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Reviews / Great harmonies and flawless instrumental skills

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THERE have been times over the past two years when it’s been hard to imagine sitting in the bleachers at Clickimin again, looking out over a hall packed full of happy folk festival-goers, but here we are and, boy, did it feel good, writes Caroline McKenzie.

Friday night’s concert opened with local brothers Ross and Ryan Couper. Announcing at the start of the set “we’re just going to bloody play”, Ross told the audience the plan was to perform for half an hour, without stopping to introduce each tune, and off they went!

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There were the reels, with the elder Couper brother’s virtuosic fiddle style to the fore in dizzying runs and flourishes, but they also applied the brakes at times to great effect with their waltz set, and when Ryan on guitar took the lead on Billy Joel’s And So It Goes. The pair were rewarded with loud and rapturous applause from the home crowd.

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A first time visitor to Shetland, Heidi Talbot confessed to being the same age as the festival – having originally planned to celebrate her 40th birthday here two years ago.  Joined by Innes White on guitar and Jennifer Austin on keyboard, Heidi opened with the waltz-time Angels Without Wings, her crystal-clear Irish lilt filling the hall.

Heidi Talbot. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgeat Media

With a warm and engaging personality, she introduced a varied set ranging across her repertoire, taking us from the traditional Bedlam Boys, neatly interspersed with Dolly Parton’s Jolene, to her latest single Sing It For A Lifetime – a song Heidi said she like to think she’d “collected” while walking in the woods near her home in Ratho. For me, no Talbot set would be complete without Tom Waits’ classic Time – and she duly obliged.

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With lead singer Celia Woodsmith only due to arrive today (Saturday), Della Mae still looked and sounded,as if they were firing on all cylinders, as double bassist Vicky Vaughn ably filled the role.

When the band formed in 2009, it was partly to prove that they could “pick as good as the guys”: they certainly do that – and then some, with Avril Smith on guitar, Kimber Ludiker on fiddle, and Maddie Witler on mandolin. Their entertaining set included Roger Miller’s Meanwhile Back in Abilene, and “the most severe Gospel song we could find”: Sinners.

Great harmonies and flawless instrumental skills – I look forward to hearing them in full flight over the weekend.

One of the most eagerly anticipated returns to this 40th anniversary festival has been the French Canadian quintet Le Vent Du Nord.  Their exuberant playing and on-stage bonhomie wowed the Shetland audiences on their last visit in 2008, and within a couple of minutes of them being on stage, we immediately remembered why we loved them so much.

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Celebrating twenty years together, their set drew from 20 Printemps, their latest album marking that milestone. L’eau de Vie de L’arbre was a tribute to that Canadian staple, maple syrup; Turlute De Maishowcased the band’s vocal skills and that mesmerizing foot percussion which is so much an integral part of the Le Vent Du Nord sound.

The five piece harmonies were also used to spectacular effect in a drinking song about a pub (it sounds so much better in French – L’Auberge!). These guys perform with such joy and exuberance; the trademark foot tapping, hurdy-gurdy and driving piano style combine to create an overall sound that surely must gladden the hardest of hearts.

After inviting some audience participation in the sad/happy Ma Louise, the band returned for an encore, with foot-tappers extraordinaire Andre Brunet and Olivier Demers in the spotlight.  I’m off to sign up for their foot percussion workshop at the Club.  See you there!

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