Published: 04/07/2014 10:48 - Updated: 04/07/2014 11:00

Wartime heroism recalled in Black Isle concert

Jena and Bethany Reid.
Jena and Bethany Reid.

INSPIRED by a true story of wartime heroism, fiddle playing sisters Bethany and Jenna Reid bring their musical tribute to the bravery of the Norwegian resistance to the Highlands this weekend.

Bethany believes Saturday’s performance of Escape: The Story of Jan Baalsrud and The Shetland Bus at Cromarty’s East Church, could be quite an emotional experience.

First performed at the Celtic Connections Festival, the piece recently returned to Glasgow for the West End Festival where it coincided with the anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

"This year in particular, with the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, it’s been quite poignant," Bethany said.

"The East Church itself is such a magical stage. It’s quite a small, cosy church, so it will be quite special to play it with those acoustics."

Originally a composition assignment for Bethany as part of her university course. For inspiration for the challenge, she turned to her home islands and the story of the Shetland Bus, the small fleet of fishing boats and fast naval vessels, which connected Britain with Nazi-occupied Norway.

"I’d heard little bits about the Shetland Bus while I was growing up, but I’d bought a book for a friend about it and ended up reading it myself," she explained.

"Among all the stories, there was one in particular that stood out and I decided to use that as a basis."

The story that struck her most was the harrowing survival tale of Norwegian commando Jan Baalsrud.

A 26-year old former cabinet maker, Baalsrud returned to Norway aboard the Shetland Bus on a sabotage mission, only for the boat to be attacked by the Germans and his 11 companions killed, forcing Baalsrud to go on the run alone through Arctic Norway.

"He was caught in an avalanche, suffered from frostbite and was eventually rescued by the Sami people and whisked into freedom on a sleigh drawn by reindeer. It’s just an inspiring tale."

Keeping it within the family, Bethany and Jenna also enlisted the help of their husbands, respectively flutist and piper James Thomson and percussionist Iain Sandilands. They will be joined in Cromarty by bass player Joe Rattray and narrator Phil Goodlad.

The Reid sisters have performed the piece in Norway, where they met Baalsrud’s nephew and others with links to the Shetland Bus.

"That’s great because you heard stories from people you would never otherwise hear, so as well as people who enjoy traditional music, it brings in a different audience, which is nice," Bethany said.

"Certainly to work and compose together in that group has been really enjoyable and those instruments work well together. For an audience, if there’s a point to the music, it can mean a lot more."

The Cromarty concert is being presented as part of this year’s Black Isle Fiddle weekend.

Both the Reid sisters have played there before as part of the band RANT alongside Fiddle Weekend founder Lauren MacColl and Inverness fiddle player Sarah-Jane Summers.

Jenna is also one of this year’s tutors, joining fellow member of the band Blazin’ Fiddles Anna Massie, MacColl and Simon Bradley, as well as pupils from across Scotland and beyond.

"People do come from far afield to visit that area and the Highlands," Bethany added.

"If they have an interest in fiddle-playing, it’s a great way to meet the community and get really involved."

Escape: The Story of Jan Baalsrud and The Shetland Bus receives its Highland premiere at Cromarty East Church tomorrow, Saturday 5th July, as part of the Black Isle Fiddle Weekend.

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