THE PERFECT antidote to the cold May weather was a hot and steamy night of international grooves, as dancing Davie Gardner discovered on Friday night.
Over its 33 year life span there have been many two-word phrases used to describe the phenomenon that is Shetland’s Folk Festival.
Almost all have, perhaps not surprisingly, been hugely complimentary – even if, at times, the descriptive over-exuberance of many festival-goers would restrict repeating many of them publicly here.
But one phrase that has applied to virtually every festival since its inception is ‘cultural eclecticism’. And Friday night’s concert in Lerwick’s Clickimin Centre more than epitomised that approach.
In place of the pounding of sport related feet, every inch of the centre literally vibrated to a variety of vibes and red-hot rhythms from around the world.
Cajun, zydeco and creole direct from the Louisiana heartland; highly charged and contagious Cuban son rhythms, hot (even in this cold weather) from the backstreets of Santiago de Cuba (via London); a frenzy of fuelled-up fiddling from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and even pulsating Afro-Shetlandic music and dance, courtesy of our very own Aestawast – who were handed the challenging task of kicking off Friday night’s internationally infused proceedings.
If Joy Duncan and her team were in any way fazed by appearing alongside such exalted ‘world music’ company they certainly didn’t show it. They simply enjoyed themselves as always and the crowd responded accordingly.
Fiddle playing comes as naturally as breathing to many Cape Bretoners, but even by that island’s lofty standards Coig (Gaelic for five) are literally something again!!!
Five acclaimed, award winning solo musicians in their own right, in one explosive, only occasional ‘coming together’.
Fiddler’s Chrissy Crowley, Rachel Davis and Colin Grant (who appeared at last year’s festival with the hugely popular ‘Spragg Session’) were joined by keyboard assaulting wizard Jason Roach and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Darren McMullen.
As befits their more normal solo statuses, each took it in turn to “lead the ceilidh bus” as Colin aptly put it – but it’s when everything came together group-and-arrangement-wise that the blue touch paper was really lit!!!
Their modest and engaging approach with the audience proved a winner too, while the music was a wonderful mix of finesse, fire and fury, accompanied by spine tingling vocals from Rachel Davis and a short burst of step-dancing from Colin and Chrissy to round everything off more than nicely.
“We’ve had a great time so far,” Colin told the audience, “…but it feels like the weekend’s just getting wound up”!!
If by that he means that perhaps the best is yet to come from Coig, then some of us are in for a real treat indeed. Collectively they are a Cape Breton trad triumph and an undoubted festival highlight for many, I’ll warrant.
“You’ve had to pay for your tickets, but the dancing is free,” encourages Yuriselys Moreno Soria the striking, leggy lead vocalist with Cuban combo Son Yambu, who bring the authentic son music of their native island to our islands for the first time.
Son is the pre-cursor of modern day salsa, so it wasn’t long before Son Yambu’s rhythmic grooves, their unrelentingly up-tempo set (which includes a Cuban take on the Gloria Gaynor hit I Will Survive) and their vivacious stage presence led the, until now, reserved Clickimin audience to gyratingly jam-pack the limited dancing space the venue has to offer.
In short, Shetland’s response to the band fell little short of ecstatic. Son Yambo offered up pure ‘feelgood music’, as warm as the climate of the country that originally spawned it, while the band had a wonderful personal rapport with their audience too.
“We are in shock because the people here are so amazing,” bassist Ray Crespo told me after the gig. “We are coming back again for sure – we love it”.
Based on the evidence of the local response those feelings are mutual for sure, Ray.
The unenviable task of following both the Cubans and the raffle fell to Louisiana’s Cajun ambassador Cedric Watson – who was joined here by the wonderfully named Desiree Champagne on washboard and UK-based Ryan Poullard on accordion and drums.
Watson is a true master of the Cajun accordion and a more than accomplished fiddle player and vocalist into the bargain and, yes, the music was magnificent, but sadly he generally failed to re-ignite the Clickimin audience – who by now were clearly up for more jumping around.
Perhaps it was his more restrained and offbeat brand of cajun, zydeco, creole and blues, or possibly his on-stage approach of also turning his set into a cajun music history lesson or more likely that following such an adrenaline charged, sweat drenched set from the Cubans it was always going to be a challenging task for him to maintain the atmosphere, especially this late at night.
Outwith a quick burst of dancing during a Cajun two-step, well deserved, warm appreciation would be the best way to describe the audience response.
Undoubtedly in other, perhaps more intimate, circumstances and on another occasion he’d have been onto a winner – but it just didn’t really happen for him.
So having been around the world, we were back again winding our way out into the less than tropical Lerwick night. But the warmth and delight of this particular concert more than offset that, that’s for sure.
Please follow our extensive coverage of the 2013 Shetland Folk Festival at: www.shetnews.co.uk/features/folk-festival-2013/
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