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Folk Festival 2013 / Up for it at Whiteness & Weisdale

Leon Hunt n Tet (as in quartet here) having a 'bloody excellent time'. Photo Olivia Abbott

Three nights in and our reviewer Olivia Abbott’s stamina is being stretched, but the west side audience are really getting in the swing of it.

Sisters Catherine and Sarah Brown made a slightly nervous start to Saturday night at Whiteness & Weisdale Hall, but they disarmed the crowd with their obvious delight at being up on the stage.

“We only put in an application for a joke,” said Catherine, the dark-haired, glamorous sister. “It was a complete surprise to be given a slot!”

They got the crowd tapping their feet “to keep us in time” during the march, and as well as fiddling and playing the piano, sang a sweet version of Karine Polwart’s Follow the Heron, with a nice bit of harmonising.

Young sisters Catherine and Sarah Brown only applied to play as a joke, bringing a Scottish flavour to the night. Photo Olivia Abbott

The duo, who moved here from the Black Isle, had more of a Scottish than Shetland sound, but finished their act with a Shetland set – “We thought it was appropriate, given that we’re the ‘local’ act!”

They were followed by a distinctly different act with a local connection going in the opposite direction. Heart o’ the Run’s fiddle player Ashley Leaper is from Mossbank, and she brought her band mates up from Glasgow to perform.

Once the audience had got over the shock of electric guitars and bass, and a distinctly un-folky sound – more rock-pop with a bit of grunge thrown in – they got right into the spirit of things.

Heart o’ the Run looked like nothing so much as the cast of one of those American movies where a bunch of drop-out schoolkids are given new meaning in life by a teacher who gets them to dance/sing/play basketball/create a band.

They obviously had a fabulous time, and – I hope – weren’t taking their rock’n’roll posing too seriously, with skinny, splay-legged bass player, a drummer who took his shirt off within the first few minutes, and a guitarist who decided to do an impromptu audience walk-through. This Whiteness & Weisdale audience, though, were up for anything it seemed, and were singing and cheering along. They clearly loved it and the hall was positively buzzing by now.

Mossbank fiddler Ashley Leaper (right) and her mates Heart o' the Run got the hall rocking, rather than reeling. Photo Olivia Abbott

Maybe it was something to do with the fact that there was so much daylight in the hall that made the atmosphere more expansive and friendly. Maybe it was because the performers were so clearly up for it. Maybe it was just because it was Saturday night. Whatever, there was absolutely no doubt that people were going to be up and dancing to Son Yambu.

And, still in her crippling-looking shoes, lead singer Yuri Moreno Soria, with her rich, warm voice, got her wish this time, with one couple dancing real salsa and half the audience up and lining the walls to get a bit of space to move.

Cuban festival stars Son Yambu managed to get the westside crowd onto their feet, with the help of Ben Somers standing in for their missing brass section. Photo Olivia Abbott

Son Yambu make a great noise – a mix of Spanish passion and African rhythm that is true to the original roots of Cuban son. Even with just five of the band here (they couldn’t all make it to Shetland), they’re a powerful force. But tonight, for their final song, their lack of a brass section was made up for with a guest appearance on clarinet by Ben Somers from the Leon Hunt n-Tet – and you realised, great though this was, how much better it would be to see the whole combo.

Then it was a complete change of style – if not tempo – for a bit of bluegrass with Leon Hunt and his ever-changing number of fellow musicians (which is what the ‘n’ stands for – it’s n-Tet as in ‘octet’ or ‘quartet’ not ‘n’ as in ‘and’ as I originally thought). Tonight they were just four, but so much talent on stage together at one time probably isn’t often seen.

With Hunt himself on banjo, Somers now on double bass, guitarist Jason Titley and mandolin player ‘Hippy’ Joe Hyman – acting up, wild-eyed in scruffy dungarees and straggly hair and beard – I have never seen so many fingers moving so fast. This was awesome stuff.

They, too, were clearly having a great time – “a bloody excellent time” to quote Somers – and were funny with it.

Hippy Joe Hyman (guess which one) and Jason Titley can play and joke at the same time. Photo Olivia Abbott

“The more you drink, the better we sound!” said Hyman in his fake Appalachian accent.

“We’re going to let Hippy Joe sing a song for you,” said Somers.

“What’s the song about Joe?”

“It’s about shooting your wife!”

They treated us to songs by Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe and Doc Watson and some traditional American tunes, interspersed with jokes and silly banter, as well as more singing from Hyman – “This one’s about dating a girl with a speech impediment.”

“I don’t know why he’s talking in an American accent,” said Titley.

“I’m from Essex!” confessed Hyman, much to the crowd’s hilarious delight.

But over and above all the silliness there was some superlative musicianship, and nothing could top this quartet (for tonight anyway) for me.

So, although the Whiteness crowd was definitely the most up-for-it I’ve seen at the festival so far, this reviewer had to call it a day. I therefore didn’t see the last act, the Rambling Boys of Pleasure, but if you weren’t there and want to know what they’re like, you can read yesterday’s review.

And if you were there, you certainly don’t need me to tell you how good they are.

Check out all our folk festival coverage at http://www.shetnews.co.uk/features/folk-festival-2013/