Bright & jovial start to 35th folk festival

Finnish prog-folk act Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band strutting their stuff at Islesburgh. Photo: Chris Brown

THERE was a jovial atmosphere pervading Islesburgh on Thursday as the 35th Shetland Folk Festival got underway.

The highly-anticipated weekend was gently ushered in as the festival held its afternoon opening concert in Lerwick.

It gave a packed Room 16 – and those watching elsewhere in the building via video link – a taster of this year’s fifteen visiting acts.

Denmark ensemble Habadekuk kicked things off in style as bodies lined the walls and people filled doorways to get a closer look.

Duncan Chisholm, one of Scotland's most accomplished fiddlers and composers.

Scottish act Rura – who feature Shetland regular Adam Holmes – impressed with a soulful track, whilst Mollie O’Brien received a rapturous reception for her skin-tingling vocal work alongside husband Rich Moore.

Alongside the music was host Steve Cousins, an Australian circus entertainer whose quips and physical gags got the crowd loosened up as their weekend got underway.

With each act only getting one song to show off their talents, the flow was naturally a little stilted – but the kinetic Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band put paid to that.

The Finnish quintet – who are playing the festival for the first time – cranked things up to 11 with revved-up, off-kilter musicianship and a flamboyant stage presence that saw the group kicking the air in glee.

The audience was later transported to rural Australia with a song from indigenous musician Frank Yamma, who channeled his native language with throaty gusto, whilst Jamie Smith’s Mabon took things a bit darker with a melting pot of explorative folk and discordant menace.

The afternoon’s show was rounded off by the likes of smooth Seattle Americana outfit Cahalen Morrison & Eli West and Irish folksters Tupelo.

A busy Room 16 at Islesburgh for the traditional opening concert. Photo: Chris Brown

Jamie Smith of Welsh group Mabon said after their performance that he was “absolutely delighted” to be playing this year’s festival.

“Today’s been great,” he told Shetland News. “It’s almost like some sort of strange speed dating with the audience where you’ve got five minutes to entertain them and give them a flavour of what you’re bringing to the festival.

“If you hear a full concert by us, we move through quite a few different moods and tempos and styles and rhythms – but it’s all based on Celtic music.

“I’m still getting a feel for Shetland as I’ve only just turned up on the ferry this morning”, he added. “We’re all absolutely delighted to be here because it’s a festival we’ve been trying to play at for a couple of years. Sometimes you have to be a bit patient as there’s so many bands.”

Indigenous Australian singer-songwriter Frank Yamma will be singing in his native language and in English. Photo: Chris Brown

Local musician Lewie Peterson is one of the newer members of the festival committee, and he’s been kept busy over the last number of months.

He was one of a number of committee patrons who kept up the festival tradition of accompanying the many visiting acts on the boat from Aberdeen.

“Today’s been excellent,” he said. “There’s been a lot of work put in and it’s really good to see all the preparation that’s happened over the last few months come together.

“The visiting bands meanwhile seem to really enjoy the fact that the committee comes down to meet them and make that extra effort.”

So how does it feel to be a fully-fledged committee member? “It’s frantic,” he quipped before being swept away by the sound crew to help move some amplifiers.

And you’ve got to think that it’s only going to get more busy for the committee in the coming days and nights as the festival truly gets into full swing.

Chris Cope