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Arts / ‘Here’s to pushing against boundaries’ – folk festival Friday rocks the Clickimin

The Revellers at the Clickimin at Shetland Folk Festival's Friday Rocks gig. Photo: Marvin Smith

Perhaps the clue was in the title – Friday Rocks!

As such, anyone hoping for a gentile evening of finger-in-the-ear style songs about gambling through the greenwoods in the merry month of May or, alternatively, those who were perhaps looking forward to sitting back amid relaxing waves of placid, acoustic-based, instrumental sounds over a slowly-ingested cup of peppermint tea were likely to be somewhat disappointed.

Nope, anyone relishing the imagined stereotypical ‘folkie’ style event on Folk Festival Friday ran the severe risk of not only being blasted out of their torpor but quite probably their seats too by what was about to transpire.

Clearly though, from the visible audience profile coming through the doors of the Clickimin Centre at any rate, the potential for that kind of musical misunderstanding wasn’t going to an issue here.

They had got the message. This was a party crowd with a capital P while, going by t-shirt evidence alone, a substantial amount of them were clearly here to see local heroes The Revellers, with anything else an added bonus.

It’s equally clear the bands on the bill tonight have got the message too. They are all bands who offer up an alternative, vibrant, dynamic even sonic ‘take’ on so called folk music while still feeding off or being influenced by a variety of traditions.

It’s a musical ‘take’ initially spearheaded back in the day by trailblazers Shooglenifty and one where, currently, the likes of Elephant Sessions and Valtos successfully feed from too. In doing so they have successfully brought the folk genre and tradition(s) in their widest form to a whole new, young and global audience.

Some enthusiastic dancing to the Ciaran Ryan Band. Photo: Davie Gardner

“Are you ready to go Shetland?” asks banjoist extraordinary Ciaran Ryan who, compared to the space restrictions his band faced the previous night in Mareel, suddenly has a whole, wide-open dance floor to cajole people onto – and it doesn’t take them long to oblige. Thirty seconds into their set, we’re off!

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The band deliver a whirlwind set packed with tunes that’s largely designed for one purpose and one purpose only tonight – dancing and having a good time.

However, if you’re not of a dancing disposition, at this stage of the proceedings at least, it’s a set that’s equally great simply to sit back and listen to as well. Wall to wall musicianship and dexterity is on ample display here. Strangely perhaps, given their own relatively diverse, modernistic musical approach – complete with pounding bass and waves of electronics – this will actually be the closest we’ll come to anything remotely resembling a traditional or folk orientated set of any description tonight.

It’s already evident it’s unlikely to be an evening for the folk purist that’s for sure. Then the Revellers hit the stage, tonight nicely sandwiched between visiting acts, and immediately crank up the decibels to potentially rafter-shaking levels via their own distinct blend of folk/rock which veers wildly but comfortably between heavy metal and more traditional elements.

The Revellers in action. Photo: Davie Gardner

It’s a musical approach that serves them well popularity wise, attracting a huge age range of dedicated fans.

Suddenly there’s not an inch of space (or peace) to be had in front of the stage – or well beyond it for that matter – and the temperature rises accordingly.

Here we have an animated local band who could probably fill the Clickimin in their own right, with a more than healthy groundswell of their fans in attendance tonight, many adorned with the bands t-shirts, ready to lap up an all-too-rare get-together of the band.

The Revellers never fail to deliver – and tonight is no exception. The only complaint is the short duration of their set on this particular occasion.

Then it’s time for the musical maelstrom that’s Norway’s Gangar, who take to the darkened stage to the ominous sound of deep peeling bells. If we thought we’d previously witnessed challenging musical content in relation to the term ‘folk’ we’d, in truth, seen nothing yet!

Suffice to say that Gangar are more Rammstein than Runrig. Accepted they deliver fiddle-based music, but certainly not as we know it, while the usually melodic, traditional Norwegian hardanger fiddle has, very likely, never been treated with such musical, but nevertheless respectful, brutality.

Add to the mix body-pounding bass and drums, a soaring (at times screaming) saxophone and head-banging electric guitar riffs, together with liberal elements of everything from death metal to avant garde jazz to old Norse folk melodies retrieved, reconstructed and revitalised from archive recordings via generous helpings of ‘metal’, and you still only have half the Gangar story. They even treat us to a death-metal sing-a-long at one point.

Gangar on the Clickimin stage. Photo: Davie Gardner

It’s challenging stuff and no mistake and evidently not to everyone’s taste. In fact, I’d venture to say that never have the boundaries of so called ‘folk music’ been challenged and pushed to this kind of extent – certainly not in Shetland at least – but is that really a bad thing I wonder?

Irrespective of that, it’s great to see so many folk – young and old(er) alike – responding and actually getting into it all. Importantly, the sound of young musical minds being opened hopefully more than make up for the sound of more conservative musical jaws hitting the floor.

Like them or not there’s no denying that Gangar certainly constitute an eye-opening, mind-expanding, ear-shredding aural experience. But is it ‘folk music’, some will no doubt venture to ask after such a programme?

Does it really matter though given there’s so much else on offer for so-called ‘purist’ over the weekend?

And anyway what is or represents ‘folk music’ if it isn’t, quite simply, music of many different persuasions made by and for ordinary folk? Music, no matter how diverse, spawned within, or ultimately born from, any grass-roots tradition?

For me anyway, and hopefully for a good number of other folk here tonight, what we’ve witnessed and been treated to still fits, however loosely, with the more diverse, certainly variable and hopefully accommodating description of folk music at it rawest.

And if this approach to it brings new, and especially younger, audiences into the fold, to absorb the music and openly enjoy themselves while doing so, and from there perhaps go on to discover what other riches, possibly of a more traditional nature, lie within the genre, surely that can only be a good thing?

That’s the great thing about having a musical term or genre as expansive as ‘folk,’ not to mention a local festival that both reflects and challenges that perception.

Equally, if something within that general framework isn’t perhaps your cup of tea you won’t have far to look for something that is.

For now though here’s to pushing against boundaries, creating community inclusivity and appreciating the unorthodox!

Davie Gardner

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