AFTER a week of hectic workshops, sessions, tours and shows, another Fiddle Frenzy came to a satisfying and spirited conclusion with the slightly awkwardly-named Frenzy Sessions, Frenzy Students and Jodie Smith show in Mareel on Saturday night.
Unusually for a Shetland fiddle gig, the Mareel auditorium seemed oddly lacking in audience when the lights went down. By the time festival curators Eunice Henderson and Claire White led a few dozen fiddle students onto the stage, it became quickly apparent where the occupants of those seats were.
Soon enough, the stage was carpeted in fiddlers of all ages, of different levels of experience and ability, from all over the world. Claire explained that the students had been sent recordings and sheet music ahead of the festival to allow them to fully prepare for the finale performance.
Fittingly, proceedings kicked off with Da Fiddle Frenzy Class o’ 2016, written by Unst fiddler Steven Spence.
It was immediately apparent that the extra practice time had paid off. The fiddle students tore through a number of jaunty reels impressively; a testament to the high-quality tuition they had been receiving for an assuredly intense and exhausting week. It seemed a shame, however, that despite this year’s Fiddle Frenzy including accordion, guitar and mandolin workshops, only fiddle students were called upon to perform as part of the show.
All too soon it was over, and the students were awarded with hearty, well-earned applause.
With a much fuller audience, the show continued with the excellent Jodie Smith, winner of Young Fiddler of the Year for both traditional and contemporary awards. Accompanied and introduced by Eunice, Jodie gave a sterling performance of both traditional and contemporary tunes; from slow airs to polkas, both sombre and playful.
The crowd responded with raucous applause and cheers – the best of the night – and it was well deserved for a top-notch performance from such a skilled young musician. As an ambassador of Shetland fiddle music, Jodie gave a great impression, and set the bar high for even veteran Fiddle Frenzy attendees to work towards.
After a short interval (and absolute stampede to the bar), events swiftly moved on to The Frenzy Sessions. A more relaxed and informal type of show, fiddle tutor Lois Nicol presented a hand-picked group of Shetland musicians for a traditional jam session.
In true Shetland folk music style, The Frenzy Sessions featured a rotating cast of extremely-skilled musicians, swapping instruments and people between songs, telling funny stories and anecdotes and generally just having a good time. A really wonderful, atmospheric touch was lighting the players with a single warm, orange light, as if they were sitting in about the fire.
The musicians themselves were a wide range of some of Shetland’s best. Lewie Peterson and his father, Gary, featured prominently; their back-and-forth banter bringing the best laughs of the night. Peter Gear – described by Lois as “one of the best fiddlers in Shetland” – and Ewen Thomson also sat in for a few, as did Sheila Henderson, local band Tyunes, and others.
The tunes were as wide a spectrum as the players themselves; American, Irish, bluegrass, traditional. Waterlillies, a slow and romantic song in Shetland dialect, was particularly memorable. While it was nice to get such a range of different styles, the fast and lively numbers felt more in-tune with the mood of the evening.
Nevertheless, it was a fantastic way to round off a celebration of Shetland music – warm, friendly, funny and toe-tapping. To wrap up, the stage filled with musicians, tutors and curators for a “final stramash”, a fittingly frenzied and vigorous end to a hectic week.
Afterwards, as everyone was filling up the bar for one last late-night jam, Shetland News caught up with curators Claire and Eunice.
Eunice, a curator for the first time this year, described the week had been “something else!”
“I’ve been learning along with the students,” she said. “We’re all exhausted now; it’s been just fantastic!
“As the week’s gone on, everyone has gotten closer and closer, friendlier and friendlier. They just can’t get enough of it.”
Claire noted that many of the students are people who return year after year to Fiddle Frenzy, and they hope to see them again soon.
With a sense of relief at a week that “somehow went exactly as planned”, she added: “It’s been all we expected and more. Everyone has given it their all, and it’s been a varied, inspiring and fun week. Roll on next year!”