A QUITE terrific collaboration between brilliant Fife violinist Seonaid Aitken and Shetland’s equally brilliant Bryan Gear was one of many highlights of an outstanding folk festival show in Burravoe on Friday night, writes Neil Riddell.
From the moment the pair began seamlessly playing together backstage in the afternoon, it was clear the audience were in for a special treat.
After a welcome afternoon of warm sunshine in Burravoe, the Sheila Henderson Band were first to take the stage before a capacity crowd in the village’s smartly designed public hall.
Swelled to a full-sounding five-piece with the welcome addition of fiddler Kirsten Hendry for the first time, Sheila and her consummate band fired through a set of meaty country rock with high points including the jingle jangle of Dancing in the Rain, closing with set staple Living A Lie.
Gordon Gunn, Brian McAlpine and Friends, who between them represent over half of Session A9 (whose line-up includes Shetland’s own Kevin Henderson), then shared material from Caithness fiddler Gunn’s recent ‘From Wick to Wickham’ album.
Their 40-minute set drew on a mixture of self-penned numbers from Gunn, including classy hornpipe Shop St., and tunes hailing from Cape Breton and Capercaillie’s Donald Shaw. McAlpine had the audience in hearty guffaws with a tale of how the Wurzels may have been disappointed to rank below the four Highlanders on a festival bill: “There’s nothing funnier than seeing a Wurzel having an artistic tantrum.”
There’s always fiddle prowess aplenty at this festival. Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch were next on stage, and once again we were running out of superlatives to describe Gear’s unassuming poise with the instrument.
If the crowd eagerly lapped up the Jay Unger-written waltzes The Elephant Hotel and The Mountain House, when Aitken joined in for Tom Anderson’s Da Slockit Light they near brought the house down. It looked and sounded as if the two had been sharing tunes for a lifetime.
The high-octane vim and vigour of The East Pointers‘ traditional Celtic tunes seems custom-built for 10pm on a Friday night, while they again dialled things down with the poignant three-part harmony of Blainey’s Laughing Eyes, sung a cappella.
Secret Picture, the intoxicating title track from their 2015 album, even had some punters dancing on their seats. Step-dancing banjoist Koady Chaisson, meanwhile, spoke of how he’d given up being a lobster fisherman after a decade to take up the stringed instrument. Chaisson took mock offence at one local’s suggestion he looked “too skinny to be a lobster fisherman”.
Festival committee compere Lewie Peterson said the night’s final act were “back by popular demand”. And no wonder: Rose Room mine the considerable talents of inter-war American legends Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli to irresistible effect.
Aitken might be the star attraction, a formidable violinist and glorious singer of American Songbook standards, but the sprightly licks of her greying accomplices are equally impressive. Double bassist and guitar-making extraordinaire Jimmy Moon is a long-standing friend of Shetland, while lead guitarist Tom Watson’s playing frequently takes the breath away.
Rose Room’s cocktail of vintage swing and gypsy jazz regularly had rhythm guitarist Tam Gallagher straining every sinew to set a quickfire tempo. Further guest appearances from Gear and added fretboard wizardry from Brian Nicholson earned one of the night’s biggest ovations.
Versatile to the last, Rose Room rounded off a stellar set with the Latin-inflected Bossa Dorado showcasing further intricate fingerplay and driving rhythms, going on to encore with Charles Trenet’s delectable French standard Ménilmontant.
Once again the folk festival had delivered one of its hottest concert bills of the weekend to Yell, and by the end of the night the citizens of the bustling Burravoe metropolis knew just how privileged they’d been.
After that, it was off to the ferry where the buses down from Unst and Yell coalesced, the musicians staging an impromptu session – as you do – on the car deck.
AFTER Thursday gently ushered in this year’s Shetland Folk Festival, there was a tangible party vibe coursing through the Clickimin on Friday night, writes Chris Cope.
The gig, featuring three visiting acts and a one-off Shetland supergroup, even came emblazoned with its own name – Scots On Da Rock – Spangin’ Spree.
Unbridled dancing and hi-jinx hellery was inevitable – and the Lerwick crowd didn’t disappoint.
The show was opened by hotly-tipped Scottish trio Talisk, whose Irish-Scottish traditional tunes acted as an amiable warm-up for what was set to come.
Local supergroup Dwaam followed, and the ample size of the 13-strong collective made the expansive Clickimin stage feel more like a rowdy living room gig.
Featuring members of Folk Festival favourites Hom Bru, Bongshang, First Foot Soldiers and Haltadans, the band reimagined tunes from some of the group’s dayjob acts.
There was a stirring rendition of Arthur Nicholson’s Ready To Go and a groove-ridden Bongshang number, while the ‘Festival Spree Band’ lived up to its name by ploughing through a plethora of boisterous reels.
You knew it was already going to be a 2016 folk festival highlight, and it made you just a little bit proud to hail from these very isles. Wham, bam, thank you Dwaam.
Glasgow’s The Elephant Sessions had the hard task of following, but their far-reaching, immersive blend of folk, rock and even hints of funk was a rousing affair.
They had all the chops and the groove, with tracks like Ainya’s even dipping toes into calypso music, and it seemed the quartet had quickly become one of the weekend’s must-see acts.
Headliner status was reserved for the returning Scottish outfit Mànran, who juggled Celtic warmth and rollicking rhythms to place the hefty crowd right in the palms of their many hands.
Performing a rendition of The Fishing Boat by the late Fair Isle songwriter and poet Lise Sinclair brought things into perspective and added a local touch, while the crowd were even treated to a never-heard-before set of new tunes.
Come the end of the night minds started to wander towards beating the queues at Islesburgh’s after-hours festival club, with taxis raining down outside.
The party, it seems, was only just getting started.