Storm Babet may have been raging outside, but there was a dazzling display of local talent that blew the capacity audience away in Mareel on Saturday night, writes Caroline McKenzie.
Organised and headlined by renowned local fiddler Gemma Donald, Shetland Swing brought together eight home-grown musicians with a shared love of the playing and singing style of Western Swing, made famous by the legendary Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.
They’d come together to play at the Tall Ships visit in July but, luckily for us, had enjoyed it so much, they’d decided to keep it going.
It was the more contemporary Jody Nix song Play Me Something I Can Swing To that kicked off the first of two hour-long sets. Gemma took lead vocals for much of the evening, proving that she definitely has more than one string to her bow, with a great voice, ideally suited to this style of music.
It’s obviously a role she relishes, and it was clear from the get-go that she and her fellow band members were enjoying themselves every bit as much as the audience was.
It was particularly special to hear her and the band perform Treasure Chest Of Time, a song written by one of Shetland’s own – the late Gordon ‘Hank’ Smith.
Alison Kay Anderson, on rhythm guitar for the evening, also stepped up to the mic on several occasions with soulful renditions of the likes of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, and the Ernest Tubb country classic Walking the Floor Over You. She and Gemma’s voices blended beautifully, as they traded melodies and harmonies across the evening.
Also taking on vocal duties was the inimitable Norman ‘Girsie’ Goudie, combining his ace guitar-playing with some well-chosen classics, including I’m An Old Cow Hand (from the Rio Grande) and Across the Alley from the Alamo.
I was sitting in the front row and was constantly drawn to his guitar playing: such a consummate musician, and of course, with a dry wit that had the audience in stitches, as when he referred to the song If I Had You (Ewe) as ‘The Crofter’s Lament’!
He and Jack Robertson could be a comedy double act in their own right, with Jack, on steel, delivering pithy one-liners as well an essential element of the Shetland Swing sound.
With the twin fiddles of Gemma and Bryan Gear, and Gemma’s husband Allan Small on accordion, the instrumentals in the set were a joy to the ear, whether the upbeat Black and White Rag (christened the Manky Hanky by Jack!) or, one of my all-time favourite swing classics A Maiden’s Prayer.
Special mention here for the other two musicians on stage who added so much to the band sound – Douglas Johnstone on drums and Ivor ‘Fred’ Polson on bass.
As I made my way through the departing audience, lingering in the foyer at the end of the night, the chat was all about what a fantastic evening it had been, and how lucky we were to have such splendid local talent.
The Mareel concert and one the previous night in the Aith Hall were the first venture by Gemma’s newly formed Briggistanes Events. I’ve been at three concerts in as many weeks – all of which have been very well attended. There is clearly an appetite, even a hunger, for live performances by both local and visiting acts. Keep them coming, please!