Reviews / On the Element Trail through Mareel

The image accompanying Amanda Shearer’s piece entitled 20 Degrees Below

Despite opening about a year and a half ago, the inner sanctum of Mareel still remains a mystery to many. There’s the bar, the cinema, the auditorium…but what’s through those ruddy doors? Our reporter Chris Cope had the chance to find out while following a musical Element Trail.

Only the musicians, the staff and the students, the lucky ones and those poor souls who get lost on the way to relieve themselves generally receive access to the likes of the reclusive recording studio, the green room and the media lab.

This week, however, Shetland College took music lovers and those a little bit nosey around the hefty building on a magical mystery tour as they showcased seven different compositions from their HNC Music students, performed live in various nooks and crannies around the venue on what was dubbed the Element Trail.

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Amanda Shearer – 20 Degrees Below

The theme? Our relationship with weather. Outside the building on Thursday night, it was pretty calm, the remnants of a short shower lounging on the sullied pavements. Inside, there was a somewhat gloomy cloud hanging overhead after Shetland Arts supremo and Mareel grandaddy Gwilym Gibbons announced his resignation only hours earlier.

The students largely followed the mood,  their songs – written as part of their Weather Stations project – often pirouetting on a reflective, melancholic theme.

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Lewis Murray – Snowed Under

The 45 minute performance, which took place four times over two nights, opened with Amanda Shearer’s First Snow, a tune that lilted on deft keyboard work and subtle vocals. The slot may very well have been the Closest Live Performance To The North Sea Ever, with the assembled throng located out in the evening elements behind Mareel, feet just metres away from the blue stuff. Thankfully, Shearer and backing singer Shona Fraser provided a warm contrast to the chilled air.

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Next up was 18 year old drum demigod Lewis Murray, who was seen in the warmth of the café/bar without his sticks for the first time in probably three years as he picked up the guitar and exercised his vocal cords alongside collaborator Matthew Adam for the track GaelStörm. Diced into three sections, the tune dipped toes into tropical-esque licks and rhythms before dropping into darker tones that represented the pitfalls of heartbreak.

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Matthew Adam – Sandstorm

The crowd – a somewhat peculiar motley crew of surprisingly well-behaved children, elders and in-betweens – were then led like primary school day-trippers to the upstairs seating area to see Daniel Hawick perched upon a sofa with only a guitar for company. Clouds was the title of his instrumental piece, and although it was deathly black through those massive windows, you could almost see the fluffy white things bouncing through the sky as the musician whipped out a jaunty number resplendent in flair and assured playing. ‘It’s always worth taking the time to just lie on the ground and watch the clouds pass,’ said the trail’s programme. Amen, Daniel, amen.


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Daniel Hawick – It’s A Breeze

The curious types finally got what they were waiting for – the chance to sneak into the venue’s bowels – with the next performance, the electronic-themed Tornado Torment from Joe Watt in the green room. Unfortunately, a hand injury meant that the musician couldn’t swap instruments during the song as originally planned, with the aforementioned Adam and Mareel sound guy Jonathan Ritch instead taking up guitar duties and Watt working from a laptop. A weather map was sprayed onto the celling as the trio went dubstep on the crowd with gusto and groove, the tune throbbing and bulging like a fierce wind cycle. It wasn’t so much of a ‘green’ room anymore, however, with overcast blue and purple lighting giving off an otherworldly rave vibe, but it all added to a wholly engrossing performance.


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Joe Watt – Neurostreet

Into the recording studio next, where that man Adam gave credence to the concept of evil twins and/or human cloning by appearing once again on guitar for his track The Tide. He was pitted in a full band set-up in the studio’s booth as the crowd watched on from the packed control room – an interesting move, with the numerous ears lapping up stellar sound quality as the musician lorded over his eight-string guitar with serious aplomb, tapping the fretboard with post-rock panache.


The next performance, James Dade’s Long Way Home, took place in Mareel’s media lab – AKA Shetland’s secret stash of iMac computers. His tune, played through a laptop and the night’s only purely electronic number, reflected a ‘lonely journey home’ in the rain, with his layered work evoking a reflective and melancholic feel. Thought provoking indeed; my downbeat mind cast back to the hour long bus journeys from Lerwick to Hillswick in the awful pitch-black, winter weather. I feel your pain James, I feel your pain.

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James Dade – Misty Moon

Last up meanwhile was Shona Fraser, who perhaps got the short straw and performed in a dull stairway enclave, right next to one of Shetland’s lesser-spotted, sought-after rarities: a big metallic lift. Nevertheless, her tune Shattered Stratosphere, a piece inspired by the solitary upwards journey weather balloons valiantly take every day, was one of the highlights of the night, with the beguiling keyboard-only song’s deep, absorbing notes fit for a film soundtrack.


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Shona Fraser – Raindrops On My Window

And there we were, back in Mareel’s foyer. Those who had never seen inside the building now were one of the enlightened ones, but that didn’t matter anymore – the music mattered, and so did the glaring talent of the HNC students. Indeed, the snaking trail through the building was a stark reminder of the good work the college does inside Mareel – a fact regularly lost and forgotten about in the hubbub, debate and bluster so often directed at this multi-purpose venue.

Another seven pieces of original music from the same students can be heard in the Weather Stations Exhibition at Mareel, which runs via listening stations around the venue until 31 March.


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