It might not have been the Carnegie Hall, but Thursday’s Folk Festival concert in Sandwick had no less style. The recently reopened local venue offered a touch of class with its table service, half time food, fairy lights and printed food and drinks menus, which set the scene for a brilliant night of music.
Kicking off were locals Kansa, who set the bar high. Featuring double bass, fiddle, guitar, mandolin and vocals, and gathered round one microphone, the band have an authentic bluegrass sound that had me looking forward to seeing them since I first encountered them at a singer-songwriter night in Mareel.
They played Americana standards, with singer Karlyn Grains’ deep vocals proving an excellent match for Bill Monroe’s ‘Can’t You Hear Me Callin’’ and the Carter family’s ‘My Old Cottage Home’. A set of American tunes showed off fiddle player Stewart Grains’ skills to perfection.
Next up was another act I had been looking forward to seeing, having played their album Heirs and Graces almost to death in recent months.
Up and coming Scottish folk band Adam Holmes and the Embers played a selection of soulful original songs, the first of which front man Holmes admitted were on the sombre side. With a full band featuring keyboards, guitar, bass and drums, they had a big sound for the peerie hall. The mood was lifted towards the end of their set, with ‘Monday Morning’ just asking to be danced to, and the John Martyn-esque ‘Where the River Meets the Hill’. ‘Ballad Fire In the Sun’, with its country guitar twang, was a favourite.
Festival stalwarts Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch followed, with a set of new and old tunes beautifully delivered. A Canadian waltz learnt from April Verch, who visited Shetland for last year’s festival stood out, as did Phil Cunningham’s soaring slow air Quendale Bay, written for the Braer disaster. It was dedicated, as undoubtedly many tunes will be this weekend, to the festival’s late great Davie Henderson, and Shetland musician Billy Kay.
The fourth act of the night was Scotland based Rose Room, with an outstanding set of gypsy and hot house jazz classics, who drew the first real whoops and hollers from the crowd. Special mention must go to Seonaid Aitken, on vocals and fiddle, whose deft playing throughout the performance, but especially on a Dorado Schmitt bossanova, blew my mind. The band are real entertainers, and a joy to watch, which is an added bonus when you sound like they do.
Rounding up the night were Newfoundland folk act the Dardanelles. Head-banging guitar player Tom Power entertained the crowd with stories in between tunes, while the sincere vocals of bouzouki player Matthew Byrne grounded the set on traditional folk tunes ‘The Banks of Newfoundland’ and ‘Eastern Light’. Drawing parallels between Shetland and their homeland, the band’s easy humour and lively music made for a fitting end to a fantastic first night of the festival.
For our comprehensive folk festival coverage go to http://www.shetnews.co.uk/features/folk-festival-2014/