Putting Orkney on the Musical Map
PLUS 'Condensed Biography (Courtesy of the Artist's site, 2005).
Appearances can be deceptive. Watching Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley onstage audiences might, with good reason, be bewitched by the youthful charm and amused by Jennifer's ingenuous introductions.
Some innocents abroad, well, in Germany actually, have even been convinced by dead pan requests not to clap along lest the sisters loose the beat. However, at least one presenter of a bouncing cheque can attest to the Orkney twins' tenacity in ensuring that both sides of a deal are delivered.
It should also be pointed out that the same hands which dexterously coax tunes from strings, bow, plectrum and piano key are not averse to contact with axle grease in the interest of motor car maintenance - a useful asset in a touring musician.
The business acumen is a result of heading into full-time musical careers straight from school as soon as they passed their driving tests, although the sisters were seasoned professionals long before that, and the mechanical knowledge comes from having a haulage contractor for a father.
Mr Wrigley, who as you may have guessed from his surname is not a native Orcadian but 'an incomer' from Whitby, in Yorkshire, also encouraged his children's interest in music. "He was always playing records. All sorts of stuff, big bands, serious opera, Simon & Garfunkel; and he had this huge hi fi, so when he wanted to listen everybody had to," recalls Hazel with a mixture of fondness and resignation.
The twins, born in Whitby themselves but Orcadians from the carry-cot stage, took up instruments at the age of eight. Jennifer's choice of fiddle proved a relatively straightforward passage whereas Hazel's guitar prowess was interrupted by French horn lessons and a spell when she wrestled, literally, due to Orkney's ever-present winds, with a cello.
Two principal catalysts for their brilliant playing in duo and in the occasional Gaelic/funk/swing band Seelyhoo, which they formed in 1994, were the mysterious arrival of fellow Orcadian, Wolfstone singer/guitarist Ivan Drever's collection of Bothy Band and Planxty albums on to their father's hi fi and the Kirkwall Strathspey & Reel Society Junior Section.
"I hated it at first," says Jennifer, who was put off by the competitive atmosphere generated by pupils from the rival school and the now unlikely sounding complaint that the tunes were played too fast for her.
Soon, though, she and older sister Emma (now a music teacher) were having so much fun that Hazel decided to investigate and through the Society's guitarist, Ingrid Jolly, was introduced to the all-pervasive influence in those parts of Shetlander Peerie Willie Johnson, whose piano-like approach to guitar playing and tremendous sense of swing have left a legacy of outstanding guitar players as standard on the islands.
By the age of thirteen, the twins were resident two nights a week at the Royal Hotel in Kirkwall and making friends with much older musicians who coached them in country music styles which, along with Shetland tunes, dominate Orkney's session repertoire.
At this point they recorded their first album, Dancing Fingers, for Orkney's Attic label, although it didn't come out until three years later, in 1991. It has since been followed by The Watch Stone, also for Attic, and Huldreland, released by Edinburgh-based Greentrax Records in 1998, and more recently Skyran, released on the Geosound label. Jennifer also won the BBC's Young Tradition Award in 1997.
Their first tour as fully fledged, car-owning professionals, with Hazel by this time playing piano as well as guitar, was a real 'in at the deep end' affair, with their agent providing an itinerary that took them from Orkney to Bude, in Cornwall, to "somewhere like Sheffield - then London".
Since then they have clocked up thousands of miles - they organised their own world tour in 1997 - and regularly play all over Europe, in venues ranging >from Germany's plush concert halls, with a Steinway for Hazel to practise on in every dressing room, to folk clubs in England where "overnight accommodation" consists of an air bed on the organiser's kitchen floor which they invariably flopped onto in time to get up again and drive on to the next gig.
Not surprisingly, the ensuing lack of sleep can inspire flash points. "We have huge rows," says Hazel. "But they're forgotten within minutes because we're really good friends. People ask whether we know what the other is going to do, and we do. But it's nothing to do with twins being psychic - it's because we're so close. We've played together so much that I know immediately what Jenny wants me to play, but if I try something different I also know she won't get lost."
COMBINING mastery with mischief, tradition with modernity, and technical maturity with youthful freshness, Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley are two of the fastest-rising stars on today's international folk circuit. Born and raised in the northern Scottish islands of Orkney, the twin sisters began performing together - Jennifer on fiddle. Hazel on guitar and piano - when barely into their teens. A decade or so later, their fan-base stretches around the world, built up through an increasingly hectic schedule of tours and festival appearances in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Far East.
This universal audience appeal reflects both the calibre of their music - a sparkling blend of traditional, contemporary and original material, invigorated with jazz, blues and ragtime flavours - and the effervescent charm of their performances. Their recorded output, too - from their 1991 debut Dancing Fingers, its successor The Watch Stone (1994), their third album Huldreland to their fourth and latest Mither 0' The Sea - reveals their growing assurance and sophistication, with their own compositions, chiefly written by Jennifer, making up an ever-greater share of their repertoire.
The Wrigleys' recent itinerary has taken in the Scottish Folk Festival Tour of Germany, the North American Folk Alliance, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary Folk Festivals, the San Francisco Celtic Festival, the California World Music Festival, the Evolving Tradition festival in London, and several appearances at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. Extended world tours in 1997 and 1999 took them through Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, Australasia and North America, with another, similar trip planned for 2001. Career highlights include Jennifer's winning the BBC Young Tradition Award, the UK's premier accolade for new folk talent, in 1996, and a collaboration with top contemporary classical percussionist and composer Evelyn Glennie, commissioned for the 1998 Northlands Festival.
The sisters are also actively involved with Live Music Now, a charity founded by Yehudi Menuhin to take live music to communities who rarely get the chance to experience it, and in 1997 they performed for the organisation's 25th anniversary concert at London's Barbican Centre, before an audience that included Prince Charles. The sisters are working on a long-planned book and CD collection of traditional and contemporary tunes from their native Orkney, the first such project featuring the islands' music. Playing as a duo, though, is still what comes most naturally - they are twins, after all - with the close-knit attunement between them lending their sound a range, depth and spontaneity that's uniquely their own. Following Huldreland's collaborations with an array of distinguished guests, Mither 0' the Sea returns the musical focus to this unique two-way interaction, resulting in the Wrigleys' richest and most rewarding album yet.
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