A documentary about the internationally renowned Shetland Folk Festival is to be broadcast on BBC Two Scotland next Tuesday 15th February at 10pm. Filmed during last year’s 30th annual event, No Sleep ‘Til Yell celebrates and captures the unique charm of Britain’s most northerly music festival.
This Hopscotch Films production for BBC Scotland's ArtWorks strand follows the music and the madness. As the narrator notes in the opening minutes: “The Shetland Folk Festival is 30 years old…and still behaving like an unruly teenager." The tone for the Festival is set onboard the overnight Northlink ferry bringing the musicians to Shetland from Aberdeen. Before the boat has even left the harbour the fiddles are out and by the time it has hit the open seas a session is in full flow. Chair of the festival Christine Fordyce says: “There are many, many times that musicians have gotten off the boat without being in their cabin except to pick up their bag again. There’s sometimes not very much sleep that happens on the boat.”
The Shetland Folk Festival demands great stamina from its performers. For four days the music doesn't stop. As well as showing on -stage performances the film features performances on a roll-on roll-off ferry, on a bus, on staircases, in a living room and in a back garden. World class music and top-notch carousing aside, the film captures that what makes this festival unique is the extent to which it is integrated into the wider community. The Folk Festival is part of the fabric of Shetland life. It is run entirely by local volunteers and all the visiting performers stay with local families in their homes rather than in hotels. Lasting friendships are formed between the performers and their hosts. Shetlander Davie Gardner is still in regular contact with former house guest Elvis Costello, who stayed with him as long ago as 1988.
The film features Bluegrass, Country and Indian Classical, as well as folk music from Sweden, Shetland, Scotland and Ireland. It also pays tribute to the fiddling tradition of Shetland, largely nurtured by the festival’s co-founder Tom Anderson. Seth Travins, from American band The Wiyos, says: "'There are so many diverse groups …it’s not just Celtic music, Americana or swing… the diversity of all the groups really is inspiring.”