The calendar may have only just broken into December, but there was tangible Christmas spirit swirling inside Lerwick’s busy Clickimin Leisure Complex on Tuesday night, as Chris Cope discovered.
There were no trees, baubles or fairy lights – the festivities were on stage thanks to the bellowing vocal cords of Ernie Haase + Signature Sound.
The US gospel quartet were in Shetland on their third visit to the isles to spread the message of Christmas – and Jesus – through vocal-led song.
It was up to local trio the North Ness Boys to launch the night, but before that, the stage opened with compere and promoter Matthew Laurenson paying tribute to the late Shetland man Bruce Rosseter, who left money for the organising committee in his estate to use for another Haase gig.
“He was a man of integrity and a man of God,” Laurenson said, which set the tone for the rest of the evening.
There was praise – and lots of it – but enough musical panache to please most of the hardened atheists who may have been watching on.
North Ness Boys’ blend of luminous vocal harmonies and sprightly folk flavours was a perfect choice for starters.
The effervescent No Reservation at the Inn brought barbershop sheen, while Feliz Navidad juggled Spanish lyrics with the repeated refrain ‘I want to wish you a merry Christmas’.
Local boys done proud, then.
As Ernie Haase and his three amigos strolled on stage it felt like being dropped into a high-budget evangelical praiseathon.
The slick suits and made-for-TV speaking voices felt a world away from the ginormous-gym hall venue and the construction wasteland sitting next door.
The Disney-speckled Christianity and unabashed theatrics at times raised the cringeworthy bar high, but there was enough alluring talent dripping from the four voices to see you through the night.
Opener Marshmallow World was an upbeat introduction into the curious macrocosm of Ernie Haase & Signature Sound: “The world is your snowball, see how it grows/That’s how it goes whenever it snows,” they mused, before Glory To God In The Highest set the hall rumbling like an earthquake tremor with bass singer Paul Harkey’s thunderous low notes.
The Grammy-nominated foursome were supported by the impressive Tyler Vestal on keyboard, but the synthetic backing track music didn’t help the plasticity of the show; indeed, the moments where the tunes pared away to reveal the four vocals working in synchronicity were the true highlights.
The first half was more energised than the second, with Happy People packing a punch and a surprising Vestal keyboard solo veering into honky tonk territory.
After the intermission, things failed to truly pick up again; Light A Candle wandered dangerously into Take That tribute band territory, while there was most definitely a Westlife moment when all four men – tenor Haase, Harkey, lead Devin McGlamery and baritone Dustin Doyle – rose out of their stools simultaneously in perfectly rehearsed harmony.
The concert ended with Laurenson joining the quartet on stage in a snowman costume, a jovial end to what was, at times, a very jovial night.
As Haase took his comrades at light speed to the foyer to man their self-proclaimed ‘product table’, the believers in the packed Clickimin crowd left content, cockles of the heart warmed, and counting down the days to Christmas.
And even some of the non-believers left with a smile too.
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