Bolted together, Full Slag still come up with the goods

Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag are a complete pain in all sorts of ways. Who the hell plays in this band? They’re always chopping and changing and there’s far too many to keep track of. The name is a damn nuisance to pronounce and spell and you expect they are some ropey Scando-folkdance outfit which, let’s face it, is the last thing most of us want to endure.

And another thing, or two: they play far too fast and loud and they grin too much and have a ludicrous sense of fun with lots of in-jokes about sprees and rhubarb and at my age I just plain can’t be doing with it. Okay? So, whose idea of a joke is it, Maurice Henderson, to ask me to review this so-called debut album Spreefix? Why does no-one come bearing a platter of gentle crooning songs in the style of Leonard Cohen or Don Williams or some miserable instrumental dirges to suit my mid-week Shetland Times mood, perhaps in the mould of minimalist Karelian accordion twitterer Maria Kalaniemi?

But hang on there another second. It’s coming – I can just about feel a semblance of something off this shiny new CD. Plan B is stirring something in my frazzled mortal coil. Through that volley of rasping fiddles I can just about recall one dizzy, sweaty night, perhaps two, when all I wanted in the whole world was to whoop, holler and birl like I was Whacko Jacko on the whisky ran-dan in Brunt Hamarsland.

Young sir! Hand me my pear Magners and I shall drape my arm around your shoulder and roar into your lug: let’s diddle one’s feet and gesticulate crazily in the air! Let’s cut some serious rug!

Full Slag, if I may, are a pure party contraption bolted together about four years ago when the Island Games descended and made us look and feel most splendid. The band surfed the communal euphoria and pumped it to a seriously inflammable level one night on Victoria Pier. They have been endeavouring to reinflate that high at key times in our social calendar ever since. I’m pretty sure I recall this year at the folk festival they were the most popular source of mayhem in the Islesburgh club rather than the over-funky big-names, Shooglenifty, and they have rivalled or bettered The Chair and other pretenders in that department for every one of these last few years. Chances are if the floor of Room 16 ever does give way it will be a tragedy soundtracked by the orbiting notes of Reel Saint-Antoine or Spleet New Polkas and still that out-sized grin will not depart Mr Henderson’s face.

The band are a rough-and-ready Fiddlers’ Bid without the mumsy ironed sarks. Or perhaps they are the sexy love-children of the late lamented Mad Mental Ceilidh Band unburdened by the old boys’ excess calories and nasal hairs. These young Shetlanders are cool, clever and talented; exquisite musicians, naturally, in this day and age in Shetland: fiddlers aplenty although not too often seen, such as Stewart Grains and Ewen Thomson or the eye-catching young starlets Helen Whitham and Lois Nicol. The fiery Ross Couper of Bodega was absent from the album launch at the weekend, having to grace Glastonbury instead. John Clark, formerly of Rock Salt & Nails fame, is anchored solid and dependable on bass while the bearded Grant Nicol takes care of most things with more than four strings.

The crisp drums and percussion of Davie Jamieson shine particularly clearly through the great Jonathan Ritch’s recording mix along with the rare sound for Shetland of bodhran, courtesy of Patrick Ross-Smith.

As befits our international outlook these days the tunes are drawn from across the Celtic-Scando civilisations, including Canada, Ireland, Norway and Sweden while Shetland provides a fine crop of the old and new, including from the keys and bow of the wonderful Inge Thomson of Fair Isle and Mark Laurenson. Full Slag’s main man Maurice also happens to be something of a musical magpie, digging up or capturing passing tunes to serve up later for our delectation.

I cannot spoon-feed you details of each of the nine sets of tunes when I’ve exceedingly important news stories I should be writing so off you go and find out for yourself for your £12 from www.spreefix.com or local outlets.

There is already a fanzine site for the album on Facebook and some Levenwick yeti has declared the Canadian Spree set the best of all. Me, I like the tasty bottom end of Grant’s bass drone mandola and the harmony fiddles and melodeon of the Irish twin set known bizarrely as the Grointy Jig Set.

The end result of all this powerhouse fiddling, when played at a suitably exhilarating volume, is the essential 50-minute musical accessory to a drink-fuelled hooley – the Shetland spree album of the year – but we’re not really supposed to encourage such irresponsible debauched pastimes these days so I’m at a loss to advise what you might find it suitable for. It’s a rollercoaster ride and like it or not you are going to be hearing rather a lot of it in future.

PS In case you wondered, this review was brought to you very late on Wednesday night with the aid of the dregs of a bottle of Co-op plonk. After a long day one’s inspiration must be wrung from somewhere. Please look elsewhere for serious reviews on a deeper plane.

John Robertson

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