GMB Centenary 2021 at the St Magnus International Festival

The St Magnus International Festival is Orkney’s annual celebration of the arts. The 44th Festival is both online and live in Orkney 18-23 June 2021.

Founded in 1977 by a small group of talented and dedicated individuals, including the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Festival has grown to become one of Britain’s most highly regarded arts events.

The combination of world-class performance, the high quality of community participation and the beauty of Orkney at midsummer attracts audiences from throughout Britain and further afield. Musical events are at the heart of the programme, but the Festival also includes drama, dance, literature and the visual arts.

Having had to cancel the 2020 event because of the Covid-19 pandemic, St Magnus International Festival has worked hard to be able to present performances in June of 2021. This year the Festival offers a mixed programme of work online as well as some live outdoor events.

In the year of the centenary of the birth of George Mackay Brown, the St Magnus International Festival is playing a key role in a year of celebrations of the world-renowned writer’s work. 

George Mackay Brown’s poems and prose are known internationally – though he himself never strayed much beyond Orkney except in his imagination and in his writing. His writing reflects the lives, history and landscapes of the islands and the seas around them – and yet its central themes are relevant and resonate in places across the world. 

His work has regularly featured in the Festival. In its earliest days, he was a director of the Board and a significant contributor to its success. Through his his dramatic pieces, and through the inspiration and impact of his writing on the music of Peter Maxwell Davies, he has been a constant presence in the Festival. Following his death his work has continued to inspire and initiate artistic work and projects. This year the Festival celebrates GMB in its programming, live and online, of music, poetry and film.


Live and online pay-to-view: The Storm Watchers

A major part of the St Magnus Festival tribute in 2021 is the film of George Mackay Brown’s powerful and emotionally searing verse play The Storm Watchers. This impressive community project, adapted for these times and the need for social distancing during lockdown. was filmed with local actors – some using their own smartphones – and directed by Gerda Stevenson. Read more here.

The premier is in Stromness Town Hall at 18.00 and 20.30 on Friday 18 June.

The Storm Watchers is also available online as a pay-to-view event: details of how to sign up here.

Free-to-view online: Fiddlers at the Harvest Home

To celebrate the 100th birthday of George Mackay Brown, the St Magnus International Festival has commissioned six Orkney fiddlers and composers to write tunes inspired by verses in George Mackay Brown’s poem ‘Fiddlers at the Harvest Home’ from Winterfold (1976). This work is presented in a series of short online films.

First, Vera Butler reads ‘Fiddlers at the Harvest Home’ filmed in Barony Mill, Birsay. The fiddlers join in Douglas Montgomery’s new jig, ‘Taken’ which alternates with the verses composed by the other musicians, and, appropriately, brings the total number of pieces to seven, that number so significant to GMB. Then we can hear the other compositions – recorded at home – played by the six fiddlers.

Film editor: Fionn MacArthur, Startpoint Media

Free-to-view online: For the Islands I sing 

For the Islands I Sing is a selection of seven poems by George Mackay Brown read by Orcadians and filmed in locations all over the islands. 

Filmed and edited by Fionn McArthur, Startpoint Media

Free-to-view online: About George

About George is a film about George Mackay Brown and his work, produced and directed by Alasdair Nicolson for the St Magnus International Festival in collaboration with Birlinn Books and Glasgow University. The contributors are Linden Bicket and Kirsteen McCue, editors of An Orkney Tapestry; writer and poet Kathleen Jamie, editor of Carve the Runes; and Shetland writer Mallachy Tallack, editor of Simple Fire.

About George

Edited by Fionn McArthur, Startpoint Media

St Magnus International Festival, 13 Albert Street, Kirkwall  KW15 1HP
Telephone: +44 (0)1856 87144

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