SFO Show fine fiddling and sense of fun on triumphant return – Orkney

Orkney 30th July 2010

Over 100 people packed into the main arena at the Picjquoy Centre last Thursday night, to welcome the Scottish Fiddle ORchestra (SFO) back to Otkney as part of their 30th Anniversary Tour.

The SFO, consisting of over 100 players, were all wearing brightly coloured kilts and with their shining fiddles all waving in unison they made an impressive sight as well as sound. Of course, the fiddlers were ably backed by drums, cellos, flutes, double bass, percussion and piano.

The concert started with the sound of pipes rising from the left side of the room and filling the hall. This was the SFO’s official piper Keith Easdale, who also raised a few laughs with his cheeky, raised eyebrows and playful playing. Our compere for the night was Jim McColl MBE, a well known face from the BBC’s Beechgrove Garden, who also frequently had us in stitches of laughter with his humorous stories between the tunes.

“It’s a great delight for us all to be back in Orkney, and it’s great to see it today with a blink of sunshine,” he said.

The lively Fiddlers to the Fore started off the orchestra’s set, appropriate as this was the very first piece played by the SFO at its inaugural concert in 1980.

Unfortunately the SFO’s musical director John Mason who is originally from Orkney, was unable to come on the tour because he was unwell and was under doctor’s orders to stay at home. However, conductor Blair Parham did a fabulous job, not only expertly keeping the musicians together but keeping the audience together too, and entertaining us with his big personality and comic facial experssions and flourishes.

There was a substantial Orkney contribution to the show too, both with locxal musicians performing on stage and in the programme itself.

Members of the Kirkwall City Pipe Band joined the orchestra for the Old Man of Hoy, Highland Cathedral and the big finale. Young members of the Orkney Traditional Music Project, which receives some sponsorship from the SFO, also played wonderfully, just after the interval and in the grand finale.

It wasn’t just the fiddles that shone during the concert, we were treated to some amazing singing which provided a nice change of pace. Tenor Dennis Haggerty, who said this was his 18th visit to Orkney, sang A Gordon for Me, Here’s to the Gordons, and Bonnie Scots Lassie among others. His powerful voice really was something to behold. Colette Ruddy’s lovely mezzo-soprano voice, singing the Bluebell Polka, Lonely Scapa Flow and Wild Mountain Thyme among others was also a real treat. The SFO Glee Club also made a memorable impression with their medley of familiar songs!

One of the things that stood out about the programme was the amazing number of tunes written by John Mason. Among firm favourites like The Fairy Nuff Polka and The Horticulturist, we were treated to a slow air with a beautiful solo fiddling from June Nelson. One of my favourite pieces, The Hen’s March to Midden or Cullya’s Ceilidh, was brilliant fun, with lots of audience participation and fun noise.

The concert ended on a high with Highland Cathedral and Scotland the Brave followed by the traditional rendition of Auld Lang Syne, all members in the audience on their feet and linking arms.

As well as the concert in the Pickaquoy Centre, the SFO gave a short lunchtime performance in St Magnus Cathedral on Friday, which was free.
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