They may be geographically removed and unique in their own way, but Scotland’s Island groups share many cultural connections, not least their Viking heritage and a tradition of expressing their distinctive cultures through the arts. It was with this in mind that the Between Islands project was created by Stornoway’s An Lanntair arts centre, and to date the initiative has produced two successful collaborative ventures featuring artists from the Northern and Western Isles with more planned as we head into 2017.
The first phase of Between Islands united the song writing talents of Kris Drever, (Orkney), Arthur Nicholson, (Shetland), and Willie Campbell from the Isle of Lewis, and led to new work and performances across 2015. Going forward some of the songs written by the project pioneers are going to be recorded, as finally the artists have found a suitable window in their busy schedules to reunite. Alex Macdonald, who devised the Between Islands initiative for An Lanntair, explained, “We will be recording a few tracks, hopefully enough for an EP, with Willie, Kris and Arthur this month, and ultimately hope to do some more concerts as people are still asking when they can see it again. This time we would like to take it Scotland wide, funding and schedules permitting of course, but it’s an exciting prospect.”
Running alongside the musical collaborations is a literary one. In June 2016 An Lanntair published a short stories collection based on the theme, featuring authors Alison Miller (Orkney), Roseanne Watt (Shetland) and Kevin MacNeil (Lewis). This book is to feature in the up and coming Wordplay Festival, which runs from 16-27 November across Shetland.
Alex continued “It seemed to me that we could make something special happen by facilitating these collaborations, and I think the work done to date is a very positive indicator of what we can achieve across all arts disciplines in the future. I am already receiving stories from other Island writers for consideration should we be able to publish another volume. It’s very encouraging and exactly what I hoped would happen.”
The project does not stop there. The Between Islands Music Project Two, featuring fiddle players Maggie Adamson (Shetland), Louise Bichan (Orkney) and Jane Hepburn (Lewis) is being launched and will take the project forward into 2017. This second project has a different slant, as rather than creating new work, the musicians will be selecting traditional tunes from their own areas to perform collectively. The resulting show is then planned to be part of next summer’s Hebridean Celtic Festival.
Alex highlighted “Possibly the best part of this project is that it brings people together who may otherwise never have had the opportunity to work together. Also, as in the case of our fiddle players, they can then share traditions and learn from each other. It seems like there is already a type of Island camaraderie or understanding present which makes it easier to connect and start work. So rather than highlighting our cultural differences I think it’s establishing some real connections, and that is very satisfying.”