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Folk Festival 2013 / Folk Festival: Musical youth

Vair are (from left to right): Jonny Polson, Erik Peterson, Lewie Peterson and Ryan Couper

AS WELL AS the big names that come to visit for the folk festival, it’s also an important showcase for young, upcoming talent – and the Shetland music scene is vibrant and buzzing, as Olivia Abbott finds out

There are well-known names from all over the world coming to play at this year’s Shetland Folk Festival, but it’s the mix of local and international artists that makes this four-day music extravaganza special– and the fact that it gives a platform for young island musicians to show off their talents.

“The festival has always been geared towards locals and especially young people, from day one,” says Davie Henderson, a festival committee member since 1989, who is responsible for booking the acts.

As well as being a great opportunity for youngsters to get on stage, a spot at the festival is a great learning experience for them.

“We make them do a bit of work to get a spot,” says Henderson. “They have to come with a bio of what they do, they have to make a recording – even just a rough one – of their sound and we make them put together a stage plan.

“These are the sort of basic things they have to learn if they’re going to have a music career and apply to play somewhere.”

Arthur Nicholson - playing guitar since he could pick up an instrument.

Many young Shetlanders are grateful for the opportunities the festival has given them.

Lewie Peterson is one quarter of the band Vair, whose ages range from 27 to 21. They’ve been together for just over a year and their third-ever gig was at last year’s folk festival.

“It was a bit of a baptism of fire,” recalls Peterson. “We were part of the Saturday night line-up at the Clickimin, with some of the big, visiting acts, and we were the only local act. It was a hell of a way to start, to make our folk festival debut!”

It proved to be a great learning experience though. “It was brilliant, a really good motivator. Knowing that we were going to be up in front of 1,000 people, we really tried to put something special together.”

Young singer-songwriter Chloe Robertson, just 17, makes her solo debut at the festival this year.

“It’s a really good opportunity,” she says. “There are so many good artists and bands there; to play with such high quality people is a big confidence boost. I’m really looking forward to it.”

And there’s no shortage of young talent in Shetland to call upon, says Davie Henderson.

Chloe Robertson: 'A really good opportunity'.

“We’ve got fiddle players, guitar players, mandolin and banjo, and there are a lot of young people getting into the singing nowadays. I think the music scene is much, much wider now.”

Arthur Nicolson, 27, is one local musician who is very familiar with the festival. He and his dad Brian, owner of High Level Music in Lerwick, created the Young Guitar Group, which will perform as part of the youth concert on the Saturday afternoon.   “We do concerts with the kids every so often,” he says. “It gets them out and about playing, and builds their confidence. Most of the youngsters we teach play in the youth concert.”

This is quite some feat – the age of his pupils ranges from about nine to 16, so finding things that all ages can play, is “kind of difficult”.   Nicolson himself has been playing guitar since he could pick up an instrument, and over the years has performed with various different bands. This year he too performs solo for the first time.

He sees the relationship between the festival and young musicians as mutually beneficial.

“It’s important that young musicians come through to preserve what’s going on here musically,” he says.

“It’s good for them to get to play at the festival, and it’s also good for the festival to give musicians the opportunity, because some of them will come back and play here for years to come. I’m very grateful to the festival for giving us a chance to keep playing.”

There are also plenty of opportunities at the festival for youngsters new to music to find out if it’s something they might take to.

“This year we’re doing a Come and Try Penny Whistle workshop,” says Davie Henderson.

“We’ve also got some of the professional musicians coming up to host workshops – in bhoran for example. One of the professionals coming up is a band from Cuba and they’re doing a Cuban drumming-style workshop, so that might attract a lot of the youngsters!”

There’s no doubt it can spur young musicians on to higher things. Chloe Robertson is off down south for a fairly major gig later this year.

“I’m going to Glusstonbury! Hopefully that’ll be a good way to get my own stuff out there.”

So the festival teaches young musicians and gives them a chance to play and hone their act, but just as importantly, it provides inspiration.

Says Lewie Peterson: ‘You’re meeting your heroes, playing tunes with them, and performing with them. You’re meeting talented musicians from different genres and sometimes meeting those people sets something off in your head, an idea for something or playing an instrument in a certain way, even the way people carry themselves on stage.

“On Shetland it would be quite easy for things to go stale if you didn’t have things like the folk festival.”

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