Creative Connections got off to a flying start yesterday; visitors, from as far away as Australia, the States and Spain, started gathering in the early afternoon and Islesburgh Community Centre was filled with Shetland fiddle tunes. Our regular Fiddle Frenzy visitors were desperate to fire up a session and for three quarters of an hour our new fiddlers, together with the writers and knitters who are part of the Creative Connections literature and craft events, were treated to some really fine playing.

Tavish Scott, our MSP, was due to welcome everyone to Shetland but a pressing and much more important engagement arose (congratulations to Tavish and Kirsten on the birth of a baby boy!). Director of Shetland Arts, Gwilym Gibbons took the helm to welcome the visitors and, after a few words about ferries and workshops from myself, our students dispersed into their classes. This is the first year we have run The Art Craft Experience (contemporary knitting techniques) and Makkin Wi Wirds (creative writing) and our workshops run by Wilma Cooper and Jenni Bradley (ACE) and Jen Hadfield (writer and winner of the TS Elliot prize 2008) continued well past their allotted time due to the enthusiasm of both tutors and students.

The fiddle workshops on day one give everyone a chance to re-grade their speed of learning; we teach by ear and each of the four classes are set by the speed a student can learn. This year we have fewer absolute beginners and more of the medium to fast learners, and the fastest class learned four tunes from Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch in the first hour… that’s going to be some catalogue of tunes by the end of the week!

The afternoon was rounded off with a great youth session. We sprung on the under 25’s that they could play a set of tunes in our headline concert on Saturday, but listening to that practice they were all more than up for the task; there are some great young players with us this year.

The evenings Dance at Islesburgh was a sell out and from 7.30 until 9.30 the floor was never empty. A short story from Elma Johnson about a magic fiddle that broke into a thousand pieces after its owner died was quickly followed by a Boston Two Step and the night began. Jim Halcrow’s Dance band is always a hit on the first evening of Fiddle Frenzy and Maria Leask, Shetland Arts’ Traditional Dance tutor, was on hand to walk our visitors who are new to Shetland through some of our dances before firing into the full speed version.

The day didn’t finish there, as everyone left Islesburgh they headed for the festival Club in the Garrison Theatre for tunes and tales. This is the first year we’ve used backstage at the theatre for the Festival club and it seemed to go very well. Carol Duncan not only administrates the festival she also stepped up to the mark to become our barmaid this week (now that’s dedication!). The Shetland Fiddlers joined us for a tune and the theatre was ringing to the sound of fiddles, banjos, pianos and mandolins till well after midnight. Slightly earlier than we sometimes end up playing until, but not surprising on the first night as many folk had travelled up that day, and some had taken the ferry option and not taken cabins. 14 hours overnight followed by a full on day of tunes. I’ve still to speak to the writers, knitters and story tellers about last night, but I’ll catch up with them this morning and see how they got on.

It was a great day and I hope that everyone got some rest last night as we’re about to start all over again. Having realised that all we ate yesterday was one bacon roll and a Panini, I’ve had a huge breakfast to ensure my energy levels remain up…. and lots of coffee will be the order of the day!

Looking forward to the first concert in the Garrison tonight at 7.30 with Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch, and our tutors and storytellers.

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