As always there’s an air of palpable excitement and expectation. The long wait is finally over. So shout “hurrah” as it’s the first day of the 34th Shetland Folk Festival.
The faithful, together with musicians drawn from across the planet, are gathering for the customary lunchtime opening concert, an event that offers us nothing more than the merest musical hint of what’s to follow over the next four, frantic, stamina-sapping days and long nights.
Being lunchtime it’s effectively still the middle of the night for musicians – especially after a long boat trip north the night before – but job done anyway. However there’s no time to relax as off they quickly fly to venues as far apart as Nesting and Sandwick for the first round of sound-checks and concerts proper.
However, I only have to hoof it down King Harald Street to the British Legion where a mouth watering line-up awaits another sell-out festival audience.
Vanguard act Adam Sutherland and Friends kick things off in style. The somewhat innocuous name belies the fact that here are a group of quite simply master musicians. Acclaimed Scottish fiddler Sutherland (ex-Peatbog Faeries, Trecherous Orchestra and many more) is joined by guitarist Marc Clement (ex-Blazin’ Fiddles) Ewen Vernal (Deacon Blue) on bass and Peatbog Faeries drummer Iain Copeland for a wonderfully eclectic and unorthodox set that veers across many musical boundaries, incorporating elements of folk and traditional music, but equally jazz, funk and even a nod towards progressive rock. Always up for something different the local audience take to them big style.
Orkney’s hugely popular powerhouse duo Saltfishforty are no strangers to Shetland – and back at the festival again they boast an apparently ever-expanded line up especially for it.
“Earlier today there were three of them, now there are four and tomorrow and Saturday there will be five of them,” committee member Mhari Pottinger tells us. “And on Sunday we will be in pieces,” quips band member Brian Cromarty.
A blistering set from the lads is hailed by Shetland’s version of a standing ovation – a sitting ovation – primarily due to the jampacked seating constraints. Given the audience response they are clearly going to be one of the bands of the festival – again.
Jazz combo Mahogany get an equally warm response and are clearly far from phased at being the only local band on the bill. They are followed by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, comprising three fiddler players who individually boast solid international reputations. Olav Luksengard Melva (Norway) Anders Hall (Sweden) and Shetland’s very own Kevin Henderson skilfully weave the music of their respective Nordic regions into one spell-binding set of largely plaintive tunes. It’s pitched just right for the slightly more subdued Thursday night of the festival.
The sound of Brighton’s Mountain Firework Company is certainly more aligned to the southern states of America than the southern counties of England, but they are, to put it mildly, nothing short of believably authentic and musically wonderful. Their formidable reputation as a live band is fully vindicated as they ignite (albeit it moderately) their debut Shetland audience with their own particular blend of alt-country, bluegrass and close harmony vocals, all driven along by pumping double bass. This is certainly a band to watch – and not just for this festival. If Mumford & Sons can break the mainstream market so can these guys.
So a terrific, if relatively sedate, start to the festival. I head back up King Harald Street again toward the late night club which is also (for its formidable reputation anyway) relatively sedate too. I have a funny feeling it’s not going to remain like that though.
For our comprehensive folk festival coverage go to http://www.shetnews.co.uk/features/folk-festival-2014/