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Features / March Rocks signifies 30 not out for promoter Jeff

Mystery Juice will offer their "vital mix of heavy funk grooves, blues guitar, searing electric fiddle and machine-gun vocals".

A LOCAL music promoter is celebrating 30 years of holding gigs in Shetland with a two-day mini-festival this weekend.

Jeff Ampleford will host a bumper bill of mainland acts and isles talent at the Lerwick Legion on Friday night and from 2pm on Saturday, writes Chris Cope.

The jam-packed March Rocks event – which will see a myriad of groups such as Mystery Juice, Randolph’s Leap, The Revellers and First Foot Soldiers perform over the weekend – is also acting as a birthday bash for Ampleford and sound tech Amanda Pearson.

The line-up will feature visiting bands such as effervescent ska dynamos Bombskare, Bleachie, Capone and the Bullets, Lizzie and the Banshees and veteran punk-poet Attila the Stockbroker, who has performed at every Glastonbury Festival since 1983.

The promoter has enticed acts including The Chameleons, The Undertones and global rockers Biffy Clyro to the isles over the last few decades and this weekend’s event echoes his Shetland Rocks festivals of the mid-2000s.

Speaking ahead of the two-dayer, Ampleford readily admitted that promoting mainland bands in Shetland comes with tangible financial uncertainty – but it’s a risk the music enthusiast is happy to take.

“You lose a lot, but then again you often gain, so it kind of works itself out,” he told Shetland News. “If you love it that much then the money side of things doesn’t really come into it. To be honest, if I’m having a good night, that’s the last thing on my mind – you can worry about that tomorrow. Thankfully I haven’t had tonnes of losses. I still have a good time though if there’s anybody there or not. It doesn’t really make a difference to me, because I’m usually in a world of my own when the music starts. Everything else disappears – it’s just the songs and you.”

Glasgow-based indie poppers Randolph's Leap are back in Shetland for March Rocks.

Ampleford’s first gig in Shetland took place in the mid 1980s when English punks Subhumans embarked on the trip up north. “They were the dog’s bollocks,” he reminisced. “Three bus loads of folk went from the Market Cross to see them at the Mossbank Hall.”

So what about his other promoting highlights? “There’s millions. There’s all the times Toxik Ephex have come up, and then the whole thing with Mystery Juice. There was The Chameleons, who are my favourite band in the world. I also got New Model Army up here when they were playing the main stage at Reading, and their whole British tour was sold out. They were at the top of their game then and they played Tingwall Hall and just nailed it.

“I’ve that had many good nights. There were the shows we did at Mossbank when we started, but we were all really young then. The atmosphere was electric – the place was full of punk-rockers, everyone was pogo-ing. You’d get the keys to the hall, they would let you in, and everyone was in there with their carry outs. It was chaos – it really was just nuts. Full-on stage diving the whole time, beer getting chucked all over the place.”

Despite the misty-eyed reflection, Ampleford believes the current music scene in Shetland is still strong – despite a seeming lack of willing venues.

“The music scene here seems to be as good as it’s ever been,” he said. “There’s plenty of bands out there playing songs, which is good considering the amount of venues we’ve not got. Years ago, every village hall was doing [rock] gigs and pubs were putting on bands. It was a piece of piss to get a gig. Now, what would happen if the [Lerwick] Legion closed? There would be pretty much nothing.

“I had that many bands coming up in past years that I was filling halls up all the time. It was brilliant. You could take a chance on an unknown band that you were into and know that you were going to get a crowd to come see them. Whereas now you could book a village hall and [there] might be nobody there. People miss a lot of stuff by just not going.”

Bombskare have built up a real affinity with Shetland over the years.

The March Rocks bill will also feature a slew of local acts across two stages, with the likes of Scaldin Bragg, The Dirty Lemons, The Last, Trookers and Lyall vs Murray all due to perform in addition to DJ talent.

Ampleford stressed that gig-goers should head to the shows early to avoid missing out, with local favourites First Foot Soldiers for instance scheduled to hit the stage at tea-time on the second day.

The Revellers will be one of the main homegrown acts on Saturday’s bill and frontman Magnus Bradley paid tribute to Ampleford’s “infectious” enthusiasm for hosting live music in Shetland.

“I can’t speak for his earlier promoting days, but since I’ve been involved with Jeff, I’ve seen how Shetland benefits from people like him,” the vocalist and guitarist said.

“Whenever I speak to Jeff about a gig he’s planning, or a gig he’s been at here or south, I just start smiling when I see his excitement and enthusiasm – it’s infectious. He planned and came south with us for wir mini-tour in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was such a good time and he was with us all the way. I’ll always remember that trip. And with Jeff, you can always guarantee a good after-party – he’s very generous and makes sure everybody has a can in hand.

“I’m really looking forward to this weekend. Only Jeff would attempt so many bands in the Lerwick Legion, but I think it’s going to be an unmissable weekend and we’re delighted to be part of it.”

  • The remaining tickets for March Rocks are available directly from the Lerwick Legion. For more information on the line-up, visit the event’s Facebook page.

Chris Cope

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