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Between Islands project to celebrate musical links between Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides at Orkney Folk Festival

The musical connections between three of Scotland’s island groups – Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides – are to be celebrated at this year’s Orkney Folk Festival, with two collaborative concerts featuring celebrated musicians and singers from each of the areas.

Leading western Isles vocalists Julie Fowlis and Kathleen MacInnes will appear alongside Shetland’s Jenny Keldie and Orcadian duo Saltfishforty – Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty – in two unique productions over the festival weekend.

The five musicians will present a Between Islands concert on the afternoon of Friday, May 24, in the Stromness Town Hall. They, and the theme of connections between island groups, will then form the basis of the 2019 incarnation of the festival’s highly successful Gathering event, on Sunday, May 26, which will also take place in the festival’s flagship venue.

The Between Islands artists join a stellar line-up already announced for the 37th annual festival, including Four Men and a Dog; Lau; Cara Dillon; Dermot Byrne, Éamonn Coyne and John Doyle; Kinnaris Quintet, The Poozies and Còig, amongst many more.

These two special concerts are the first of the Between Islands projects – an initiative headed up by Alex Macdonald, of the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, that aims to explore the links between the three islands groups through a series of inter-island initiatives – to be supported by a recent funding award from the LEADER 2014-2020 regional cooperation scheme.

Alex explained: “In the past An Lanntair have undertaken one off inter-island events, but now, with the support of funding from LEADER, we are able to focus on the creation of a longer-term project, working with a broad range of island organisations and with the main aim of encouraging collaboration through collectively promoting our culture and heritage.

“Working with Orkney Folk Festival to enable this collaboration feels entirely appropriate and illustrates the types of partnerships we hope to further in the coming months. However, the project will not be confined to music, and we are currently in the process of planning lectures, workshops and an exhibition in each area based on the Between Islands theme.”

These concerts mark a return to Orkney for Julie Fowlis, who last visited the festival in 2016, fronting her own band. Known around the world, Julie performed at the opening ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games to a television audience of over one billion, and will forever be known for singing the theme song of Disney Pixar’s Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA award-winning feature film Brave.

Kathleen MacInnes will, however, be making her first appearances at the festival as part of the Between Islands project – and indeed her first ever visit to the county. A singer, artist and actress from South Uist, Kathleen has achieved widespread international acclaim, no less than when she featured on the sound-track of the 2010 Hollywood blockbuster, Robin Hood, directed by Ridley Scott and starting Russel Crowe.

Kathleen said: “This will be my first time visiting Orkney and I’m really excited to be making the trip, meeting fellow island folk, and experiencing the landscape and music. It’s great to have an opportunity to work with Jenny and Saltfishforty, and of course Julie, but in particular it’s great to play a part in developing our musical inter island links.”

A fiddle-player and singer from Burra Isle, in Shetland, Jenny Keldie moved to Orkney to become a music teacher. In recent years she has formed a much-loved song duo with Brian Cromarty, who also forms one half of Saltfishforty alongside Douglas Montgomery. Linchpin figures in Orkney’s traditional music scene, Brian and Douglas unite these deep-rooted sources with an exhilarating breadth of influence and expertise. Across 15 years performing together, the duo has delighted audiences at many of the world’s top folk festivals, with a focus on traditional Orkney music boldly cross-fertilised with influences from Americana to East European folk.

Looking ahead to the collaboration, Douglas said: “I am really looking forward to being a part of Between Islands, especially at my home festival. The three islands have such distinct musical styles, but also work so well together – and it’s not often you get the chance to perform alongside some of the finest singers in Scotland, all on the stage at the same time, I can’t wait.”

Colin Gilmour, chair of the Outer Hebrides LEADER Local Action Group, added: “The programme is delighted to be supporting the development of this innovative knowledge sharing project, and the opportunity to promote the islands’ cultural heritage.”

The 37th Orkney Folk Festival will take place over the late May bank holiday weekend of Thursday 23 to Sunday 26. Across its four days, the festival will present 36 concerts alongside multiple free events across the county. The festival programme and ticket release dates will be announced later in March.