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Reviews / A great night in Aith – power cut and all

NICE and local for me – it felt good to be in my old hunting grounds [in Aith], writes Carol Jamieson.

I worked in the school next door to the hall for 20 years. Lots of lovely friendly familiar faces.

There was already a good buzz in the hall by the time I arrived, packed and sold out for quite a while illustrating the support from local communities for the folk festival and acknowledging the hard work the committee put in to insuring it’s success every year.

Getting the evening going and holding everything together was compare Lewie Peterson. His humour and quick wit kept everyone entertained all evening and added to the enjoyment of the event.

First up a local group called Magic Money Tree Band who are clearly having a great time playing together. The boys are Robert Balfour (songwriter), Chris Thomson, Chris Cope and Murray Arthur.

Good solid songs with an array of dynamics and style. Some nice influences from sedate and meditative through to shades of punk. Delightful playing from Chris Thomson on the piano, sensitive and creative while not overegging the pudding.

Magic Money Tree Band. Photo: Marvin Smith

Next to the stage we had Beth Malcolm from Perth, what a delight. It was most enjoyable to experience a nod to the old traditional approach to folk singing and the telling of stories. She took the time to tell us a bit about the story behind the song and at one point we were asked to join in at the chorus.

Something that doesn’t happen a lot at this festival but is an integral part of folk clubs on the mainland.

Along with her beautiful voice and cleverly crafted phrasing, she also played piano so delicately it felt like she was winding the sounds around the songs like gossamer.

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She was joined by Heather Cartwright who also contributed to the music with the same extremely light and sensitive touch on guitar, and backing vocals.  Andrew Waite’s accordion playing was stunning.

Everybody responded to the warmth and humour in her performance including the chant about Perth people hating Dundee which was performed just before ….boom!….the power went out. A voice from the back of the hall piped up “that’s what you get for hating Dundee” which resulted in hilarity and applause.

Beth Malcolm performing off the stage at the Aith Hall on Saturday night at the Shetland Folk Festival after the power went off. Photo: Marvin Smith

She agreed to carry on acoustically and after a quick juggle of equipment and possibly song choices, she finished the set. Wonderful reaction from the audience as they showed their appreciation of the adaptability and sensitivity of the players and the acoustic sound.

This part of the evening provided the highlight for me as the end of the cover of the Dick Gaughan version of Ed Pickford’s The Workers Song; Waite improvised an astounding solo.

Ulrika Bodén joined Ahlberg, Ek and Roswall. Photo: Marvin Smith

The power came back on much sooner than was expected and we were back up and running for the next band, Ahlberg, Ek and Roswell with Ulrika Bodén from Sweden. They had been here before (without the singer) in 2015 and loved it. They vowed then to return.

Each of the players had, for us, a most unusual instrument. The fiddle had five strings, the other fiddle wasn’t fiddle but a nycklharpa, the guitar was actually a harp with many strings and the dulcimer…well you don’t see one of them every day. These instruments sounded so beautifully integrated as if they just belonged together.

Wow, what a start, it had everyone sit up in their seats as they launched into their first song with a very high sustained note from the singer and a discord from the rest of the players. Again, the players took the time to tell us a bit about the songs which I feel, added to the enjoyment. Also important because the songs were in Swedish!

The authentic Swedish folk harmonies and phrase shapes were haunting and unusual to our ears which made the set interesting and appealing.

The arrangements were cleverly thought through, and their presentation style entertained with humour and tales of Swedish folk lore. Very enjoyable set.

As usual, the loudest and most vibrant is saved for last in the Ciarán Ryan Band. A huge sound with enough energy to power a small village.

Ryan has been on the world folk scene for a decade now and is considered one of Britain’s most talented banjo players.

He has gathered round him a formidable bunch of chaps. The aforementioned Andrew Waite is on accordion, matching note for note what Ryan plays…no mean feat. On guitar is Chris Waite, on bass is Bev Morris and on drums James Macintosh.

The Ciaran Ryan Band topped the bill a t the Aith Hall. Photo: Marvin Smith

They have such a vibrant stage presence. You can tell they have been together for a while now as the arrangements are tight and well thought through.

The dynamics and complex rhythms show a high level of skill in all the players while the breakneck speed in which most of the pieces are performed does not slacken the accuracy and virtuosity of the accordion and banjo.

The set included treatment of the Scottish style tunes with smatterings of blues, jazz, rock and of course folk with unusual and dynamic synth sounds from the bass player when he wasn’t bassing. They certainly earned their money as they worked up a sweat integrating one tune into the other changing keys and time signatures effortlessly.

I for one, would have liked to hear slightly more of their quiet reflective side bearing in mind that this was a sit-down concert. It was therefore a bit of a relief when Beth Malcolm joined them on stage for one song. Beautifully and carefully crafted arrangement around another stunning vocal.

Great night not hindered but enhanced by an untimely power cut.

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