The Heart and Soul of Orkney

The Heart and Soul of Orkney, an entertaining evening.

St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Stromness was nearly full to capacity on Friday evening as folk from far and wide gathered to hear music, song, poetry and prose to celebrate The Heart and Soul of Orkney. The Autumn Foy was ably hosted by Rev Tom Miller and held to raise funds for encouraging young composers in Orkney.

The Foy began with a recital of three pieces for violin and ‘cello performed by Lesley MacLeod and Cat Brown. Among them a familiar tune from Andy Cant and another by Alasdair Fraser with a light and dancing ‘cello pizzicato described as ‘too pretty not to play.’ The music set the tone for a varied and lively evening.

Performance is always when poetry comes alive and the audience were treated to readings from local poets Cary Welling and Shaun and Anna Gardiner as well as work by John Louch. The descriptions of coming home to Orkney and walks around Stromness were both entertaining and thought-provoking. Frazer Dixon’s poem Ode to the Midges raised wry smiles from the audience from the well-remembered itch. Towards the end of the evening an unusual poem, each stanza written by different members of the Tennant family, was read by Mark Tennant and Annie Wright accompanied by Gill Tennant on ‘cello.

Prose from Gill Tennant speculated on the origins of the whalebone carving nicknamed ‘Buddo’ and Pam Sanders captivated the audience with John Rae’s Ghost, a re-telling of epic adventures that began in Stromness. Kate Barrett volunteered a wicked little gem of a story about an uncommon strategy taken to increase pension income. Gabrielle Barnby also read an excerpt from Bessie Skea’s Countrywoman’s Journal as well as some of her own summer diary – fifty years apart the sun continues to rise and set in much the same way as it always has.

A hearty interval spread was provided by generous donations from the parish and was well received by audience and performers. In the second half it was a delight to hear Sarah Drummond singing unaccompanied, the acoustics in the church lending themselves to warmly carrying her voice. Earlier, Jeanne Rose had already taught the audience a fine song with a fine message – Kindness Spreads Like Butter, and had everyone toe-tapping before the interval. Although apologies were made beforehand to Gilbert and Sullivan one of the high points of the evening was Three Old Men From Church Are We, sung with gusto by the Foy’s host along with Nick Lewis and Paul Cooper, and energetically accompanied by Kate Lewis on the organ.

Gill Tennant joined Cat Brown to play out the evening with a ‘cello duet, the deep tones of the instruments well suited to the church.

It was hinted that this Autumn Foy may be the beginning of an annual occurrence. The quality, tone and variety of contributions certainly made it a throughly enjoyable evening whose repetition will be looked forward to in the future.


Gabrielle Barnby,

17th Sept, 2018


St Mary's, Stromness, Autumn Foy, The Heart and Soul of Orkney, review, Gabrielle Barnby

Photograph taken by: Ruth Przybeck, showing from left to right Tom Miller, Paul Cooper and Nick Lewis.

Gabrielle Barnby