20th July 2018
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Trio of excellent musicians make their own luck with fine album

Caravan by Aamos on Nordic Stomp.

The new CD from a Shetland/Norwegian trio, consisting of Mark Laurenson, Kevin Henderson and Vidar Skrede, sets out its Shetland credentials in the band’s name, Aamos. We use the word in a couple of ways. There are still people around (especially those with a reputation for being lucky) who may find an anonymous gift left for them, for no apparent reason. Someone has probably laid an aamos while making a wish, with a secret promise of a gift to the “lucky” person, if the wish comes true.

Less positively, a puir aamos boddy is someone who is in pretty poor, debilitated shape. Trust me, neither the album nor the band are remotely puir aamos!

Bigton-born Mark is best known for fiddle-playing, but is not too shabby on mandolin or guitar, either. Initially he learned from the late, great Willie Hunter, then Margaret Scollay and Eunice Henderson, absorbing technique and general feel for the music from each of them. It was no surprise when he took the Young Fiddler of the Year title in 2003. We were privileged to have Mark as a member of Ness Accord­ion and Fiddle Club for a number of years, and appreciated his humorous and friendly manner, as well as a wide range of styles and tunes. There’s always a chair waiting for him if he’s ever home around of a Monday night. In recent years, as well as solo work, he has played with Drop the Box and the high adrenalin “spree” band Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag.

Kevin Henderson also benefitted hugely from Willie Hunter’s tuition, and enjoyed much success in the Young Fiddler of the Year comp­etitions. He was a founder member of the now legendary Fiddlers’ Bid, and still helps fire up the crowds in the band’s full-on stage perform­ances. In his life as a full-time musician, it strikes me he must have an ultra-organised diary to keep track of all the bands of which he is a member. Check out www.kevin henderson.co.uk to see what I mean. Taking Aly Bain’s seat in the legendary Boys of the Lough must be quite some endorsement of his ability.

Originally from Rogaland in south-west Norway, multi-instru­mentalist Vidar Skrede has studied, and has a shedload of qualifications in Nordic folk music study from in­stitutions in Oslo, Helsinki, Odense and Stockholm to name but a few. On this album, he contributes classy guitar and stomp-board, and is well able to “hadd his half” with the two fiddlers. His guitar-playing is far more than a mere accompaniment, being way up there with the melody lines when required.

One of the many positive things that strikes you on a first listen to the CD is the quality and clarity of the recording (in Oslo) and final mix (in Helsinki). Excellent musicians in their own right, these three are very tuned in to each other’s playing — to coin a cliché, the final product is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The mood can swing from deliberate and delicate to thoroughly energetic, while still keeping a lovely clean sound, with every sign of enjoyment as well.

Although Mark and Kevin now live outwith Shetland, they are living musical proof of the old saying “you can takk da man oot o’ da isles, but you canna takk da isles oot o’ da man”. A large majority of the tracks are Shetland tunes, mostly traditional, with titles carefully researched and credited in the sleeve notes. However, Mark chips in with a couple of his own tunes, Eternal Lea and Karen’s Fancy, and there’s a track fast becoming a modern Shetland classic, David’s Waltz, by Debbie Scott. I’m sure she’ll have no quibbles about how these guys perform it. På Fetlar’s Topp, a rollicking good tune from Vidar, is a tribute to a good gig and copious late-night hospitality in Fetlar.

I guess it’s an open secret that I enjoy a good old-time Norwegian waltz, so when I spotted that track 10 was another of Vidar’s tunes simply titled Vals, my thumb got busy on the CD player’s skip button. Vals certainly isn’t a “gamaldans” style waltz, and could have been written in a number of different countries, but it’s plaintive, bonnie and addictive – my thumb still gets busy on the skip button, every time I put the disc in the player! A nice tune to finish the album.

Now, decision time. Are you feeling lucky? If so, you can simply wait, in the hope that someone lays an aamos on you, and lays a copy of Caravan secretively in your back door, when your luck rubs off on them. Or, if you don’t believe in that old custom, head for one of the shops stocking Caravan, and cross their palms with silver, notes or major credit cards.

Maurice J Smith