THE AIR was electric after the enforced quiet of the last two years, writes Carol Jamieson as she sensed the relief from Shetland Folk Festival goers to be out listening to music again.
The concert in Mareel on Saturday night certainly did not disappoint.
Opening with Magnus Williamson it was strong and toe tapping showing us a tremendous range of skills from the 16-year-old. Winning the Young Fiddler of the Year last year, he has had to wait with anticipation to be able to hold his own onstage at this prestigious event.
Ably accompanied by the slick vamping skills of Martin Henderson, he showed subtlety and depth of character in his slow air and a ringing strings solo as well as clever humour in the tune Lime Rock, demonstrating mature command of the instrument.
Next on were The Poozies. There was a surprise. Three middle aged menopausal women (their words, not mine) and their young male guitarist entered the stage.
One would be forgiven for expecting some nice harmonies and a few standard fiddle tunes, nope, this was original and exciting music using risky and intricate harmonies. The opening was a dark brooding tune from Orkney, beautifully arranged, immediately setting the tone for what was to come.
Throughout the set, it was hard to take your eyes and ears off the electric harp so expertly played by Mary Macmaster, ranging from its usual dulcet tones to a synthesized distorted rock bass and everything in between.
The light-hearted and amusing patter between tunes alluded to the fact that these ladies were very seasoned and comfortable on stage allowing the audience to relax into an exciting and accomplished performance. We could say a cross between the Appalachian Mountains and an Orkney pub session, which everyone enjoyed judging by the expressions on the faces of the people in the auditorium and the rapturous applause.
CRAC were up next, (I would re-think that name guys) the local boys with a local approach, local instruments and local, self-deprecating banter. I was transported to folk festivals of yesteryear when listening to Ryan Couper’s guitar; Peerie Willie would be chuffed to hear his unique style copied so expertly. Neat, tidy, rehearsed playing which was hugely enjoyed by the audience.
I must say at this point that the sound and lighting were almost an act on their own. We are so lucky to have this incredible venue here in the very capable hands of Tim and Thomas and Jonathon, we really are spoiled.
Last on came the big name of the night, Della Mae. I was thinking it would be difficult to top what we had just heard but not so, this is a band destined to go far. The energy and excitement which oozed from the stage was palpable. From the first sound they had everyone eating out of their hand. They did criticise at one point that we were too quiet, but we were rooted to the spot.
These lasses were brimming with youthful fizz, no weak links here, the music a mix of bluegrass and Americana close harmony singing which was so well synchronised and executed. Music with depth of feeling laced with tons of gentle feminine energy.
Lead singer Celia Woodsmith was just that, a leader, powerful and charismatic woman with a versatile voice which could range in tone seamlessly and expertly from ballad to rock, and who grabbed your attention from the minute she walked on the stage.
Bass player Vicky Vaughn was the driver of the band, strong and solid with real flair and style. She also contributed rich and subtle harmonies, (not easy to do while playing the bass), a one-woman powerhouse.
The banter between the songs was warm and witty illustrating a beautiful energy and camaraderie among the girls. Accomplished and high end guitar and fiddle playing also demonstrated here while including in the line-up one of the coolest mandolin players in the history of folk. Maddie Witlers original soloing was met by a huge round of applause each time. She bent the notes in a way that would make Hendrix proud.
These girls are inserting rock, country and sex into folk with the greatest of ease. Beautifully arranged music made to look so bloomin ‘easy!
Well done again Shetland Folk Festival. Happy birthday, a fitting and successful 40th to you.
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