music; ambience: Crowd
We’re in the city of Lerwick, on the Shetland Islands in the far north of Scotland. The entire town has turned out to celebrate Up-Helly-Aa, commemorating this region’s Viking heritage. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
The exact meanings of Up-Helly-Aa are somewhat muddled, but on the last Tuesday of January, squads of men dressed in Viking regalia march singing through the streets of Lerwick, carrying a replica of a Norse galley before them. We asked Peter Cooke, an ethnomusicologist and Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinborough, to recount his memories of Up-Helly-Aa.
ambience: Procession, Squad Singing
Cooke: The streets were filled with people. 49 squads of men had assembled, all with their torches alight, beautifully got up in their Viking costumes. With the galley in the lead, they began their march. Eventually, the 49 squads of men arrived at the park. They go forward and hurl their blazing torches into the ship. And it becomes a huge cauldron of fire. They sing another song called ‘The Norseman’s Home’ as the galley burns. And their singing is almost drowned by the crackling of the flames.
ambience: “Norseman’s Home,” galley burning
ambience: bar music
When the flames have died down, the revelers pack into dance halls all across town, and the squads make their rounds, performing and dancing at each hall.
Cooke: I managed to get into a hall called Arlseborough house. The first squad arrived round about nine o’ clock in the evening. The last squad eventually arrived at eight o’ clock the next morning.
I asked one young Shetlander, what was the most important thing about Up-Helly-Aa? And he says “oh, well, it knocks a great hole in the winter.
I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.