Folk Festival 2014 / Blistering tunes raise the rafters in Bressay

Adam Sutherland and Ewen Vernal in Bressay on Friday night. Photo: Davie Gardner

DAVIE Gardner made the short hop across the water to Bressay for Friday night’s festivities…

Shetland’s The Wisharts ease us into the evening with their down-home blend of old-style country and bluegrass, a set which includes a new song penned by band member Linda Grains about the southern Pacific fate of local round- the-world yacht the Elsi Arrub. Their set is a warm and gentle awakening for what’s to follow.


I’d seen Adam Sutherland and his mighty friends the previous evening and had been more than impressed, but tonight they seem to find a whole new gear. In fact they are positively turbo charged. It may just be the excellent sound quality, but tonight their music seems to have much more drive and intensity to it, they appear more energised and animated and it’s quickly clear they are simply having a ball.

The sheer power of Ewen Vernal’s bass playing could punch holes in plasterboard walls, drummer Iain Copeland – the Keith Moon of the traditional music world – literally assaults his kit to complement Vernal’s funk laden lead, while fiddler Sutherland and guitarist Marc Clement intricately weave their musical magic around this quite exceptional rhythm section. Last night they were great, tonight they are simply astounding.


The daunting challenge of following them falls to local duo Stuart Grains (fiddle) and Adam Johnson (guitar). But do they give a hoot at such a task befalling them? Apparently not. “Noo dan”,says a clearly relaxed-about-it-all Grains by way of introduction, as they launch into a perfectly pitched set of tunes which includes their own poignant tribute to the late Davie Henderson. Their set is peppered throughout with laughs into the bargain and the audience are quickly won over by it all.


Over the years the festival has become renowned for regularly importing something ‘different’. This year is no exception with the likes of Mariachi Tequila, the Asham Stompers and for us here tonight Belgian group MANdolinMAN, who are in fact four mandolin men working in near perfect musical harmony. Their set comprises a wide variety of traditional tunes from their native country, and although perhaps more one for the musically intrigued among us they nevertheless draw more than warm appreciation from their Bressay audience.

But hey, it’s Friday night in Shetland, a few wee drams are perhaps inevitably flying around and to round off the evening we need something to raise the rafters a bit. And boy do we get it, and then some, with Rose Room. The festival usually throws up a genuine and delightful surprise and this year they are certainly it.

I personally love “gypsy jazz”, as it’s termed, and I knew they would be good, but not this good. In Seonaid Aitken they have a jaw-dropping vocalist and fiddle player, while the twin guitars and backing vocals of Tam Gallagher and Tom Watson, cemented together by the double bass of regular festival contributor Jimmy Moon, vivaciously hauls us back to the Hot Club era with a very liberal dash of western swing injected for good measure.


The ghosts of Reinhardt and Grappelli are in the room and I wouldn’t dare mention those names in the same breath as Rose Room unless they totally deserved it – which believe me they do. I have a feeling the old masters would approve enormously.

Rose Room swing harder than an elm tree in a force nine English gale and while the hall’s coloured fairy lights gently twinkle around the stage, elsewhere the venue’s paintwork is literally in danger of being blistered off the walls. Yes folks they are that hot! Glasses are raised and finally the Bressay audience is raised to its feet to award them a richly deserved standing ovation.

The only disappointment is there’s no time for more due to an imminently departing ferry. This one carries many of us onward to the festival club, so there’s no real room for complaint. Two nights down – two to go. Sorry liver…

 Davie Gardner

For our comprehensive folk festival coverage go to http://www.shetnews.co.uk/features/folk-festival-2014/