Matthew Dennison meets the Orkney mandolin man
HE view from Dick Levens’s workshop stretches across the Pentland Firth to Dunnet Head, the most northerly tip of mainland Scotland. In the distance, the mountains of Ross-shire fringe the horizon. There are no trees to obscure the outlook, as Mr Levens lives on South Ronaldsay, the southernmost of the almost naturally treeless Orkney Islands.
For the past 20 years, Mr Levens has lived in a former schoolhouse outside the village of St Margaret’s Hope on the north coast of the island. This sturdy, late-18th-century stone building, ornamented with typical
Tcrow-step gables, counts among its alumni William Mcgonagall, notorious as the writer of some of the worst doggerel produced in 19th-century Britain.
The musicality or otherwise of Mcgonagall’s execrable verse is a moot point, but, thanks to Mr Levens, musicianship of a different variety has found its home in this windswept corner of Scotland. Mr Levens makes electric mandolins. He undertakes bespoke commissions for clients internationally and also produces standard models, including his Long Gone Lonesome Four String electric mandolin, developed over a number of years. In addition, he has made electric ukuleles and banjos.