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Reviews / Blown away by Da Fishing Hands

Inge Thomson performing Da Fishing Hands at Hillswick on Saturday night. Photo Shetnews

If you have plans for Sunday night, drop them. Go to Mareel instead and be part of a historic night bearing witness to some of the finest music and poetry ever to have emerged from these fair isles.

On Saturday night Hillswick had the enormous privilege to be the first place outside Fair Isle itself to witness the masterpiece created by the island’s musical daughter Inge Thomson and her dear departed cousin Lise Sinclair.

The pair started work on Da Fishing Hands two years ago before illness cruelly took Sinclair away at the young age of 42, just as she was flowering into a great artist with a mature voice singing and writing about Shetland like no other.

Thankfully her loss did not stop Thomson completing this tremendous work that is to be recorded live at Mareel after just two performances these past two days on her native isle and in Northmavine.

While it is a tragedy that the two cousins were not able to perform together, Sinclair’s spirit looms large in this beautiful and touching work about the life, love and loss of our cherished marine environment.

Songs such as Dark Stacks, about the cliffs around Fair Isle changing colour with the declining bird populations who no longer paint them white with their guano, capture the times we live in with a rare poignancy.

They stipple the sky, like a snowstorm of angels,” Thomson sings in memory of the vast flocks of kittiwakes that greeted her grandmother as she flew into Fair Isle, now sadly little more than a memory.

She sings about the fishing, the old and the new, and the threat to the fragility of life on a small island, and in Paper Seas mourns the mass of bureaucracy that smothers the simple beauty of a field full of flowers.

Great musicians - from left: Fraser Fifield, Sarah Hayes, Inge Thomson and Steven Polwart. Bassist Graeme Smilie was hiding in the shadows to the right.

The songs are deeply moving, especially conveyed by Thomson’s fragile, breathy voice. I can only imagine how it would have sounded alongside Sinclair’s deeper ethereal tone, but Sarah Hayes from Admiral Fallow harmonises gorgeously.

The music itself is stunning with a powerful band of high class musicians in Fraser Fifield on saxophone, kavil and pipes, Steven Polwart on guitar and Graeme Smilie on bass, with Hayes herself adding flute into the mix.

Thomson’s accordion adds that sea shanty touch that fits so well with her theme, along with an array of electronic sounds that at times create an extraordinary atmosphere.

In Hillswick she was supported by blues and folk guitar maestro Martin Simpson who performed a short set of dark songs culminating in a moody version of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel.

Unlike him, you could tell Thomson was not used to being out front on stage, but I hope it’s a role she will get used to because if there is any justice in this world this piece of work will go far and touch the hearts of many.

I, for one, can hardly wait to see and hear it again. Go to Mareel and see for yourself, you won’t regret it.

Pete Bevington