Review: A little bit of everything in Brae

Scott Wood Band topped off a diverse bill in Brae. Photo: Chris Cope.

THE OPENING night of this year’s Shetland Folk Festival saw a little bit of everything on show at a sold-out Brae Hall.

Perhaps exemplifying the broad, all-encompassing nature of folk, there were touches of swing, jazz, blues and…circus.

The Loose Ends, the only local act on a truly international line-up, were tasked with warming things up, but their charming collection of old-time tunes from beloved, bygone decades easily merited a more notable billing.

The band, headed by affable guitarist and vocalist Norman ‘Girsie’ Goudie, took the rapt audience to France, America and back with swing-led tunes topped off with some deadpan quips from the band leader.

Referring to Let’s Circus’ act due to follow them later in the night, Goudie wisecracked that people surely would have “had enough of us clowns” – something the audience most definitely would have disagreed with.

The following Langan Trio injected extra pace and vigour that had been missing in the Loose Ends’ more demure tones.

The threesome are based in Glasgow, but they grab international influences, with their opening tune effusing hints of Flamenco.

The self-proclaim themselves as a ‘power trio’ and you could see why, with the award-winning group charging through knee-slapping Balkan and Roma-inspired romps, but there was more than enough reflective, cinematic downtime too.

This year’s folk festival curveball is travelling troupe Let’s Circus, which assembled a cast of performers from as far-flung as Kenya and Japan.

Having circus performers do their thing in front of an audience of seated folk fans in the Brae Hall was a risky move, but it paid off, with the crowd whooping and guffawing in unison.

There was hat juggling and hula-hooping, while Yorkshire violinist Matthew Tiffany got the crowd conjoined in collective hysteria when he played his instrument while balancing, juggling and hula-hooping.

The set’s finest act, however, was Japanese duo Witty Look, who had the audience in raptures with an at times surreal performance punctuated by oddball theatrics and rib-tickling audience participation.

It was only day one, but you already felt that Witty Look could be this year’s most memorable act. Good job then that Let’s Circus will be staying in Shetland for an isles-wide tour in May.

Hard cheese to Italian outfit Veronica and the Red Wine Serenaders who had to follow the zany duo, but their harmonious blend of bluesy, 1920s and 30s tunes had the crowd on their side.

There were some raised eyebrows when grateful frontwoman Veronica Sbergia effused how good it felt to be in the “Shetlands” – but we’ll let her off this time.

Juggling a washboard, ukulele and kazoo, she rallied her troops through uplifting songs like the bouncy, old-time tune ‘Mexican Dress’.

The night was topped off by headlining act Scott Wood Band, who temporarily caused hearts to drop as they brought the dreaded bagpipes onto the stage.

However, weary pipe-phobes didn’t need to worry as the Scottish collective used the oft-divisive instrument in subtle yet effective style, tapping into a sound that was traditional yet wholly contemporary.

Things were hotting up as the familiar, cosy sound of feet tapping the floor rhythmically resonated around the hall. “I’d never thought I’d say the word warm and Shetland together” leader Wood quipped as he sweated things out.

Some of the band’s members visited Shetland last year with experimental jazz conglomerate Fat-Suit and you could sense some of those vibes shining through, with odd time signatures and ear-catching chord progressions allied with the more usual, trad fare.

With day one over, things certainly bode well for the weekend’s folk festival frolics. As opening night concerts go, this was up there with the best of them.

Chris Cope