ON FRIDAY Shetland College music students reached the culmination of the year’s course with the launch of the latest CD on their record label at Mareel. Our man Davie Gardner went along to have a listen.
Most folk tend to think of Mareel purely in terms of live music and cinema, supported by a pleasant, if at times slow serving, cafe bar.
But during a CD launch featuring local singer Lisa Johnson on Friday afternoon, just some of the great stuff that goes on behind the scenes in the venue also went on show to the general public.
Shetland College, in partnership with Shetland Arts, now run an extensive and impressive range of further and higher education music, technology and digital media courses ranging from National Certificates (NCs) to degree courses, some delivered in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
As a part of the students’ Higher National Certificate (HNC) studies they are tasked with running a record label, recording an album or EP featuring a local artist in Mareel’s recording studio, and then releasing and marketing it to the wider world.
So now, via Mareel’s musical loins, we have local record label Battery Park Records, born in 2012 and named after the site the venue now stands on. Last year the label released their first album featuring local rock band Wind Up Projectiles, while this year they have selected Lisa Johnson.
Battery Park’s marketing manager, local student Amanda Shearer, said planning and recording the CD was “very challenging”, but equally exciting and rewarding.
It has also offered young folk a hands-on opportunity to use Mareel’s impressive array of technological equipment in a genuine music industry related context.
“Now that we’ve finally got Lisa’s EP recorded and launched here today, it’s up to me to make sure we get it publicised and out there onto digital-media download sites and on sale locally,” Amanda said.
Upstairs in Mareel’s cafe bar Angela Hunt and Greg McCarron from Shetland College, together with course tutors Bryan Peterson and Fraser Mouat, look on with obvious pride as the students hurriedly run cables and set up PA equipment, cameras and no end of digital delights.
“Running music and technology courses on a local basis, especially in a fantastic resource such as Mareel, is a great way of encouraging students to remain in Shetland,” Greg says.
“They get a really good industry related experience within a professional environment, hopefully preparing them for a musical career.”
He insists that the local courses are “every bit as good, if not better” than those already well established in universities and colleges on the mainland.
Tucked away in the alcove, which today doubles as a stage area, is a nervous looking Lisa Johnson, preparing to perform just one track from her new EP.
The Bressay primary school teacher tells me that before heading across to Lerwick for her EP launch she was busy digging for worms with her pupils for a wormery no less. I really can’t decide if that’s a very rock n’ roll thing to do or not to be honest.
The EP itself, entitled Denied, features three new tracks, all from the pen of multi-talented Shetland College student Joe Watt, who also plays bass in Lisa’s band for the occasion, alongside fellow band members Lewis Murray and Matthew Adam.
The tone takes Lisa’s usually more restrained musical approach up a notch or two toward a harder edged pop/rock sound.
“I wrote these songs with Lisa’s voice in mind,” Joe tells me.
Lisa herself says that this kind of approach – literally fitting into someone else’s musical project rather than simply doing her own band thing – is totally new for her. “I’ve really enjoyed it nevertheless,” she smiles.
Unfortunately the one track she performs live here is slightly bedevilled by feedback problems, but it still bodes well for the main launch gig later in the evening.
“I’m really looking forward to it, but very nervous,” she admits.
“Ach du’ll be fine” I confidently assure her – and so she will be. She’s got a terrific voice and is clearly growing in confidence and stature with every live appearance.
Meantime Denied, which you can now buy locally – if Amanda has done her marketing job for Lisa as I’m sure she will have – is a very fine taster of what I’m sure will be much more to come from this rising young star.
Likewise I’m equally certain we will hear a lot more from Battery Park Records in the future as well.