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Reviews / Mareel on Saturday: what a super night!

Accordion superstar Johanna Juhola with her band. All photos: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

THIS remiss festival goer very much enjoyed dipping her toe back into the melee once more, writes Shetland News reviewer Carol Jamieson.

So much talent both home and away, and Saturday night in Mareel being no exception. Adam Priest guided a packed house through a wonderful evening with warmth and affability. We started off with our very own Amy Laurenson accompanied by a couple of her friends.

Amy won the prestigious BBC Radio Scotland Young Musician of the Year for 2023 and on hearing her play, it was easy to see why.  She has a classical background which she fuses with music from Shetland, Scotland, Ireland and Scandinavia while throwing some strong jazz elements in there for good measure.

The resulting arrangements are a charming blend of all these elements creating a unique and delightful sound.  She performs sensitively with a light feathery touch showing a fondness for the trill, grace note and mordant.

She is certainly not afraid to push the boundaries of traditional music harmonically, dynamically and rhythmically.  The bodhran playing friend also demonstrated skill and sensitivities.  It never ceases to amaze how many tones and sounds can be created on this versatile drum and she demonstrated all of them beautifully.  The guitarist was subtle and understated while demonstrating expert playing totally in sync with Amy.

The band together was light, bouncy and full of youthful exuberance. This young and unique player makes executing these fast and furious reels on the piano look effortless, it is not.  The audience loved them.

The second Amy of the evening, Amy Papiransky was a beautiful contrast.  Her soft and soulful voice was extremely easy on the ear as it floated around the hall.  Again, this young lady had much in the way of influences, Gypsy jazz, folk, Norah Jones and pop were all evident. She performed alongside three other musicians playing guitar, piano and fiddle, who created a subtle and sensitive backing for these bluesy, feminine songs.

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Her 2019 album Read Me Write received high critical acclaim, and she has already taken her music to both sides of the Atlantic as well as performing at the BBC Proms In the Park.

Hailing proudly from Keith she kept the audience entertained with many light-hearted and amusing anecdotes about growing up there. Her song Dear Amy, which is about penning a letter to her younger self, had the audience rapt, they were in the palm of her hand throughout.

One thing Amy has which so few modern young writers have is a sense of narrative.  Beautiful and meaningful stories which is, after all, the essence of the folk song. “If you wanna know where your heart is, go where your mind wanders”. Beautiful thoughtful writing, and still so young.

The next act, The Johanna Juhola Trio, what can I say…wow.  Hailing from Finland, it very much features its button accordion superstar, accompanied by a guitarist and sound man.

Johanna is considered a virtuoso and listening to her it is easy to hear why.  I found myself transported by this amazing player, her beautifully flowery and intricate melodies heavily influenced by Argentinian tango, jazz and Finnish folk, whirled round the room like a spinning top.

She explained that to properly dance the tango you must first fall in love with your partner for four minutes. That is how long it takes to dance a tango.

Guitarist Roope Aarnio had a wonderful way of blending fully with the sound, supporting the accordion superbly.  Third band member, Teemu Korpipaa, was hard to find as he was hiding up the back at the sound desk.

He weaved into the music much in the way of effects, changing sounds and bass lines which gave the music an almost orchestral feel, creating a huge sound from only three musicians.

All the compositions were by Johanna but the one which held everybody in a reverie was a piece called Sleepless in Lindoir, a lullaby for her friend who was having trouble sleeping. This was for me the highlight of the night, a most outstanding piece.

Robin Jones of Trials of Cato.

She was amazing to watch live, her beautiful face was almost pixie-like as were her clothes, and she kept an alluring, serene look throughout although her fingers were a blur and her virtuosic playing astounding.

The Trials of Cato had a tough act to follow but played with enthusiasm and energy.  Their first album was well received winning a Radio 2 Folk Award in 2018.  Using traditional mandolins, guitars and banjos, they added an electronic bass and tambourine (operated by the guitarists foot) to inject a contemporary twist and full sound.

Some of the pieces had beautiful gentle starts with three-part harmony, I for one would have loved to hear more of that.  The interpretations of traditional and original Welsh folk songs were beautiful, the gentleness of the accent lends itself so well to being sung.

There was much use of the harmonic minor scale giving a nice Middle Eastern flavour to many of the tunes.  The thumping bass was quite loud in the mix, but much appreciated by some of the younger audience while many of the older ones were holding their ears.  I would have preferred less of the electronic bass and tambourine.  The band managed to create a huge sound from just the three players.

Of course, the lighting and sound were excellent, it always is in Mareel.  The staff were brilliant, run off their feet furnishing the tables constantly throughout the night with drinks and snacks.  Thank you again Shetland Folk Festival committee, a super night.

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