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Folk Festival 2014 / From salvation to ‘down and dirty’

The Soujourners: 'This is real gospel and you are welcome at its table' - all photos: Davie Gardner

Historically the festival’s Saturday night gig in the Clickimin Centre is the hottest ticket in town, and this year proves no exception, with a potent musical line-up awaiting those lucky enough to have pocketed a gold-dust ticket for this particular concert.

Eunice Henderson's South Mainland Fiddlers.

Lerwick’s cavernous sports hall, packed with 750 clearly up-for-it festival goers, warmly welcomes its opening act of the evening – Eunice Henderson’s South Mainland Fiddlers.

It pays testament to the sheer quality of the talent on offer that their massed young ranks are suitably fortified through an impressive number of award winning musicians hot from last week’s Young Fiddler of the Year competition and they clearly revel in the justifiable acclaim they receive from the audience.

Resurrecting traditional tunes and songs from their copious cultural archives, Newfoundland’s much heralded young torchbearers the Dardanelles rarely step back from the term ‘lively’.

Silver-tongued front-fellow Matthew Byrne soon has the audience onside and the spontaneous explosion of stomping, clapping and whooping that accompanies their set encourages further super-charged responses from the band. Cleary, for many, they are yet another festival highlight.

One of the highlights of this year's festival: The Dardanelles.

Complaints are often levelled at the acoustics in the Clickimin, but no one can gripe about that tonight as the sound crew have clearly done their homework and each note – from where I’m ensconced anyway – comes across crystal clear.

That fact auspiciously highlights the dexterity and sheer technical brilliance of the trio who are the Nordic Fiddlers’ Bloc. Masterfully they blend the music of their three respective Nordic regions – Norway, Sweden and Shetland – into a single idyllic package that pays homage to their own individual cultures – and a few others besides.

Poignancy reigns not only through the tranquillity of their music, but even more so when Shetland band member Kevin Henderson dedicates the beautiful tune Fjellvak to his late dad, festival stalwart Davie Henderson. The audience response says it all.

Fjellvak translates into mountain bird, which cues a tale about Kevin’s apparent passion for bird watching. “I only took it up cause it’s so boring touring with a Norwegian and a Swede,” he laughs.

The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc masterfully blending the music of Norway, Sweden and Shetland.

Let’s be honest, what’s left to be said about award winning firm festival favourites Madison Violet that’s not already been aired either during their first festival visit a few years back or indeed this time around? The striking Canadian duo – fortified here by the addition of a bass player and backing instrumentalist – are musically hard to categorise, but think acoustic pop, folk and country blended into one wonderful hybrid. It’s easy to understand why the festival committee have been inundated with requests to have the back again and they don’t disappoint.

Canada is more than well represented at this particular festival, but thoroughly gobsmacking is the only word that can be used to describe that country’s six-piece gospel ambassadors the Sojourners.

I last saw them in a hotel bar in downtown Toronto, but here tonight on the big stage, in an explosion of light, colour and the tightest, most powerful vocal harmonies you are ever likely to hear, they simply command the huge room.

Visiting the festival for the second time are Madison Violet.

“This is real gospel and you are welcome at its table,” says singer Marcus Mosely. ‘Amen to that, brother’ is the clear response. They are quite simply magnificent. What a finale to Saturday night’s show. These guys are quite simply the real deal, serving up their own take on some of the planet’s most wonderfully inspiring gospel songs.

Suitably salvationed we head en-masse to the festival club where the Saturday night faithful queue halfway down King Harald Street hoping to gain entry.

Many of those lucky enough to be inside lay musical niceties aside in the company of terrific local band First Foot Soldiers, who sweat-ladenly thrash out crowd pleasing favourites from the likes of Johnny Cash, Queen and Talking Heads to a frantically dancing audience.

It’s down and dirty, but the ideal end to a great evening, while I briefly ponder the likelihood that it’s probably going to be a rather painful morning. More than worth it though!

Davie Gardner

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