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Reviews / Weekend of tunes and craic in Davie’s memory

Boys of the Lough on stage at Mareel during Sunday's matinee show. Photo: Chris Brown

DAVIE Henderson’s Peerie Christmas Spree came to a heartwarming close on Sunday afternoon at Mareel, having been revived by his son Kevin in memory of Shetland’s “ultimate music ambassador” and his lasting legacy in the isles and further afield, writes Patrick Mainland.

Taking in performances in Fetlar and Muckle Roe on Friday and Saturday night respectively, the pre-festive, weekend-long event saw a host of local musicians play in tribute and good spirit, with plenty of sessions into the early hours and, in Kevin’s words, brilliant fun. He was also delighted with how well the concerts had been received.

A sharply-dressed Kevin Henderson playing with Boys of the Lough as part of the weekend envisioned by his late father Davie. Photo: Chris Brown

The matinee concert attracted a packed audience, as had the previous two nights, for Megan Nisbet and Lauren Johnson to open the show. This year’s Shetland Got Talent winners are brilliantly assured and pitch-perfect harmonisers with a mixture of old and new country numbers. The audience was clearly visibly impressed with their tunes.

They showed that no matter how big the group, our local traditional musicians always gel so effectively together, testament to the culture and community people like Davie spent so much time developing and encouraging.

There was a broad range of music on offer, including tunes on fiddle and accordion that were fizzing with collective energy. Fiddler and Gathering organiser Margaret Scollay said it was always a delight working with such talented people.

Next up was The Gathering, a supergroup of Shetland musicians, 13 in all. Davie was instrumental in bringing the group together last year and they went down a storm at the ‘Isles Gathering’ folk festival concerts in Shetland and Orkney, which celebrated the shared traditional culture of both areas.

Shetland-born Orkney resident Jenny Keldie’s ‘Mak for da Light’, about a great uncle lost to the sea in World War I, was touching and featured a choir of Bell’s Brae primary singers (see video below) who lent their voices highly impressively, considering that the song was only first rehearsed over the weekend.

The vocal talents of Sheila Duncan, Freda Leask and Lewie Peterson were shown off on their self-penned songs, backed up ably by the band which included Jack Robertson on double bass and Alison Laurenson on drums.

It was fantastic to welcome back the veteran Celtic group The Boys Of The Lough, featuring Kevin Henderson on fiddle, to finish off the afternoon’s concert.

In their first appearance here since the 1980s, the spree’s headliners wowed with their long-established folk songs and individual instrumental mastery. At one point flautist Cathal McConnell was playing two whistles at once with ease.

Bell's Brae pupils joining in with musicians as part of the 'Gathering' during Sunday's concert. Photo: Chris Brown

County Kerry-born Brendan Begley was a bit of a whirling dervish on the accordion, in marked contrast to his gentle and melodious singing voice. And Kevin – who tours globally with the group – shone through with his magnificent playing, the bow gliding effortlessly in tune after tune.

The folk song ‘So Here’s To You’ was the afternoon’s conclusion, a poignant tribute to the man responsible for the spree’s original conception. The Boys of the Lough were a band Davie had in mind for this year’s spree concerts, so as Kevin mentioned, it was great for them to visit.

And with that, a busy weekend of tunes and good craic came to an end, with a feeling that the event would be seen again, such was its popularity.

Patrick Mainland