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Folk Festival 2015 / Vidlin concert whets appetite for weekend

The Esko Jarvela Epic Male Band offering up their Finnish prog-folk at Vidlin on Thursday night. Photo: Shetnews

Vidlin Hall was packed for the opening night of the 2015 Shetland Folk Festival, the audience enjoying a truly diverse musical cocktail of homegrown and visiting acts, as Louise Thomason discovered.

OPENING the show at Vidlin’s folk festival concert on Thursday night were local band the Isbister Leaper String Collective, featuring Jackie Robertson.

The band, also including father daughter Andrew and Ashley Leaper on mandolin and fiddle, and father and son Stewart and Haldane Isbister on guitars, breezed their way through a set of traditional tunes, reels and old time sounding songs spanning Shetland, Norway, Denmark and America.

2014 Young Fiddler of the Year Sophie Moar combined accomplished playing with a relaxed, amusing stage presence. Photo: Shetnews

Their relaxed set was full of good humour and a fitting start to the night’s music.

Next up were folk/trad powerhouse Rura who launched into Fraser Fifield’s ‘The Dark Reel’.

Soulful melodies on tunes like The Low Ground, written by band member David Foley, and beautiful ballads, such as on their reworking of a Robert Burns poem, punctuated tunes with a dark element, cleverly arranged and expertly executed.

Their playing tight, mesmerising and with a modern sound made up of pipes, fiddle, bodhran, guitar and rich vocals from Adam Holmes, it’s obvious why the group are in high demand.

It’s probably inappropriate to describe the next act as adorable, but Sophie Moar’s combination of accomplished playing and relaxed and amusing stage presence was just that.

Young Fiddler of the Year in 2014, her set of technically challenging pieces included Debbie Scott’s ‘Dance o Da Trows’, the ‘Calgary Fiddlers Welcome to Shetland’ and the slow air ‘Sailing Sooth’, accompanied by Graeme Malcomson on double bass and Martin Henderson on piano.

Molly O'Brien, pictured during the Islesburgh opening concert, offered a "stunning range and rich, fluid delivery". Photo: Chris Brown

After a break for sandwiches, Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore took to the stage with their blend of folk, jazz and blues. No stranger to the isles, this trip makes Mollie’s third to the Festival.

Completely owning her vocals, O’Brien’s stunning range and rich, fluid delivery is accompanied by husband Moore on guitar, their set including songs by Dave Van Ronk and Tom Paxton as well as original material.

Eased along by their warm and funny stage presence, it makes for a treat of a performance and one not to be missed.

Ending the evening with, if not a bang then a jazz funk folk explosion, were the aptly titled Epic Male Band, led by Esko Jarvella.

The Finnish group has a sound that shouldn’t really work, but totally does. Comprising fiddle, electric bass and guitar, percussion and acoustic guitar, they rocked, jumped and head-banged their way through a fun set of high octane tunes (which included one written for extremist base jumper Felix Baumgartner, famous for jumping from space), swooping fiddle melodies weaving amongst the percussion and bass.

They are sure to appeal to not only folk and jazz and funk rock fans and get people dancing, but, as one audience member noted, with parts of the music sounding not unlike the theme tune from Nightrider, they might be a bit of a Marmite band for some.

Overall it was a brilliant night of music, presented beautifully by the stellar talents of sound man Tim Matthew, and will no doubt have whetted the musical appetite for the weekend to come.

Louise Thomason