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Folk Festival 2013 / Thirty three years and still going strong

This year, Jes Kroman (left) visits the festival with his latest project, the Fionia Stringband.

DANISH fiddle player Jes Kroman returns to the Shetland Folk Festival this year with his new project, the Fionia Stringband. He talks to Olivia Abbott about his memories of the very first festival, and his first-ever visit to Shetland.

Shetland Folk Festival has a number of stalwart performers – and no doubt there are at least as many if not more stalwart attendees – but probably the stalwart of stalwarts has to be Danish fiddler Jes Kroman.

Jes played at the first festival 33 years ago, and is back again this year, having been here “about 15 times” in between. “I know that at one point I was the musician who had been up the most times,” he says.

He came to Shetland the first time as one half of the duo V Poulsen Kapel on the invitation of Tom Anderson, the late founder of the festival. Tom had seen some rather bad Danish performers at the Edinburgh festival, and been advised to invite Jes and his colleague Sonnich Lydom to hear the real thing.

“So I got a phone call,” says Jes, “asking ‘What would you think about going to a festival in Shetland? OK, get on that flight, that day at that time,’ and that was all we knew. We just bought the tickets and we got up there.”

The two had never even heard of Shetland before, but they received a rapturous welcome and had a wonderful time.

“It was fantastic to come up there,” Jes says. “I feel really privileged that I was there at the first festival.

“It was organised so you stayed at private homes on the islands near the venues, so every night you stayed in a new place.

“It’s a very big part of my memory, all these people that we stayed with that first year. I loved it. We had parties and we talked to all sorts of people.”

Jes enjoyed Shetland so much, he has even come back outside of the festival for holidays. “The most remarkable thing was that I was there the year you had summer!’ he jokes. ‘It was absolutely fantastic. Very hot.”

Jes Kroman (left) performing at the first Shetland Folk Festival in 1981 - Photo: Jes Kromann collection.

This year Jes is here with his latest project, the Fionia Stringband. A trio, they play traditional Danish music, and Jes is effusive about the talents of his fellow band members.

“Theis, the piano player, is absolutely the best piano player in this country at the moment. And Michael, the fiddler, is in my ears and eyes probably the best fiddler in the country. I’m only up there with them because they need somebody to carry the suitcases!”

Of course, this is false modesty – Jes describes his playing as “farmer style”, but he is no mean fiddler himself.

He made Canadian folk music known all over Scandinavia in the 1980s with the band La Bastringue, and was nominated for two Danish music awards in 2006.

What does Jes think of the Shetland music scene? He has absolutely no doubt about the talent, but he’s not sure the style is for him.

“The speed that the young people in Shetland play… it’s too fast. Way, way too fast. They are very talented – Kevin Henderson is one of my favourites, he’s a wonderful fiddler, and all the boys from Fiddlers Bid are absolutely fantastic and nice guys as well – but I have a problem with speed. I don’t think it makes the music any better.”

He is looking forward to discovering some new talent himself during the festival too, and thinks that’s one of the best things about it.

“Often when I’ve been up, I’ve not known any of the other acts, so you think, oy, what is that, and you go along and discover fantastic new acts. You get so surprised, so that’s really nice. I’m looking forward to that.”

The 33rd festival kicks off on Thursday when all visiting musicians are on stage during the official opening at the Islesburgh Community Centre, starting at 1pm. A full festival programme can be found at www.shetlandfolkfestival.com

Please follow our extensive coverage of the 2013 Shetland Folk Festival at: http://www.shetnews.co.uk/features/folk-festival-2013/