Black was the first track I kent, but I’ve liked most things they’ve done. I liked Satisfaction, but for me you can’t get beyond the pure rock’n’roll of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The Stones at their peak. They were absolutely amazing. I’ve seen them perhaps half a dozen times and I never get tired of seeing them.

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.

Eamonn Watt 3 660

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.

Jenny Henry 2 660

“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 jenny.henry60@gmail.com;
by mail to 126 Sandveien, Lerwick, ZE1 0RW; or phone 
07787 344073.

Jenny Henry 3 660

Photos: Kevin Jones

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.