24th February 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

‘Music that is often plaintive and appealing in equal measure’

Stir It Up. CD produced by Anderson High School music group Tunester.

This fabulous album is incontrovert­ible proof, if any were needed, that Shetland Islands Council must be one of the most committed and prog­ressive local authorities anywhere when it comes to supporting and developing musical folk traditions in school.

One of the great things about the album is that it seems to have a distinctive aesthetic, evoking a mood that is often poignant and whimsical, with sensitive playing, a light and delicate sound, and music that is often plaintive and appealing in equal measure.

For this critic, Stir It Up also neatly includes the whole gamut of innovative musical techniques that have evolved within the traditional music scene across the country and beyond in the last 50 years – all on one CD.

Running to a mighty 18 tracks (for a school band) there isn’t space for comment here on every detail. The following then are just a few observations on some of my own personal stand out tracks Karratha has a narrative quality, the melody seeming to reminisce, and there is sensitive supporting accompaniment from the rhythm section. The listener will not tire of repeat playings of this attractive tune.

The Ramnee Ceilidh seems to share some of the qualities of Karratha – a melody full of affection and a feeling of contentment, this time with a distinctive Latin flavour complete with pure toned flute – what a pleasant addition to the musical palette of the band.

A blend of flute, accordion and drone fiddle provides a soothing and delicate opening to probably the outstanding item on the album with a re-interpretation of Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife. Not a tune to tamper with as it is simply so profound. Here, in a masterstroke of musical sensitivity and with the perfect light and breathy vocal tone of Lisa Manson, Tunester produces a haunting musical anthem in Get Me Through December.

It’s astonishing how a jazz influenced accompaniment can co-exist with classic high quality fiddle tunes such as Skinner’s Miss Shep­herd without upsetting the tradition­alists, while at the same time allow­ing fiddlers to swing, like their jazz counterparts. In John Keith Lang, the jazz harmony on keyboard is so devilishly stylish that it is almost up­setting – such clever musicianship!

In The 2.50 to Vigo a Latin influence is just discernible, while the melody is one of those which can stand many a repeat listening. A plaintive harmony on upper strings in the second half of the tune and colourful touches of flute hold our musical interest.

The breathy vocal tone of Lisa Manson seems to be uncannily reproduced by the pair of fiddlers in another Skinner melody Rose Acre while yet another fiddle duet captures perfectly the light charm of The Poor Girl Waltz.

In Piggy Back Taxi we have another immensely appealing mel­ody complete with syncopated Latin counterpoint reminiscent of Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Entertain­ing, music­ally intriguing, at times verging on the deadpan and ironic in its musical psyche, for me the musical approach here verges on a kind of affectionate pastiche. You will have a hard job switching off during any of this album – there is always something expressive, clever, or downright intriguing going on.

For those who recall the achieve­ment of High Strings with its vibrant, breezy and punchy big sound, there must have been reservations at the onset of Tunester. Clearly Margaret Scollay knew what she was doing, and with the new folk-based instru­mental/vocal line up, Tunester has quickly and happily established a new musical orthodoxy in Anderson High School which, with its more intimate sound, provides a pleasing contrast to its musical predecessor.

Not by accident, Tunester’s line up and musical approach provides the perfect preparation for its members to progress into the amateur or professional folk scene beyond school wherever they might find themselves.

Shetland’s schools are blessed with the services of many talented and dedicated fiddle teachers, and with Margaret at the helm in the Anderson High School, surely com­mitment, innovation and musical quality will never be in short supply.

I understand Tunester are performing in Lerwick Town Hall on Wednesday 1st July – a great chance for musical enthusiasts to support the band’s fund-raising trip to Ireland.Gordon Yeaman

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