THE ORKNEY SERIES – by Kristan Harvey & Jeana Leslie

Hello… we are Kristan and Jeana, one half of Scottish/Orkney folk band, FARA. It’s a pleasure to be asked to write this blog about one of the things we got up to during the lockdown of 2020!

Back when FARA began – the unexpected result of a one-off concert at 2014’s Orkney Folk Festival – it was the coming together of a group of Orcadian musicians who, despite residing ‘south’ for work, identified first and foremost as Orcadians. Our sense of belonging to the Islands has very much stayed with us over the years, and we’re never done talking about the homeland. Now in 2021, the band has seen a few lineup changes, most noticeably the addition of the very wonderful Rory Matheson on piano. Rory comes from Assynt on the west coast of Scotland, and is a very patient fella – a highland gentleman… To that end, he will confirm that we’re never done talking about Orkney…

Despite the change in personnel, the four of us – Kristan, Jeana, Rory and our tremendously talented fourth member, Catriona Price – continue to be heavily influenced by the Orkney Islands and the rich musical culture we grew up immersed in. It’s a big part of our live shows both musically and in our stories, and we’re often asked ‘are you sponsored by the tourist board?!’ when we head out to the merch desk at half time. If only! A wonderful result of our unashamed pride in the place, though, is that the folks at our concerts feel able to come and share their own experiences and happy memories of visits to Orkney. To connect on that level is undoubtedly one of our very favourite things about life on the road, and one of the things we found ourselves missing the most when our touring schedule came to an abrupt end back in March 2020.

For the first few months of last year’s lockdown we, like so many others, stepped back from making music and instead focused on what it meant to be in one place for a set period of time. Having toured almost relentlessly for the previous few years, it took a bit of psychological adjustment. ‘What do you mean we can put the suitcases away in the cupboard?’ ‘A big food shop that we’ll be here long enough to get through?’ ‘What is this ‘zoom’ thing everybody’s on about?!’ We took our time regaining our sense of creativity as a band, and that breathing space was hugely refreshing and quite freeing, or at least as free as you can feel in a lockdown…! After some time to ourselves, armed with some shiny new zoom skills, and in the knowledge that we wanted to find a means to connect once again with people all over the world, we came up with the idea of combining our two biggest collective passions – music and Orkney – in a new way. In August, we began filming a very informal project, only ever intended to last a couple of weeks, which would go on to become ‘The Orkney Series’.

 

Kristan – ‘The Orkney Series’ began as an idea to take one of our sets of Orkney tunes, head out to the spots referenced in the titles, and film ourselves playing the pieces of music with a very brief chat about the stories behind the tunes, the places, and/or the composers. Jeana and I had decided to base ourselves at home for a big chunk of the lockdown, and we thought this might be a good use of our time whilst there. We covered the first three tunes, taking us to spots in the parishes of Birsay and Holm, and put them up on our social media pages on a Friday night. That was how it started. Nineteen episodes later we wrapped up the first series, and brought to an end one of the most enjoyable projects we’d ever worked on. It’s worth saying, that with such a wealth of music from and about the Islands, we could have done the same amount again no bother.

 

Jeana – So like Harv said, it was just meant to be short videos…this quickly grew! Neither of us is trained in any shape or form to make videos or do ‘presenting’ to a camera so goodness knows what we were thinking! Talking was going to be the easy part (especially for me).. or so we thought! Turns out it’s harder than it looks especially when you are trying to remember all the correct information. We also used our phones for filming and a small microphone, a very basic setup but it worked for us. That being said when you were doing several takes your arm would eventually get rather tired and sometimes our mic would accidentally pop into the shot so that meant… retake! But it was great fun and we just had a laugh!

In terms of doing this project we were a great team. I am not the best on the technology and Harv seems to strive in that department. She took on the mammoth task of piecing together and editing our takes of which there were MANY! Turns out we speak quite a lot of rubbish too! Haha! When out filming she had a great eye for where to film to get the best views, angles etc. I took on the role of choosing the tunes to play, sorting a rough schedule/running order for the episodes and, very important…watching the weather. We were lucky this year as Orkney brought the goods, and on most of the days we chose to film it was dry and sunny. Orkney can at times have quite temperamental weather! I also love history so said I would take on the task of finding out the background, stories behind the tunes and history of the places. Needless to say, much like the wealth of music to choose from, the information I found could have been multiplied many times over. We were very lucky to have so many people willing to give up their time and knowledge to help us as well.

I think this is probably one of the things we enjoyed most about doing ‘The Orkney Series’. Getting to talk to and meet so many folk, gaining invaluable knowledge that they had about Orkney as a place but also about the history and people throughout the years – things that you wouldn’t be able to learn about in books. Together we learnt so much about our islands.

 

Kristan – Jeana and I had no idea what the response would be when we put the first episode online, and we could never have imagined the feedback we received during the entirety of the project. The way the series progressed was entirely organic, and the reason it ended up lasting so long was based purely on the feedback of the lovely watchers around the world. We realised that our short, informal, tongue-in-cheek videos seemed to be providing some sort of pleasure, nostalgia or even escapism for the watchers who tuned in. We were both well aware of the privilege of being able to spend lockdown in a landscape like we were, and couldn’t have been more delighted to bring a sense of that to those who might not have been in such a fortunate position. Every Friday night we looked forward to hearing from followers of the band, many of whom became more like friends over the weeks, and who took the time to comment on the films and tell us their own stories relating to the music and/or the place. All of a sudden the connection with people around the globe was restored, and it felt incredibly positive.

 

Jeana – During the series, we had many followers asking us if we would record an album of tunes from ’The Orkney Series’. At present that is not in the pipeline however, we are happy to announce that we will be recording a new album this year based on Orkney. It will be self-penned by all four members of the band and will be new music based on the landscape, places, experiences, traditions, history and so much more to do with Orkney. To continue on from ‘The Orkney Series’ our plan is to do a short video for each track of the album. Each video will give information about the tunes, stories behind them and then the music, however it won’t be filmed on our phones this time! Keep an eye out from the new album coming Autumn 2021.

 

So, that’s plenty from us for just now! We hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about ‘The Orkney Series’… Many thanks for reading our blog if you’re still with us! If you find yourself at a loose end, needing a wee virtual escape, or you’ve completed Netflix; please feel free to check out the series:

Take care and see you down the road some time, Kristan, Jeana and the band

www.faramusic.co.uk