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Hjaltibonhoga - From the Beginning

In April 2013 an email was sent round Shetland fiddle instructors to gauge interest in performing at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo with a group of fiddlers from the islands. Local instructors, Margaret Robertson and Pauleen Wiseman, met with Clara Wheelan and Steve Walsh of the tattoo production team to find out more about the event. Margaret visited Edinburgh in August that year to experience a days rehearsals and the show live. The detail was to have 40 Shetland fiddlers perform each show for a run of 25 shows during the 2014 tattoo.


Postal invitations were sent to almost 200 Shetland fiddlers in the January of 2014 with a response of 97 fiddle players on a rota in order to meet the expectations. The group performed a set of local well known tunes to meet the theme of 'Our Home, Friends and Family'. The music and costumes, designed by NielaNell, conveyed the Mirrie Dancers (Aurora Borealis) in the sky across the world linking Scots scattered worldwide to their homeland. By the end of August that year the new Shetland County group named Hjaltibonhoga (Old Norse for 'Shetland, my spiritual home') had perfomed to almost 250,000 of a live audience with a BBC worldwide viewing public in excess of 1 billion.


Having started with zero funding and zero fiddlers after a ten week period, with thanks to the generosity of the Shetland community along with sponsorship from Promote Shetland and Serco Northlink Ferries, the bank account totaled almost £30,000. A very special donation came from local fiddler Nigel Hallett who, though unable to travel with us, made a donation of £50 which enabled us to open our bank account. The local community support is integral to the continuity of this County group. If you would like to show your support please see our Friends of Hjaltibonhoga page.


Any notion that the 2014 visit was a one off was dispelled in January 2015 when Brigadier David Allfrey, Chief Executive and Producer of the The Royal Edinbugh Military Tattoo, during a visit to Shetland for the Up Helly Aa celebrations and to meet with local council officials, broke the news that Hjaltibonhoga were indeed invited back to the 2015 show.


On the contrary to the previous year when fiddlers needed a full explanation of the style of the show and the commitment, this time available places filled almost immediately. Following this years theme of 'East Meets West' the group donned a new costume created from a single piece of material in keeping with international styles such as a kilt, cape, poncho or sari. With music specially written to celebrate Shetlands links with Scandinavia to her East and America to her West, the group once again performed to this unique and unprecedented audience.  By the end of 2015, David Allfrey was quoted to say that Hjaltibonhoga is a core element and pillar of the tattoo.


In 2016 the band experienced their busiest year so far.  Starting with overseas tattoo events in Melbourne, Australia and Wellington, New Zealand, 20 Shetland fiddlers met 20 players from each host country to present 40 players at each show. This was the first performances using another new uniform - hand made blue jackets with the 'East Meets West' lace. During the trip, Brigadier David Allfrey also informed Hjaltibonhoga that the band was slated to take part in the next 10 years of Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo shows - both in Edinburgh and internationally.  

Once back in Shetland, fundraising continued and rehearsals geared towards a busy summer. The band recorded their debut album in Mareel over a weekend in June, which was later released in March 2017.  August also brought Hjaltibonhoga's third consecutive appearance at the 2016 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, 'Tunes of Glory'.  The show celebrated Queen Elizabeth II's 90th year and 42 fiddle players performed during each of the 25 shows.  This years show was the busiest to date for the band.  Starting with the Shetland set, there was also collaborations with the Highland Dancers, Lochiel Marching Drill Team from New Zealand and the Massed Pipes and Drums.

Moving into 2017 it continued to be a very busy for Hjaltibonhoga.   We were excited to release our debut  album 'Scrolling On' in March.  August saw the group perform in  Edinburgh again in the show  titled  'Splash of Tartan'.  This was Hjaltibonhoga's biggest group to perform during the show to date and included a squad of vikings complete with torches and a galley!  In September we were honoured to join our friends in the Piper's Trail and Tattoo Dance Company to represent The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at the first 'Musikfest der Bundeswehr' in Düsseldorf, Germany.  We also hosted our second 'Hairst Helly' in September with tuition by Gordon Gunn and Adam Sutherland.

The following year, 2018, saw Hjaltibonhoga with no less than three tattoo performances! August was Hjalti's fifth tattoo  on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade with  'The Sky's the Limit' and we were also delighted to join the Tattoo Dance Company and Piper's Trail on trips to Oslo and a return visit to Düsseldorf.

Looking ahead to 2019 it appears to be staying busy for Hjaltibonhoga. Our sixth Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in August is 'Kaleidoscope' and we're looking forward to another trip to Düsseldorf and being part of Tattoo on Tour 2019 to Sydney.

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