22nd September 2018
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Young musicians of Harris Playfair Big Band take audience on exciting journey

Fiddle Frenzy got off to a fine start on Sunday evening with a superb gig from Aly Bain and Phil Cunning­ham. Their musical relation­ship, honed over 25 years – more than their respective marriages – has developed a sub­lime quality that is a joy to experience. And that’s what their concert was – sublime!

However, I went along to review the second night gig, Harris Play­fair’s Big Band Project. There were around 30 young musicians on the stage and they were not sublime, they were sensational, they were amazing, they were full of earnest endeavour and they played music that grabbed themselves and their audience by the seat of their pants and took them on exciting musical journeys. Yes, it was as good as that – and more. This was one of the most enjoyable concerts that I have been to in a long time and I cannot wait to experience this talented young band the next time they play.

Harris is a Shetland lad who went off to find fame and fortune in the musical world. With a distinguished academic record he decid­ed to concentrate on teaching music and developed a deep interest in island culture, which in turn led him on to experiment in bringing together differing musical styles and the idea of the trad big band. He has developed a number of units playing a mixture of Celtic music and big band jazz from Kelso to Canada. Over the last two years he has developed the Shetland trad big band particularly for the Fiddle Frenzy festival. I previously heard them when they played as a smaller unit last November, with a guest spot from John Etheridge. That was good, but Monday night’s perfor­mance was mind-blowingly sen­sational. People walked out of the Garrison Theatre with big smiles on their faces – and the joy was, you knew why. As they finished their last note the applause was immediate and deafening and so determined they had to play some more.

Highlights for me were the Zephyr Reel woven into Sonny Rollin’s Oleo and the wildly eccentric Rocardo Tesi piece – Harris tells me it consists of 28 bars which change at every bar – whatever it was, it was a trip. The last two numbers took us off to musical delights that will long remain in the memory. What a night!

Earlier in the evening the young fiddle band Hansell, made up of members of the big band, played a more restrained but well-played set under the excellent accompaniment of their tutor Margaret Scollay. And Lynda Anderson delightfully played us the music of Yell with her mother Jean on piano. She was a model of refined fiddle playing. That was the sublime bit of this show.

Jeff Merrifield