Shetland's Arts: How Musicians, Comedians & Entertainers Shifted Their Focus During the Pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic surged across the United Kingdom, no industry looked on with more uncertain worry than those in the arts. Even now, over half a year later they are at the centre of heated government debate, with repurposed campaigns suggesting they retrain and find new careers.

The importance of music and entertainment is paramount. From providing solace in gravely difficult times, through to being the soundtrack to joyous occasions and good times with good people. The industry and their creative counterparts across the arts should be celebrated and supported.

With the future of their passion in doubt, Shetland’s musicians, comedians and entertainers would find ways to shift their talent to provide something in some form for those in Shetland, locked down with worry at what was happening around them.

Facebook’s livestreaming feature would be frequently used by many, some with the sole purpose of entertaining, some with the intention to fundraise and others to entertain themselves – in most cases, all three would be achieved.

Musician Peter Wood began a popular daily series of “Tunes in the Hoose” where he would play his much-acclaimed accordion tunes to what would be a global audience, with praise coming from all over; a firefighter in New York appreciated the light coming through such daunting adversity through to a couple in New Zealand. With the growing audience, Peter & his wife Karen decided to try and give a little back – and they did that tenfold.

Within an hour of the crowdfunding page going live, they would smash their £500 target and go onto raise over £8,000 for the NHS Shetland Endowment Fund, a pot of money that supports nurses, patients and initiatives within NHS Shetland that is outside of the Government’s purse.

Speaking to the Press & Journal, Karen reflected on the response of “Tunes in the Hoose”.

“We have been so humbled and overwhelmed by the response we have had from people in Shetland. Shetland is such a close community, so it doesn’t surprise us the amount of people that have come together because when times are difficult, we come together.”

“It’s been just as good for us to have the support from everybody and all these lovely messages. It’s just been brilliant. It’s just brought so many people together and introduced us to all these people all over the world.”

The momentous fundraising efforts would not stop there as Shetland’s new age of entertainers would also come together through Jack Sandison and his Buskathon for Shetland’s Foodbank.

In the beginning, Jack would busk alone on Da Street to try and raise money after reading a Shetland Times plea about the struggles that faced the Foodbank amid the pandemic, with donations dropping and key volunteer absentees. Speaking to Jack, he explained the inspiration and how it progressed from solo busking through to livestreaming on Social Media.

“It crossed my mind that a Facebook live event might be more hygienic and safer considering the circumstances. It was then inspired by “Ruby Tuesdays” – a collective group of musicians based in Edinburgh that I have known for a long time. They put on gigs for years, during the pandemic they started doing shared live gigs and took donations for musicians out of work.”

He would take inspiration from that format, and tailor it to a wider range of entertainers; poets, artists, chefs, storytellers and comics and raise vital funds for Shetland’s foodbank.

The types of talent involved would vary wildly, with The Stoals frontman Scott Tomlinson, The Fiction’s Keirynn Topp and Seth Travins would be some of those flying the flag for the musicians. While they would be joined over the multi-day event by cooking livestreams with the Two Kenny’s and storytime streams with Caroline Leask and comic Marjolein Robertson

Bringing as many creatives together was an important aspect of the fundraiser.

“Many industries have suffered throughout the pandemic, but I do personally feel that the music industry has been hit harder than most. The Buskathon served as an outlet initially for musicians but it was great to include many other types of creativity.”

Similarly, to Peter Wood’s fundraiser, it absolutely blew the initial target of £500 out of the water and upon reflection, Jack looks back on it similarly.

“Shetlanders have a fantastic sense of community spirit and the support they have for creative industries is clear. I had initially thought we would make out £500 goal, but I had no idea we would achieve what we finally did.”

In the end it would be a huge £7,035 that would be raised by the generosity of the people of Shetland. An astounding figure and an astounding accomplishment by those involved.

The theme of providing an outlet for musicians would not stop with the Buskathon, however.

The pandemic would also bring us the Shetland Young Musician Network. The Isles continues to be blessed by incredible young musicians, who with lockdown would see their lessons, festivals and events all end in cancellations or postponements.

Peter Tomlinson and his partner Heather Newell would launch SYMN with the intention to provide entertainment and a safe space for Shetland’s next generation of stars and their goal to do that was certainly accomplishment – the spotlight would be bright on the youth that deserve it and dozens would tune into their regular livestreams. Singing from the likes of Rhea-May and Scott Moncrieff would feature heavily alongside the talented fiddler Emma Leask, the brother duo of Fraser and Darren Jamieson and composer Eamonn Watt to name a very few.

It was not only music where we saw such a shift to online livestreaming as a means to keep entertained and provide such for others. We would have a near never-ending article if we were to highlight every creative in Shetland and how they transformed during lockdown to provide joy to others - Marjolein's livestreaming on Twitch, The Stoals releasing an album, the list would go on and on. With that, understand that your art and your craft is hugely appreciated by all of us and we are with you in hoping we can soon return to live gigs, comedy nights and Shetland’s beautifully cherished and important festivals of music and culture in the near future.

Stay safe!

If you know of a community champion, organisation or business that went above and beyond for those around them over the past 6 months - please get in touch with us and we can look to give them recognition as we continue to find the good of the Isles from the past year.