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Features / ‘Eclectic mix’ for 35th folk festival

Seattle multi instrumental duo Cahalen Morrison and Eli West are among several North American acts this year.

ORGANISERS have unveiled a 15-strong line-up of visiting acts for the 35th edition of the award-winning Shetland Folk Festival this spring.

The four-day extravaganza of concerts, sessions and late nights will be graced by a variety of acts from the US, Canada and Europe, along with one from Australia, and the organisers believe the “eclectic mix” means there is “bound to be something for everyone”.

Grammy award-winning singer Mollie O’Brien and her partner Rich Moore will be among the main attractions. The pair have been making critically acclaimed music together since meeting in 1981, and Mollie already has a Shetland fan base following previous festival appearances with her brother Tim.

Seattle multi-instrumentalists Cahalen Morrison and Eli West are a harmonic duo with more of an old country feel, and they’ve already been creating quite a stir on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bluegrass outfit Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys will offer American roots music with a contemporary twist with their sweet harmonies and tight-knit playing. The festival will also be their UK debut.

One of Scotland's finest fiddle players, Duncan Chisholm.

Across the border, two of Canada’s finest fiddlers, Troy MacGillivray and Shane Cook, complete this year’s North American contingent. Both are award-winning players performing a blend of tunes drawing on traditions including Canadian old-time, Cap Breton, French-Canadian and Celtic.

Racking up the most miles to join the festival programme is Frank Yamma, one of Australia’s most sought-after indigenous artists. Featuring just himself, his deeply evocative voice and some magical guitar playing, Yamma promises to take audiences on a journey featuring mighty songs in both English and his native language.

Scottish fiddle extraordinaire Duncan Chisholm will appear with Jarlath Henderson and Matheu Watson, performing their highly rhythmical and powerful selection of tunes. Organisers say that as one of the country’s most recognised and accomplished players and composers, Chisholm’s appearance at the festival is “well overdue”.

Another act at the forefront of the Scottish folk scene, Rura, have been going from strength to strength with a powerful sound both refreshingly contemporary and rooted in tradition. The band features three BBC young traditional musician of the year finalists, an all-Ireland bodhran champion and the beautiful vocals of Adam Holmes, who played last year’s festival with his band the Embers.

Indigenous singer Frank Yamma is visiting all the way from Australia.

Scandinavia is well represented with diverse styles from Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Award winning trio Ahlberg, Ek and Roswall will play a mixture of traditional Swedish tunes and polkas along with their own compositions.

Esko Järvelä from Finland, no stranger to Shetland having performed here with Frigg and Baltic Crossing, will be back to cause a stir with his progressive folk rock band Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band.

Representing Denmark are Habadekuk, another lively band featuring eight talented musicians who are “guaranteed to get audiences on the dancefloor with their wild polkas, jigs and rough ‘n’ ready sailor songs”.

Award winning Irish alt folk band Tupelo will also feature. With four musicians from different backgrounds and some fantastic vocals, the band melds disparate sounds including Irish traditional and American folk to produce their own sound. They’ve been likened to multi million selling folk-pop juggernaut Mumford & Sons.

Being welcomed back having appeared at the 1998 festival are Flook, featuring traditionally rooted tunes turned into a breathtaking sound featuring the technical brilliance of award-winning flute, guitar and bodhran players.

Finnish progressive folk rockers Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band.

Orcadian five piece Fara will bring their fiery sound to the islands for the first time. Featuring four fiddles and a piano, the all-girl ensemble have been friends since they were in nappies, and offer a mixture of self-penned and traditional tunes as well as some songs.

Welsh band Jamie Smith’s Mabon have also received rave reviews and won multiple awards. Described as “folk’s latest hit boy band”, they perform a captivating set varying from Welsh language love songs to energetic jigs and reels, treading the line between Celtic heritage and contemporary music.

Completing the line-up is Sheelanagig, Bristol purveyors of “the finest Balkan jazz-folk mayhem”. Their vibrant performances include elements of storytelling, street theatre and even acrobatics.

Additional street theatre, comedy and circus skills will be brought to the festival by variety entertainer Steve Cousins from Wangi Wangi, Australia. He’s been booked to assist with some of the festival’s additional community events.

Festival publicist Louise Johnson said: “All the visiting acts will be in Shetland for the festival’s duration, performing at concerts all over the isles alongside fantastic local acts that never fail to do Shetland and the folk festival proud.

“The festival will conclude as usual with the famous ‘foys’ – three venues open on the Sunday night featuring a short 15-minute set by all 15 visiting bands. The foys continue to be the festival’s hot ticket events, with virtually all tickets selling out to early members.”

  • Early memberships go on sale from 1 February, closing on 28 February, through the festival website. Members can book tickets online for three weeks from mid March, before they go on sale to the general public form 4 April.