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Folk Festival 2015 / An intoxicating night of folk in Cullivoe

Cahalen Morrison and Eli West: blissful musical companionship. Photo: Shetnews/Neil Riddell

A SELLOUT audience at Cullivoe went home deliriously happy on Friday night after enjoying an intoxicating Shetland Folk Festival concert, writes Neil Riddell

By the time high-octane, eight-man band Habadekuk rounded the concert off just after 11.30pm, the clamour for more tunes was only cut short by the need to get the musicians back to the ferry.

Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys at Room 16 on Friday afternoon. Photo: Shetnews

The Danish folkies’ big band jazz, polkas, jigs, reels and sea shanties had many on their feet, and after taunting the crowd that the loudest audience participation they’d had was from an English crowd, elicited some Up Helly Aa-esque roaring along from those who dwell in north Yell.

For this writer, day two of the 35th festival had begun with a quick dash to Islesburgh to take in Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys’ afternoon set.

It was more than worthwhile: Lindsay and her cohorts had the family audience at Room 16 under their spell. One toddler even tried to get too close to the action (“that’s the first time we’ve ever had someone try to crawl on stage”). 

Frequently trading instruments, the sharply dressed quartet delivered a stylish blend of feel-good, twangy acoustic bluegrass with pop song sensibilities.

‘Criminal Style’, from the Michigan group’s impressive latest LP ‘Ionia’, is a classic of its genre, while Lindsay Lou really let her voice rip on set closer ‘River Jordan’. Special mention, too, to Salem native and stand-up bassist PJ George both for his musicianship and the formidable beard that fair tumbles doon his chest.

Hom Bru on stage at Cullivoe on Friday night. Photo: Shetnews

Then for the jaunt up to Cullivoe. Standing in the queue ahead of doors opening, the chill wind had a bite that made it feel like anything but May.

Once everyone had thawed out, it was time for compere Lewie Peterson to introduce his father Gary and friends, otherwise known as Hom Bru.

They started with a lovely instrumental reading of Ivan Drever’s ‘Rose of St. Magnus’ which, Peterson told the audience, Ivan had written after the Queen visited Orkney to open a window.

Along with the obligatory ‘Trowie Song’ singalong, a couple of slow-burning sets of tunes enhanced by Peterson’s melodic mandolin handiwork were a joy to behold.

This scribe makes no apology for an in-built bias in favour of Americana, so it’ll come as no surprise that roots duo Eli West and Cahalen Morrison are about to be praised to the rafters.

Seven-eighths of Habadekuk (drummer just out of shot). Photo: Shetnews

The pair ran through songs from their delightful (and handsomely packaged) ‘I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands’ album, along with a fine take on Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Loretta’.

There is a spare, seamless feel to this blissful musical companionship. The duo are refreshingly unafraid of leaving space in their arrangements and the high lonesome harmonies are divine, while Morrison’s banjo playing and West’s bluegrassy guitar are both sublime.

‘Fiddlehead Fern’ and ‘Pocket Full of Dust’ are imbued with a potent emotional heft and the sepia-tinged feel of inter-war, backwoods rural America. I’d gladly have sat through another hour of this magical pair.

Post-interval, it was the turn of Yorkshireman Adam Guest, who played increasingly well-honed songs from his ‘Open the Book’ EP. Guest has really blossomed as a guitarist and singer since moving to Shetland from Barnsley 18 months ago.

Nova Scotian piano and fiddle whizzkid Troy MacGillivray. Photo: Shetnews

His voice dovetails very nicely indeed with Louise Thomason’s, while she adeptly takes on verses during a cover of Fionn Regan’s ‘Dogwood Blossom’ and another of Guest’s own compositions, ‘Cider Sweet Lips’, which closed a very well-received set.

Next up, to the whooping delight of the Cullivoe crowd, were Canadian fiddle duo Troy MacGillivray and Shane Cook, accompanied by Jake Charron.

Their blend of brilliantly-played tunes drew on Celtic and Canadian traditions, and as the tempo rose so did the voluble appreciation of the audience. Amid the high-grade fiddling in an array of styles, though, it was Nova Scotian MacGillivary’s sensational stint at the piano that impressed the most.

Adam Guest and Louise Thomason's set was very well received. Photo: Shetnews

After that quaintest of festival traditions, the raffle, came the nine-strong Habadekuk juggernaut. After ironing out a couple of last-minute technical sound issues, they ripped into a full-on set that soon had many standing on their seats.

In some ways they’re an archetypal folk party band – yet underneath the bluster there are some interesting arrangements, very much enhanced by the trombone-trumpet-saxophone brass triumvirate.

With the Friday night liquor really kicking in, Peterson admitted to feeling like a “grinch” when he came on stage – amid much clamour for an encore – to announce the sprawling, inebriating concert had reached its conclusion.