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Reviews / Guitar heroes provide jam-packed festival finale

Brian Nicholson leads a group of ukulele-wielding youngsters on Saturday night. Photo: Chris Brown

THE POPULAR 2014 Shetland International Guitar Festival came to a jam-packed, jazzy, and hard-rocking close on Saturday night with many local guitar heroes taking to the Mareel stage to show off their fret board flair, writes Patrick Mainland.

The guitar is probably second only to the fiddle in terms of popularity with many young aspiring learners taking up the six-stringed instrument. This is perhaps not surprising given its versatility in being able to tackle the huge number of styles and genres reflected in Shetland’s diverse and growing music scene.

Many of these young aspiring learners get lessons through Brian Nicholson’s High Level Music Centre, and giving them the chance to open up the night’s proceedings was apt and well received by the audience, many of whom were proud parents.  The stage was set – a sprawling jumble of leads and amps ready to trip up anyone not too careful.

The students were in three groups: juniors, intermediates and seniors. Brian Nicholson and a young troop of budding ukulele players delighted the crowd with a song no Shetlander couldn’t relate to – about the “ferryboat” – and ‘Swamp of Frogs’, which featured some enterprisingly amphibian sounds from the fret boards. Tommy Emmanuel, take note?

High Level Music students packing the stage at the festival-closing "guitar heroes" concert. Photo: Chris Brown

The intermediate players, mostly acoustic guitarists, performed three harmonious numbers including one by Elvis Presley, and then the more senior students took to the stage, 21 of them in all, with Arthur Nicholson and Archer Kemp assisting some solid playthroughs of ‘Day Tripper’ and the 12-bar blues ‘Crossroads’.

Then Martin Taylor, the masterful jazz guitarist who played Friday’s concert, came onstage to tell the audience of the great pleasure in curating this year’s festival. He proceeded to showcase some of his guitar retreat students who have been spending the past week in Shetland. The group definitely emphasised the ‘International’ in the festival’s title, with guitarists flying in from places as far-flung as the States and Australia, as well as various parts of Europe and Britain.

 The pieces played were mainly of a jazz orientation with some excellent technical ability on show and some impressive singers too. A solemn rendition of ‘St James Infirmary’ and a delicate ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ were standouts. The serious jazz violin talents of one American student were also showcased with Taylor accompanying for a Stephane Grappelli tune and Sonny Rollin’s caribbean-tinged ‘St Thomas’.

The night then took a turn into heavier and louder territory, with a resolute rhythm section of bassist Bryan Peterson and drummer Archer Kemp overseeing the skills of a roster of local guitarists, among them Ewan Nowak of Spoothawk with his pyrotechnic flurry of squealing harmonics and whammy bar wizardry, demonstrated to full effect on Joe Satriani’s ‘Surfing with the Alien’.

Robbie Walterson delivered a powerful and blistering assault of a solo on Hendrix’s blues ‘Red House’ with mean licks aplenty, while Arthur Nicholson, with his Fender Telecaster, showed how accomplished a player he is whatever the style and whatever the circumstance.

The grand finale of what has been a thoroughly successful 2014 Shetland International Guitar Festival. Photo: Chris Brown

Acoustic guitarist Alan McKay’s self-penned compositions brought a lighter touch, one being a full band effort which gathered pace effectively, and the other solo, which was gentle and fingerpicked. He made a welcome tribute to Shetland’s most famous guitarist, the one and only Peerie Willie Johnson, calling him a “great inspiration” and remarking on his modesty and how veiled his talent was.

The three-hour-plus concert reached its conclusion with a multitude of musicians, both local and not so local, cramming the stage for ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, showing off bluesy and jazzy talents from all over the world. It was a fitting end, and there was just time for a quick jam of Freddie King’s ‘Going Down’ before the lights came on.

Afterwards it was off to the cafe bar for some impromptu sessions and a chance to reflect on how much incredible musical ability Mareel has had within its walls over the past three nights.

Patrick Mainland