‘I met so many interesting people…no wonder I thought the place was interesting’
In the publication St Magnus Festival: a celebration (2002, Orcadian), Gunnie Moberg’s photographs of musicians, composers, artists and writers pepper every page. You can get a sense of how important Gunnie and her camera were, and still are, to the festival. You can also get the sense of an energetic photographer, working in a pre-digital age, shooting lots of film and meeting lots of people. Gunnie was invited to contribute a piece on her relationship to the festival, here is the unedited text, complete with original spellings. Reproduced with kind permission from Pamela Beasant, compiler & editor.
One of the reasons I first came to Orkney was George Mackay Brown. We had a mutual friend, Kulgin, who had introduced me to his writing and we had some correspondence before I came. When a friend, Siggie [Sigrid Mavor, now Appleby] suggested we went up to Orkney, I jumped at the idea.
We sailed from Leith and arrived in Kirkwall on a cold March day in 1975. It rained, hailed and the wind blowing 60 miles per hour the whole three days we were there but still, you could feel the place was special.
Going to visit George, one night, standing in Mayburn Court looking up, we found his house in darkness. A handsome man stopped in the street. ‘Are you looking for George? I think I can help you’. We were taken to ‘Hopedale’ [home of the Bevans] by Archie Bevan. There, we were welcomed by his wife Elisabeth and by a roaring fire, with a mug of homebrew in his hand, sat George. It was to be the start of a long friendship with the Bevan and George. I think I must have decided there and then to move to Orkney but with a husband and four young boys I had to be doubely sure.
I came back the same Autumn, with one of my boys, Paul, to do an exhibition in the Kirkwall Library, not of photographs but of batik wall hangings with celtic and norse design. We stayed at ‘Hopedale’ [home of the Bevans] and during that fortnight I met so many interesting people, both there and at my exhibition, people who was going to make an impact on our lives later. Gerry and Nora Meyer, John Broom, Ian and Jean MacInnes, Arnie and Ola Tait, Andy and Glenys Alsop and Ernest Marwick. No wonder I thought the place was interesting! Archie and Elisabeth’s hospitality seemed boundeles at ‘Hopedale’, it was a wonder not a dozen tramps were staying there too!
I also met Max that Autumn. I read in my diery Sept. 3rd ’75, Maxwell Daviees here 9(Hopedale), with his parents. Max has light. Reading this now, it makes me smile. I sound so young but a good description of Max all the same. I see, we also made two visits to Bunnertoon [Peter Maxwell Davies’ cottage in Rackwick, Hoy].
Moved up with my family the following year, 1st of March 1976. At Scrabster the weater was so bad the St Ola coulden’t get in and it wasn’t much better the next day, when we sailed. Everything looked grey, where did my family think I was taking them? However, as we sailed in to Stromness, the sky opend up and the sun shone on all the little stone cottages and piers, thank Gud. That was the last time we were going to see the sun for a month! The wind raged, sea sprey was coming over Marwick Head but we were cosy in our rented cottage in Birsay.
I met Judy Arnold, Max’s manager, that Spring, the beginning of another long festival. Although we only meet properly once a year, our Sunday mornings of the festival is set aside for catching up on news and the progress of my garden, a time we cherish together. Judy has been a tremendous help with photographing the famous. In the early days, I felt awkward ‘butting in’ for pictures. She had the most wonderful way of introdusing me. ‘This is Gunnie Moberg‘, a long pause would follow (like you must know who she is), ‘she would like to take your picture’ (like you should feel honoured). Well, that is how it sounded to me and it always boosted my confidence. She also provided me with scedules for rehearsals, when performers would arrive and places where I should turn up for a good picture.
I can still remember the excitement of the early days of the festival. What a start it was, with the Martyrdom of St Magnus, in the saint’s own Cathedral. The fires of London would be up every year and their rehersals were always very lively! Mary Thomas who gave many memorably staged performances, well, one can go on and on.
At ‘Hopedale’ everyone seemed to congregate, the first Festival Club! If not staying there, certainly eating, drinking, resting, telephone in constant use and interviews taking place. After performances, discussions would go on well into the night and often a walk out to Breckness as the sun was coming up. Everybody seemed to be on a ‘high’ all the time.
Apart from enjoying ‘Hopedale’, I would go to all the rehearsals photographing, then to the performances an in between cooking for guests and family. Developing films and printing was done at night, ready for the news media the next day (a trip to the airport with urgent pictures was often on the cards too). We lived down the road from Archie and Elisabeth, and the ‘spill overs’ would often come along too and there were many merry afternoons.
And to end it all, there were Max’s parties at Bunnertoon (how many sandwiches were made at ‘Hopedale’?!). Everyone was in a holiday mood as Stevie’s boat took us across to Hoy. At Moness pier, Jack Rendall was waiting with his car to ferry people across to Rackwick. Many of us would walk through the beautiful vally. Then the climb up to Max’s, to be stuffed with food and drink and the sun always shone! It was a merry bunch who got off the boat in Stromness some eight hours later, and many farewells were said ‘until next year’.
As the festival grew bigger and bigger I found I couldn’t keep up and decided to stop recording events on its 20th anniversary. I still do the odd pictures and always the Festival poet for my own collection of writers, one day an interesting exhibition, I hope.
Many picture editors have said to me ‘you must travel a lot to have such a big library of famous artists’ and I say ‘no, they all come to me’!
The Festival has been a great plus to my photography and it certainly is an added bonus for living in Orkney.
Gunnie Moberg 2002