24th September 2018
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Back home, Chris raises the roof

Chris Stout’s Run North Tour, Fair Isle Hall, Friday, 27th June.
BY Kathy Coull

WHEN Chris Stout plays on Fair Isle soil there is an atmosphere as powerful as any felt in the concert halls of the world.

Last Friday he was met by a throng of relatives, friends and associates, all happy and excited by his return to home ground. There was also the added bonus of the delightful friends he brought with him: the weel kent face of Catriona McKay, with newcomers to our shores, Thomas Rohrer, Neil Harland and Ian Stephenson, all welcomed more warmly than even the sunshine on one of the isle’s stunning summer days.

The concert kicked off with a Latin American number, and proceeded to take us on a bit of a journey across several countries as well as musical genres. This was no surprise as Chris’s music, while keeping Shetland in its heart, knows no boundaries.

Thomas Rohrer (from Switzerland via San Paulo) began by playing soprano sax, then a rabeca – a Brazilian folk fiddle crafted from a single piece of wood. It reminded me of the viola shaped bread-board in my kitchen. I still don’t understand how it could create sounds that ranged from a cello to a gypsy violin. All it takes is exceptional musicianship, I guess.

Catriona Mackay took the harp to musical places that O’Carolan never dreamt of, with accomplished virtuosity that wasn’t afraid to be mischievously playful. Neil Harland (double bass) and Ian Stephenson (guitar) both hail from Newcastle. Brown Ale they are not, but the classic deep tones of the bass were very much complimented by a refreshingly effervescent guitar.

There is no doubt that this ensemble’s music can communicate directly to the soul and bite you on the ankle at the same time. However, it was Fair Isle’s Lise Sinclair who had the bad ankle, but managed valiantly to perform two Shetland poems, in song, from her album Ivver Entrancin’ Wis, accompanied by Chris, Catriona and a pair of crutches.

Lise’s compositions nod graciously at the tradition of recitation accompanied by harp, but these are nothing like the interminable Border ballads. Concisely crafted poetry set to innovative musical phrasing in an intertwined expression, conveys so much more than the dutifully accompanied narratives of old.

All of the music that evening was exceptional and noteworthy. An entire spectrum, from the beautiful, sensitive and evocative “Fisherman’s Prayer”, to the fast, furious and frenzied “Devil’s Advocate” (the title track of Chris’s latest album) – active listening is required; hear it to believe it!

On a few occasions, as the tempo, volume and energy rose, the syncopating sax, fiddle and harp converged in a precisely timed and executed musical maelstrom, which was deftly pulled back into traditional rhythm and melody. It’s the sort of thing that messes with musical conventions and preconceptions and makes new pathways in your mind. It is BIG music, and a special mention must go to Dave Town, sound engineer, for fitting it into a venue as small as the newly refurbished Fair Isle hall. He’s well practised with both Fiddlers’ Bid and the Peatbog Faeries.

The final set, including “The Aith Rant”, raised the roof and blood pressure in equal measure. Rock ‘n’ Roll was once dubbed the Devil’s music, but this jazz/folk/classic/rock fusion is so fiendishly clever it must surely entertain the thinking man’s Beelzebub.

The concert was enjoyed immensely by the capacity audience of islanders and visitors alike. From the youngest, wide awake and spellbound, four month old lass, to the oldest, being none other than the 97 years young Jimmy Stout – Chris’s grandfather.

An encore was demanded and granted with the “Unst Wedding March”, sedate by comparison to some of the music of the evening, but after the number of both heart-touching, and heart-racing pieces, a bit of sedation was no bad thing for those of us on the wrong side of mid-life.

We hope Chris will run back north again as soon as possible.