IT MAY be dubbed the Shetland Folk Festival, but the audience at Gulberwick Hall on Thursday night was treated to tastes of classical, jazz and country too, writes Chris Cope.
The hall was sold out as the ever-popular folk festival kicked off its 38th year, with music lovers eager to lap up some of the event’s visiting acts and homegrown talent.
It was up to local group the Freda Leask Trio to open the show, with the Shoormal stalwart channelling singer-songwriter and country hues to warm things up nicely.
Joined by Arthur Nicholson on guitar and Graham Malcolmson on upright bass, Leask – who is currently recording new music with Kris Drever as producer – ran through an elegant set of tunes.
But it was perhaps her young granddaughter Cameron who inadvertently stole the show – but you can be sure Leask didn’t mind passing over the spotlight.
The 12 year old, who happened to be celebrating her birthday, saw the trio become four as she confidently performed vocals on Sweet Memories, with Cameron blending harmonies with her granny.
In true folk festival style, the night swerved from a heart-tugging family duet to a virtuoso whirlwind of classical-jazz-folk from the Tim Kliphuis Trio.
Dutch mainman Kliphuis used his violin as a sonic weapon as he guided bassist Roy Percy and guitarist Nigel Clark through sounds nodding to everyone from Django Reinhardt and Vivaldi to Aaron Copland.
Percy’s runs on the upright bass were as quick as Usain Bolt, while Kliphuis and Clark often traded finger-shredding salvos.
Judging by the resounding applause it felt like the audience were itching to give the classy trio a rare standing ovation, so hard cheese to the Peter Wood Dance Band for having to follow.
“They were pure culture…and we’re going to be pure agriculture,” the band leader laughed.
The accordionist was in typically boisterous form, with his band – featuring Nicholson, Maggie Adamson and Graham Jamieson – launching headfirst into reels, polkas and just about everything else.
There was no dancing space in the tightly packed hall so the crowd had to make do with tapping toes, and when they channelled Parisian flavours things felt all the more engrossing.
New York duo Brother Brothers dialled things down a little with their stripped back acoustic musings, throwing bluegrass tones into the night’s musical cauldron.
Twins Adam and David Moss struck the crowd with pin-point harmonies, while the rootsy music was uplifting yet melancholic at the same time.
The dainty Bird In a Tree had the crowd in the duo’s palms – not long after the pair cracked a joke about Shetland’s lack of trees.
Shooglenighty first performed at the folk festival over 20 years ago, and they are back after an absence of nearly ten years.
In that time they sadly lost acclaimed fiddler Angus Grant, who passed away in 2016 after a short illness.
Still, the Shooglenifty machine rolls on and they paid tribute to the musician with the track Hunting For Angus, with the song alluding to Grant’s seeming penchant going on mysterious travels – perhaps to “pubs in Lochaber” – before returning just in time.
The only act of the night with drums, the Scots lifted the pace with the so-called acid croft sound, which sprinkles the energy of contemporary dance music on top of a Celtic folk foundation.
Singer Kaela Rowan was an engaging presence throughout, and the band’s desire to think outside the box and travel places many folk bands dare not go shone through.
Like all the best Shetland Folk Festival gigs, the Gulberwick show had enough flavours for all musical palates – and on this showing, things are certainly looking bright for the days ahead.