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Reviews / Review: ‘More Van Halen than Aly Bain’

Saltfishforty duo Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty on stage at Sandwick's Carnegie Hall on Sunday night. Photo: Dale Smith

Saltfishforty live at Carnegie Hall, Sandwick (Sunday 5 April)

There was a good feeling in the air even before Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty took to the stage on Sunday evening, writes Lewie Peterson. The Orkney duo are no strangers to the isles, having been up almost annually as Saltfishforty or with their rock-folk juggernaut, The Chair.

Because of this, you could tell the sold out audience knew exactly what was coming – a blistering set of playing, songs and a good spree to boot. Of course having a public holiday the following day was also helping some of the locals’ mood.

Adam Guest got proceedings off to a fine start, playing tracks from his recent EP ‘Open The Book’ as well as new material which shows great promise. Accompanied by Louise Thomason on vocals and later by Arthur Nicholson on guitar, his songs really took on a new life of their own with Thomason’s voice a great compliment to his smokey Barnsley-tinged tones. Guest has become a staple of the local music scene recently and you can see why with his distinctive voice and delicate accompaniment.

As Saltfishforty took to the stage, there was a slight weariness about them that can only come from having consecutive gigs in Whalsay and Unst and the hospitality that comes with that. “I canna mind what day this is,” muttered Montgomery later. Their opener ‘Woe is Me’ summed it up well and raised laughs as well as a few tears in the audience.

Louise Thomason accompanying Adam Guest during his support set. Photo: Dale Smith

They soon upped the tempo afterwards though with some Canadian and Orkney reels and after that, the audience was spellbound by Montgmery’s fiddle and Cromarty’s rocking accompaniment.

For anyone unaware of the band, they are a folk act on paper using fiddle, guitar, mandola and traditional songs but with very rocky sensibilities. This is best exemplified in tracks like Ring on her Hand and The Burray Set where influences draw as much from Metallica as traditional folk music.

Their arrangements are almost rock songs in form too with room for solos therefore making Montgomery’s virtuoso fiddle almost seems more Eddie Van Halen than Aly Bain.

As they closed up with a sing-along version of Que Sera Sera it was great to hear a Shetland audience willfully join in and is a testament to both the playing of the pair and their humour on stage.

Sandwick’s Carnegie Hall is the perfect setting for this type of act too with its intimate size, lighting (and great table service). This wasn’t lost on the pair as they tested the system out near the end of their set ordering a few Highland Parks (of course). Hopefully it will not be too long before they return to enjoy it all again.

Lewie Peterson

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