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Folk Festival 2013 / The Clickimin crescendo

Canadian fiddle and step dance powerhouse April Verch with her band stood out as one of the highlights of the four day festival. Photo Olivia Abbott

It’s been a long weekend for our stalwart reviewer Olivia Abbott, but she made it through to the end and, as a veteran of folk festivals elsewhere, she offers her verdict on ours.

The 33rd Shetland Folk Festival finished off in rip-roaring, foot-stomping, up-and-dancing, hand-clapping style at the Clickimin on Sunday night.

It has been a long weekend of music from all over the world, a great deal of fun, many late nights and even later mornings, plenty of dancing and singing, but most importantly the highest quality musicianship.

One sentiment that kept being repeated by the visiting artistes was how much they love to come here – how friendly it is, how it’s everybody’s favourite festival.

I’ve been to more folk festivals than I care to count, from the best-known in the world to the most obscure, and I have to say, for friendliness it is definitely the tops. And the performers returned that friendliness and regard in spades, treating the Shetland audiences to a rich variety of musical styles and influences.

One of the difficulties of a halls-based festival like Shetland is the inability to be in two places at once. Which is why the last-night foys are such a great idea.

It must be exhausting for the visiting performers, who each have to perform three times in the evening (it’s a bit like getting them to do the guizer squad thing, if on a much smaller level), but it means the audience get a chance to catch the acts they’ve missed on the other nights, if only for much shorter sets.

It was a particularly special night for one of the well-known members of the festival committee and organisers, Mhari Pottinger, who should have been compering. She gave birth to a baby son the night before, so many congratulations to her.

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It was also a special night for 11 year old accordionist Niamh Wylie from Nesting, who joined Paddy Callaghan, Danny Boyle and Adam Brown on stage to perform a waltz she’d written.

Of the acts I’d not yet seen, standouts were Coig, who probably win the title of best-looking band of the festival (sorry, Skerryvore). Frontman Colin Grant looks like a less-rugged-but-none-the-less-sexy Benicio del Toro and, along with bandmates Rachel Davis and Chrissy Cowley, managed to make step dancing sexy. They clearly had a great time and their infectious North American good humour infused the crowd.

April Verch wasn’t to be outdone in the dancing stakes – her fiddling was effusive and she couldn’t seem to stop herself jigging about as she played. Then she really went for it: I can honestly say I’ve never seen anybody step-dancing while playing the fiddle (expertly) and spinning round and round in circles at the same time before.

And fair play to Skerryvore, they’re a bit Runrig for my tastes, but they managed to make the bagpipes sexy, and they got the crowd up and dancing – and once they’d started they didn’t want to stop.

And Shetland has had its own unique effect on the performers too:

We’ve turned Coig’s Colin Grant from knucklehead to Mucklehead; the Leon Hunt n-Tet’s Jason Titley now knows what it means to be Shet-faced, and Son Yambu’s Yuri Morena Soria declared it (in her Cuban accent) “a brally good festival!” to huge cheers from the delighted crowd.

So now, it’s back to normality for us all, but the memories will live on.

Though I fear what will stick in my mind the longest is Yuri Moreno Soria’s shoes…

Check out all our folk festival coverage at

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