The Music

Island Unites Behind Silver Darlings Project

From Living Orkney

Orkney’s musical tradition is not confined to the mainland, as has been clearly shown by the release of an outstanding new CD ‘The First Haul’ by Stronsay’s Silver Darlings. The project was coordinated by Gaynor Smith a member of the Stronsay Band who first became aware of the immense energy and talent of the island’s young musicians in 2005 when she started work as the Stronsay school cleaner.

She told Living Orkney: “ I was really impressed with all the music that was being played in the school on cello, accordion and fiddle. As a child I had enjoyed going to the South School every second Tuesday winter night and joining in with the older generation of musicians on the island and I thought it would be great for the young folk if we could do something similar.

“I was encouraged to set such a group up by head teacher Mae Laverie and with help from teacher Janice Maxwell, who has for years taught fiddle within the school and my brother Mike, I booked a classroom and we held our first music session in November 2005.

“It was a bit daunting for me as I don't read music, but play by ear. Fourteen children turned up and we ran through a number of tunes. We held ten sessions that first winter and sixteen during our second winter.”

On the establishment of the Stronsay’s Silver Darlings project she said: “Last October (2008) we played at a concert to raise money for the Kirk and after that spirits and confidence were running high and we decided to make a CD.” To further the idea, Gaynor formed a committee comprising Colin McAlpine, Sheena Cooper, Elsie Dennison, Mike Holland and herself, and gained support from Voluntary Action Orkney, particularly Barbara Robertson.

“In February Andy Brown, a friend and teacher at the school agreed to make a demo disc for us and after receiving advice from record producer Phil Anderson we tightened up on beginnings, changes of key and some of the endings and then recorded the finished product in Orkney Arts Theatre in June. All the parents were extremely supportive and all the music group attendees were enthusiastic. From then on it has been all go!”

It was the island’s development officer William Caithness who came up with the name Stronsay’s Silver Darlings for the nineteen musicians. He has since praised the project as: “One of the best things to have happened in Stronsay for years.”

To fund and publicise the CD, members Bagged The Bruck off the beaches, held a coffee afternoon, played at the local R.N.L.I buffet, the Stronsay Community Association quiz night, and weddings and ruby weddings on the island. They also entered the Openstage event at the Orkney Folk Festival 2008 to raise their profile and were runners up in this event.

Gaynor says: “ Everyone in the local community has contributed in some way or another! After a very successful afternoon at Midgarth in September, with Ian Cooper, Arna Cooper and Sheena Cooper taking loads of photos, we had plenty of material to give to Colin Keldie who designed the CD cover of the CD and also - thanks to Heather Fazakerly - we raised money through the production of A Stronsay’s Silver Darlings Calendar.

The CD was officially launched in Stronsay on November 23rd (2008), the day after Stronsay’s Harvest Home. Piper Raymond Peace performed at the ceremony accompanied by Stewart Shearer, Don Peace and Courtney Peace.

Gaynor said: “There have been just so many people who have assisted with this project and we thank them all. Some members of the Silver Darlings are now at university and I am sure participating in the project will look good on their CVs in years to come. I believe that to give everyone the opportunity to get together to play music has been the secret to this project’s success.”

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