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Reviews / Folk Fest 2011: Delights in the dark

British Legion

Friday 29 April

Wayfarer/The Chris Newman Trio/Northmavine Fiddle & Accordion Club/Oonagh Derby Band/Sver

The Lerwick Legion is one of the better festival venues. It has that old folk club vibe about it: it’s dark without being dingy, and the artists are placed close to the audience, each able to enjoy the delights of the vast and well appointed bar.

Such surroundings made an apt backdrop for Friday’s concert, which began with the laid-back vibes of local group Wayfarer.

Making their first festival appearance, they delivered a soothing set of prog-folk instrumentals that featured contemporary synthesizer riffs alongside more traditional accordion and pipe playing. Their best moment came with a version of Peter Green’s Albatross, featuring and admirable display of Alan McKay’s deft handling of the acoustic guitar.

The night got even better for guitar fans as next act The Chris Newman Trio opened with a fast-paced ditty, appropriately titled Fretwork.

No stranger to the festival, Newman bonded well with the audience through anecdotes on the eclectic array of influences that have shaped his music. Tonight these included interpretations of old fiddle standards written by James Scott Skinner, up against self-penned works that left few genres untouched. Everything seemed to be here – salsa, klezmer, jazz – and together allowed for some effortless playing by Newman and his accompanists on guitar and bass.

Next up were the Northmavine Fiddle and Accordion Club. There’s not much to say here, other than that the festival wouldn’t be the same without a bunch of smartly dressed and super-talented old masters playing the fiddle and box together. They were great.

The concert then moved toward a more mainstream sound as the Oonagh Derby Band performed a set centred on the vocals of this recent arrival on the folk circuit. Her band is a who’s who of the contemporary Irish folk scene, including bhodran player Gino Lupari and banjo player/fiddler Gerry O’Connor.

Incidentally, these two are also appearing at the festival together in their own right, and according to the punters at Gulberwick last night they really shouldn’t be missed.

Tonight Derby had the audience in her hand, though at times she looked as if she has yet to find her place on the stage. This is no surprise, given that she has only been performing for two years.

It might also be because she is surrounded by such animated and experienced musicians. Whatever the case, she’s bound to get more comfortable with time. Her voice is beautiful and her songs don’t shy away from bearing the heart of their creator. Such personal writing takes boldness, and even more so when it comes to performance.

Last act of the night Sver brought the house down in the time-honoured spirit of the festival. They played a ferocious set of fiddle led tunes that took in the traditional music of Norway and Sweden.

They were powered along by the jaggy grooves of the band’s spirited percussionist, who at times hammered the skins with nothing but his bare hands. At the end of their set a rapturous audience loudly demanded an encore, which was duly delivered before all headed to Islesburgh and continued the fun at the festival club.

Jordan Ogg