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Folk Festival 2013 / Whooping it up at The Legion

Shetland's own nearly-all-girl band Birls Aloud set off the night in rip-roaring style. Photo Olivia Abbott

On the second night of her maiden voyage through the finest folk festival in the world, Olivia Abbott headed for Lerwick.

The second night of the folk festival began in rip-roaring Shetland style at the British Legion, with the nearly-all-girl band Birls Aloud.

In fine style (with the help of a double bass and a piano) the five female fiddlers took us through haunting ballads and hop, skipping lively tunes, plus a bit of Norwegian waltz thrown in, with perfectly synchronised violins.

It turned out that the youngest of the five – the impressive, just-turned-15-year-old Sophie Moore – has recently been crowned Senior Young Traditional Fiddler of the Year, and she performed a quick solo set, playing the tunes that won her the title.

Paddy Callaghan (centre) with Adam Brown and Danny Boyle. Photo Olivia Abbott

BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year, Paddy Callaghan, was up next, accompanied by Adam Brown and Danny Boyle. They set off with a lively set of jigs, then, with apologies to Niamh Ni Charra and her band, who were waiting in the wings to come on later, they did a set of polkas from Ireland.

Much, it seemed, to their surprise, the boys have been invited to appear on Songs of Praise – “Obviously our music is angelic,” joked Callaghan, “though we’ve yet to find a religious jig.”

Instead they have adapted the hymn Be Thou my Vision, and it got its first public outing here in Shetland. I’ve never heard a hymn played on guitar and button accordion before and while it may not be angelic, it was certainly heavenly.

Adam Brown – looking and sounding for all the world like a lost member of a boy band who’d stumbled into a folk gig by mistake – treated us to a solo song, and then got out his bodhran for a set of reels.

No member of any boy band I’ve seen ever played a bodhran like that. All the more surprising then to discover that rather than being from the peat bogs of Ireland, he’s actually an English lad from Newmarket.

Orkney's Brian Cromarty sings his heart out with local lass Jenny Keldie on fiddle. Photo Olivia Abbott

The Orkney-Shetland collaboration of Brian Cromarty and Jennie Keldie changed the tempo, bringing a light touch of swing to the stage with their guitar and piano combo. There was no mistaking Cromarty’s distinctive voice, familiar from SaltfishForty, or the Orkney feel of the songs he played from his homeland.

Highlight of that set was undoubtedly Keldie’s beautiful rendition of Richard Thompson’s The Dimming of the Day. The hairs on the back of my neck and arms were standing up.

Niamh Ni Charra and band ran through the same set as they gave us in Voe on Thursday night, and the audience in Lerwick appreciated it just as well.

My favourite part last night was the set of tunes from the new album – none the worse for Ni Charra not being able to play both concertina and fiddle at the same time outside of the studio.

Niamh Ni Charra and her band at the Legion. Photo Olivia Abbott

In fact, the concertina and Matthew Griffin’s guitar complemented each other perfectly, and needed no other accompaniment. And when the flute and the bodhran joined in, the audience were whooping away again – “the vocal equivalent of dancing” as Ni Charra called it.

The Rambling Boys of Pleasure - more sensitive than they look! Photo Olivia Abbott

Last up were The Rambling Boys of Pleasure, proving how deceptive appearances can be. Looking for all the world like a bunch of bully boys from London’s East End, their exteriors belied the musical sensitivity and talent inside.

With powerful tunes and vocals – not least Gino Lupari’s flawed and haunting voice – and a great deal of silly banter (the funniest moment was when Gino told himself a joke he’d never heard before and couldn’t get himself together to play for minutes) they hit an infectious note and had toes tapping and hands clapping all around the room.

It’s a bit disconcerting, like seeing Yozzer Hughes playing violin, accompanied by Phil Grant on the button accordion, but never mind what they looked like, their playing, too, was heavenly.

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