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Reviews / Flit: big, bold and breathtaking

A thought-provoking and stimulating show: Flit during the soundcheck on Wednesday - Photo: Shetland Arts

STANDING on stage at Mareel on Wednesday night was an all-star cast of musicians from big-hitters Portishead, Mogwai, Lau and The Unthanks, as well as singer Adam Holmes, writes Chris Cope.

Flit, however, felt a sum of all its parts, with the quintet melting together seamlessly to magic up a musical journey as enveloping and progressive as Shetland has ever seen.

The project is the brainchild of dynamic Lau accordionist Martin Green, who set off on a quest around three years ago to explore the themes of migration and travel after hearing tales from his grandmother about how she left Vienna as a child before the start of World War II and ended up in England.

Green assumed the role of musical alchemist in Flit, with the group bringing together electronic nods, experimental deviances and folk stylings, while its live show features stop-motion animation and intense lighting.

And a really, really big set. The Mareel stage was transformed with a gargantuan backdrop, which had to be transported to Shetland in a lorry, while extra props allowed the themes to be explored in a physical way.

The show – which in recent weeks had been performed at the likes of London’s large Barbican venue – built on Flit’s recently released album, with tracks like The Suitcase and Laws of Motion showcasing expert harmonies from vocalists Holmes and Becky Unthank.

Meshed over the musical interludes, however, were audio clips of everyday folk speaking about their experiences with migration – a topic which often branched off into the broader issues of family, belonging and self-identification.

It was thought-provoking and stimulating, with the near continuous stream of audio, as well as at the multi-media experience, making the show feel more like a theatrical production or a new-age opera rather than just a collection of songs.

Green often disentangled himself from his variety of odd instruments to speak to the crowd about the inspiration behind Flit, and his own personal connection to the themes. Amid the near-apocalyptic sounding music, he provided bursts of comic relief with deadpan humour.

And, perhaps, it wasn’t the audio clips streaming through the PA or the expansive soundscapes that provided the night’s most rousing moment.

Near the end of the set, Green vented a monologue about his grandparents’ experience and its connection to today’s society, bubbling like a cauldron of increasing anger as the backing music swelled into fits of noise. Expletives were thrown, shouts were uttered, hairs on the back of the neck rose.

Anyone who came to the gig unaware and hoping to see the folk hues of Lau or the oft-upbeat singer-songwriter nouse of Adam Holmes may have been left a little disappointed by the often bleak ruminations, which sometimes stuttered the flow, or the wall of noise from Mogwai bassist Dominic Aitchison and Portishead’s multi-instrumentalist Adrian Utley.

Many, however, will likely have been entranced by an absorbing, grand show, which Shetland was lucky to have experienced.

After the sold-out gig ended, a friend said she shed tears during a heart-tugging moment when music and animation conjoined together to emotional effect.

It’s wasn’t quite your usual reaction to a gig in Mareel on a Wednesday night, but then again, the Flit show most definitely wasn’t just your average concert. It was big and bold, and at its best brilliantly breathtaking.

 A time lapse video of the stage being set-up at Mareel.