Review / Salt House’s impressive Fiddle Frenzy outing

Salt House (from left: Lauren McColl, Jenny Sturgeon and Ewan McPherson) performing at Mareel on Thursday evening. Photo: Kelly Nicolson Riddell.

THIS year’s Fiddle Frenzy festival is in full flow, with the students off to Bressay for a concert and dance on Friday night followed by the closing night’s concert in Lerwick on Saturday.

Scottish alternative folk trio Salt House, featuring fiddler Lauren McColl, singer and harmonium player Jenny Sturgeon (who recently moved to the islands) and guitarist Ewan McPherson, headlined a fine evening of music at Mareel on Thursday night.

The inventive group are certainly at the less traditional end of the spectrum for this year’s festival and they delivered a mellow, varied hour of music showcasing strong material from their recently-completed new album.

Among the set’s highlights were Old Shoes, a catchy number penned by Jenny about way back when she last embarked upon a jog, while the group deftly put Robert Frost’s acclaimed 1916 poem The Road Not Taken to music.

Jenny joined the group last year, replacing traditional singer Siobhan Miller, and is already proving a great complement to Ewan’s stylish picking and Lauren’s elegant bow work.

Fiddle tutor Andrew Gifford was joined by bassist John Clark and guitarist Grant Nicol for his set. Photo: Kelly Nicolson Riddell.

The Aberdeenshire-raised singer’s crystalline vocals and keen aptitude for writing about the natural world bring to mind the work of Karine Polwart, among others.

There is simultaneously a warmth and a haunting quality to Salt House’s work that ensures their first record with Jenny – recorded in Berneray in the Outer Hebrides last month and due out in February – promises much.

Earlier in the evening, fiddle tutor Andrew Gifford – flanked by guitarist Grant Nicol and bassist John Clark – had treated students and gig-goers to a whistlestop tour of his classy repertoire, squeezing jigs, reels, hornpipes, waltzes and a beautiful slow air.

Also on the bill were young fiddlers Anya Johnston and Ashley Jarmson, along with Barry Nisbet and friends.

The concert formed part of the week-long fiddle school, which sees visitors from afar coming to learn all about the islands’ rich instrumental heritage and distinctive playing style.

Earlier on Thursday the pupils had enjoyed a musical tour of the South Mainland with local music scene mainstays Maurice Henderson and Lewie Peterson.

Claire White, who curates Fiddle Frenzy along with Eunice Henderson, described the festival as “a joy, as ever!”

“The amazing community effort which underpins this event has astounded visitors from all over the world once again,” she said.

“Highlights this year include a sunny day spent in Ollaberry and a wonderful tune tour of the South Mainland, capably led by Maurice Henderson and Lewie Peterson.

“We’re in Bressay today and look forward to concluding the week with a free performance in Mareel’s café bar on Sunday, 12 noon to 2pm. A thousand thanks to everyone who’s made this week such a special one!”

  • Tickets to the finale concert, headlined by Jenna Reid and Kevin MacKenzie and also featuring Hjaltibonhoga, Peter Gear & Ewen Thomson and student sets, are still available priced £18 (£16)
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