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Reviews / Folk Fest 2011: A wealth of talent

Festival Foy British Legion

Sunday 1 May

After an intense three days of music the 31st Shetland Folk Festival culminated with the Foy – a mix of three venues, most of the visiting artists and a lot of eager fans, which make this one opportunity not to be missed.

The Lerwick British Legion was my choice of venue and the sold out crowd waited in anticipation for the show to start. We were not disappointed, and with (almost) military precision were presented with each visiting act for a 15 minute taster session.

First up were the Scottish Islands Project – a celebration of the year of Scotland’s Islands with music from Shetland, Orkney and the western isles comprising of Wrigley and the Reel, Eilidh Mackenzie and Band, and Ryan Couper and Tim Edey, who provided a fantastic start to the evening. The guitar skills of Ryan and Tim are second to none.

Next on stage were Pokey La Farge & the South City Three, an American grass roots band led by the St Louis musician who captivated the crowd from start to finish, treating us to a song from their new album “Middle of Nowhere” and the impressive “Head to Toe”, which Pokey dedicated to ‘all the Shetland girls’, much to the crowd’s delight.

The Fred Morrison Trio followed, playing an eclectic mix of bagpipes and bluegrass, with an extra highlight when Tim Edey and Gordon Gunn were asked to join the band on stage for an exciting rendition of “The Wild Cat”.

Next up, the ‘hillbilly hurricane’ that is The Wilders blew the audience away.  A version of “If you’ve got the money honey, I’ve got the time” had the audience joining in, while a waltz written by Howard Iceberg showcased their musical talent and left the audience wanting more…unfortunately they were out of time.

The Oonagh Derby Band features Gerry O’ Connor and Gino Lupari, who had the audience in stitches with his “Love Song for John” during which he had to stop playing because he was laughing so much, as he informed the audience that “I play this every day and it still gets me”.

Gerry O’Connor is the master of the banjo, and his intricate playing was a delight to observe. Oonagh Derby and her amazingly powerful voice had the audience tapping and swaying, especially to her upbeat number “Silver Shoes”.

The foot stomping and energetic band L’Angelus from Louisiana arrived on stage with so much energy having played the whole weekend, I wanted to ask them their secret.  Expert musicians and lively entertainers they really lifted the audience.  With a mix of swamp pop and fiddle tunes they were a great end to the first half and got the biggest cheer of the night so far.

After a quick comfort break we were back and Genticorum were up. Hailing from Quebec, this band showcased expert fiddle and flute playing, first class vocals and foot stomping percussion.

Breabach then made their second appearance in Shetland after a busy year, which included being nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. The diverse range of music, the twin bagpipes and the flawless movement between playing different instruments make this band a real treat to watch and listen to.

The Harald Haugaard Quartet featuring Helene Blume were next on stage. After a slight delay (the first of the night) we were treated to the distinct sound of Danish folk music, accompanied by Helene’s beautiful vocals. Harald is hailed as one of world’s best folk fiddlers and with this set he showed us why, through the energetic music of “The King and I” and the haunting lyrics and melodies of “Once and Always”.

Things slowed down with The Chris Newman Trio. The relaxing pace of “Closing Time” drew the audience in, only to find ourselves being whipped up by the rapid pace of a 12 bar blues in G major.

After a few more delays, which is to be expected when you have 14 completely different bands sharing the stage in a few short hours, we were introduced to the “powerhouse of female talent” that is The Shee.

Featuring a mandolin, a harp, an accordion, a fiddle, a flute, clog dancing and amazing vocals, this unique group are Scotland’s newest musical talent. They dedicated their final song “Down In The Ditch” to band mate Shona Mooney, who was unable to attend the festival. This upbeat number was written by Shona when she was trying to do a three point turn on a single track road. I think the title explains itself.

Findlay Napier and the Bar Room Mountaineers are leading the Scottish nu-folk revolution and Findlay had the audience in stitches to “George”, a song written for his friend who used to get into fights at the weekend so he could use the local police station as a B&B and get a taxi home the next day. He then invited The Shee, and the entire audience if they wanted, on stage to join them playing “The Weight”, which has been the anthem of the weekend.

The Norwegian/Swedish quartet Sver followed and told the audience that this was their second time in the Legion that day.and as it now felt like home they would like to stay. We were first treated to some expertly played, supercharged hardanger fiddle playing. Their second song started slowly, but kicked off into the second half with a bang, and Sver received the biggest applause of the night.

A quick raffle, and some delighted audience members later, Beltaine were on stage to finish the evening.

This Polish supergroup mix traditional music with a modern twist, and having been blown away at the Spanging Spree on Friday, I was delighted to have the opportunity to see them again in a more intimate setting. They did not disappoint with an energetic start, before slowing down to show off each of their musical skills and then a rip roaring finish, they were the ideal band to close what was an astounding night of music.

As one reveller said we are so lucky to have this wealth of talent showcased for us each year.  Shetland Folk Festival 2011, it’s been superb – now onto the club to get the dancing shoes on for the last time…and then it’s definitely time to sleep.

Natalie Leask