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Folk Festival 2014 / Nordic fiddlers prove star attraction in Fetlar

Nordic Fiddlers' Bloc, featuring Shetlander Kevin Henderson (centre), enjoying the fresh Fetlar air ahead of their Friday night concert. Photo: Floortje Robertson

No folk festival is complete, in my opinion, without a trip a on a ferry or at the very least a trip out to one of the far flung country halls, to ramp up the excitement factor. There’s something about the added journey and country halls that make it even more special, and that was definitely the case in Fetlar.

Opening the evening’s music was local trio Kollifirbolli with a set of fiddle tunes accompanied by keyboard and squeezebox. The influence of band members Astryd and Kaela Jamieson’s parents is clear, playing a beautiful Ronnie Jamieson slow air, Muckle Ayre, and some of their mother Debbie Scott’s tunes.

Their own tunes may be inspired by the simple quirks of everyday life. Be it Kaela losing circulation in her leg after sitting on it for too long to inspire the playful Gammy Leg, or a sickly crow that frequented their garden, the resulting jaunty compositions are never simple and display the trio’s clever musicianship to a tee.

The folk festival is always full of surprises, and one for me was the second act on the bill, Anna and Mairearad. The multi instrumental duo played a set which featured guitar, accordion and, for one song (thankfully, you might say. Or I might say…) bagpipes.

Their set was fantastic fun and musically impressive, and a request for audience participation – with increasing levels of effort, from thigh claps to mouth pops, finger snaps and singing – went down a storm. The hilarity which inspired the continental-feeling Lollipop Waltz and their set of “palate cleansing” polkas received rapturous applause.

With a hard act to follow, local act Jennifer McCormack and band took to the stage with their blend of crowd-pleasing covers. Featuring Fetlar youngster Tom Thomson on guitar, they opened with Pharrel Williams’ Happy and certainly summed up the feeling in the room. McCormack’s soaring R&B vocals made light work of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, and the Dylan/Old Crow Medicine Show classic Wagon Wheel (Rock Me Mama).

The absolute stars of the night for me were penultimate act, the sharply dressed Nordic Fiddlers’ Bloc. Opening with an interpretation of an un-amed Whalsay reel into which they injected a healthy dose of Scandinavia, their outstanding musicianship was interspersed with some first class craic from band members Anders Hall, Kevin Henderson and Olav Luksengård Mjelva. It turns out the constant ribbing the Swedes and Norwegians give each other isn’t soothed by the addition of a Shetlander.

Highlights were the beautiful Greenland Man’s Tune and a set of American waltzs and reels. The trio allow for some sublime quiet moments only to build the music to an emotive high again and again, winding harmonies through the melody in an almost classical style. The unmistakable Scandinavian sound with its unexpected minors and almost mischievous rhythms described the inspiration for the actions of a birdwatcher brilliantly.

Bringing a bit of Americana pop to the hall to end the show were Canadians Madison Violet. The duo, Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac return to the festival, after their first appearance five years ago, with a full band.

Their blend of country classics – Emmlylou and Gram Parson’s Ooh Las Vegas – and original songs, with gorgeous harmonies, slide guitar and fiddle took the crowd, nodding and clapping along, on a trip to Nashville.

Fantastic storytellers, the glam duo’s heartfelt lyrics and melodies are sure to go down a treat with Shetland audiences. The hall “oohed” along at the band’s instruction on Small of My Heart, and listened attentively to The Woodshop, about the death of MacEachern’s brother, before finishing with the uplifting Emily, from their latest album.

With a bit of time still to go before the ferry, the band returned for one extra song to end an absolute treat of a night of music. Thank goodness it was still only Friday, as with shows like this I’m not ready for the folk festival to end.

Louise Thomason

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

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