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Reviews / ‘Astounding and virtuosic’ – a night at the jazz club that is Lerwick Town Hall

Our reviewer Carol Jamieson enjoyed every note of Saturday night’s concert but would have liked more people attending

TWO GUYS stepped off the plane but seven performed. Yes, most of the instrumentalists in Saturday night’s JAWS performance at the Lerwick Town Hall were local and we are so lucky to have them.

Loose Ends can hold their own in any jazz concert, they are slick, tight and well-rehearsed even if they would deny that.  Their light and feathery sound swirled round the town hall in a cascade of notes as if they had been honed from a stick of candy floss. Truly the cream of Shetland’s jazz scene.

Helen Couper on saxophone. All photos: Jonathon Bulter

Helen Couper’s sax demonstrated beautifully chosen ideas which showed her skill as a mature and seasoned jazz player, the notes literally fell out of the instrument such was the ease of her playing.  Her Moonlight in Vermont was stunning, mellow and beautifully sculpted.

Norman ‘Girsie’ Goudie’s ability to select wonderfully chosen and stylistic chords, create melody and countermelody and sing at the same time is entrancing.

Meanwhile, his cheeky asides between numbers gave everyone a chuckle and the singing had a laidback chilled phrasing, perfect for the genre, topped off with a splash of Shetland accent which somehow works beautifully.

The irrepressible Jackie Robertson is still in top form.  He has supported traditional, country and jazz bands in Shetland for many more decades than he would care to think, becoming almost an institution.

Nice clean bass lines locked in perfectly with the drums even though there were some sound issues which made it hard to hear each other, the timing stayed solid.  Dougie Johnson’s drumming is as clean and steadily accurate as ever. He has a light bounce which gives him his own unique sound.

The main feature was excellent.  Very varied set with something different in every piece.

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The tuba playing was astounding and virtuosic. Never heard anyone make a tuba sound like Oren Marshall did.  Jazz tuba, who would have thought! For certain tunes, you could have sworn you were listening to a double bass.

Oren’s solid vamping or melodic meandering never missed a beat while landing on some carefully chosen and interesting notes. His input on the rhythm was particularly exciting and electric, while making the tuba sound like it is a very easy instrument to play, it certainly is not.  He demonstrated a sound and in-depth knowledge of music with a rich understanding of harmonic progression.

Chris Batchelor on trumpet moving in and out of mood and tone.

Chris Batchelor on trumpet was professional from the first notes.  He took us through the night introducing the pieces with a warmth and intelligence.  His style could move in and out of mood and tone from a heavy Louis Armstrong sound to the lighter, breathier style of Miles Davis.

He was not afraid to play around with ¼ tones, especially in the crazy improvised piece in the middle which could have gone anywhere… and did.  Never heard a tuba and drum improvised duet before, astounding, it wandered to the most exotic places.  Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood was sublimely played and indeed transported this listener to a sentimental place.

Renzo Spiteri (drummer), originally from Malta, has lived in Shetland since 2018 when he came here for a week and never left.  I was surprised when I found he had never met the two visiting professionals, never mind played with them before; the whole evening sounded so very polished.

Spiteri created the most interesting rhythms and ideas using an arsenal of percussion instruments.  His willingness to go wherever the two brass players went showcased his adventurous improvising ideas supporting the other musicians with ease and skill, a wonderful asset to our islands.

Sadly, TV and computers offer such an amusing and complete distraction in these times. I’m sure if there had been an internet crash, we would have had a bigger audience. The arts are struggling and we as receptive and enthusiastic appreciators, could put more effort into attending.  People put so much of their time and energy and talent into providing live music for the community.

I’m sure if there had been an internet crash, we would have had a bigger audience.

The town hall is a lovely venue for a small informal gig like Saturday’s, the room is dramatic and atmospheric with rich, natural, resonating acoustics.  Personally, I would have liked the lights down a bit more….it is jazz after all.

Jeff Merrifield has a unique comparing style putting across his endless enthusiasm for jazz and the people who play it and love it.  He reminded us at the end of the night about the next event which will be well worth attending.

It features Norman Willmore, a local musician from the west side and a rising star in the jazz firmament, who is going from strength to strength, scheduled for the 26th of next month.

A small but appreciative audience thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the varied and musically diverse night.  I’m sure the remainder of the JAWS events will not disappoint. For more info on the six months of JAWS events please visit

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