Between touring and touristing, as a musician, travel is my lot, and I value it for the great experiences. Recently, with my wife, Pam, I visited the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland, which are very much a part of Great Britain. We flew to the beautiful city of Edinburgh, then headed up to Grantown on Spey to stay with dear friends Frank and Debbie Strang. We flew from Inverness to Lerwick on the Mainland Island where further adventures ensued.
I did an interview with BBC, which was broadcast all over Scotland. and then we visited High Level Music where I played with store owner Brian Nicholson-he was brilliant on lead guitar, kinda like Albert Lea’s little brother. Then we took a tour of Mareel Theater. Linda Anderson showed the new performing arts center and as she went to college at Vanderbilt in Nashville and knows everyone there, included many folks I have only heard of. What a fun time.
We then took 2 ferry boat rides and car rides,which I partially slept through, to arrive on the most northern island of Unst. (The Island Above All Others) Frank Strang was in the RAF (Royal Air Force) and had known about an air force base that was closing on Unst called Saxa Vord. After much deliberation he and Debbie bought the base (which had been remodeled into a very nice resort.) They promoted me in a concert at Baltasound Hall for Friday night August 24th, where I was surprised to have Brian Nicholson play with me for the entire show. It was a packed house with 300, or so, folks from the island cheering both me and Jennifer McCarthy, a school teacher with a great voice.
After, Pam and I toured the island on our own. We drove to the top of the treeless mountains to see firths (fiords), an incredible lighthouse called Muckel Flugga and the the outcrop of a small island called the Outcast, which is the northern most point of the United Kingdom. The history of the island is amazing for it’s crops-sheep-and the wee ponies they call Shetlands. They were not bred that small but survived the harsh conditions and worked pulling plows and working in the coal mines carrying more weight than any other horse per it’s size. They have been on the islands for 2000 years. Dating back to the Bronze Age, they are friendly and come right up especially if you have carrots which we always have from Charlie’s market. We learned all this from eleven-year old Emily Strang, an up and coming guitar player/ singer / dancer like her older brother Thomas. The Shetland ponies each have their own passport and computer chip as they are protected. They have incredible coats as it rains a lot there.
We met a group of locals that act as a cross between the Chamber of Commerce-Kiwanis Club-Welcome Wagon but dress as Vikings (The vikings used to raid the Shetlands and even the dialect has been affected by the close proximity to Norway.) These modern day Vikings take their role seriously and stayed the entire evening for the Open Mic night at the officer’s Club at Saxa Vord. They managed to raise the roof for the many talented young and old performers who signed up and do their thing- They are an infectious lot and make everybody laugh.
The number of talented musicians in the Shetland Islands is above the norm and they are very much in tune and in touch with the modern music we hear everywhere as well as holding tight the traditional fiddle music of the Shetland Reel and the country music of the US through a famous musician named Thomas Frasier.
We had a great time staying a very nice three bedroom town home. There are 30 of these plus beds for another 100 people and incredible grounds to camp. All this plus a micro brewery called Vahalla and Great Britain’s most Northern distillery that makes Shetland Reel Gin. I wrote a commercial for the gin and they unveiled the first cases at a tasting while we were there.
There is a full football (soccer) pitch made with Astro Turf next to the lodging perfect for a Bird Air tent structure (similar to Denver’s teepee looking airport) and also a full blown airplane hangar not too far away for the major Shetland Music Festival next August 2015. I will be helping Frank produce this with a wide range of diverse styles that combine some folks from the US with lots of talent from the Shetlands. We are hoping for a grand turnout and want you to think about joining us for the first one! (think Fred at Telluride circa 1977) The Shetland Islands have a wonderful Folk Festival in the Spring (May) and we want to promote that, as well as Mareel and all things cultural there. Our friends Mollie and Tim O’Brien have played there and Mollie is headed back with Rich Moore next year - we are going to ask if she’d like to do two trips-she’s wonderful! I hope you’ll tune in to 710 KNUS on Saturdays 1:00 to hear the ICOSA Radio program. It is insightful and it’s wonderful to be a part of this new broadcast as their music contributor.