By NEIL RIDDELL
TRADITIONAL music fans will be out in force again next week as the fifth Fiddle Frenzy festival kicks off, with the week-long programme including seven nights of concerts, a host of fiddle and guitar tuition sessions and – for the first time – the Shetland Storytelling Festival.
Highlights during the week include the visit of Norwegian musician Annbjørg Lien, as well as returning Shetland acts including the Jenna Reid Band, Catriona MacDonald and Drop The Box.
Lien, 37, will bring her brand of traditional Norwegian music, fused with jazz and rock, to Lerwick for the first time.
She performs the hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle), violin and nyckelharpa and will be appearing with Shetland fiddler Catriona MacDonald.
Lien is also a member of folk group Bukkene Bruse and, apart from an autumn jaunt around the US, her date at the Garrison Theatre on Thursday will be the only non-Norwegian show she plays in 2008. She released her 13th album under various different guises, Waltz With Me, earlier this year.
The Hardanger fiddle is similar to the violin, but has eight or nine strings and thinner wood, with four of the strings played in the same way as a Shetland fiddle but with the extra strings providing an echo sound.
Among the contingent of local artistes, fiddler Jenna Reid returns to the isles to perform tracks
from her successful second solo record Laughing Girl, a song from which was recently featured on the sampler CD for top UK music magazine Word. The Hams O’ Muckle Roe is one of two tracks on the album which she sings on.
Including releases by Filska and Dochas, it is Jenna’s fifth release since 2002 and her appearance in Shetland comes amid a particularly hectic period of touring, with the talented 27-year-old performing as the Jenna Reid Band at the Garrison Theatre on Tuesday, only 24 hours after a four-day stint in Bergamo, Italy, with Filska. The line-up includes her sister Bethany (also a member of Filska) on piano, fiddle and vocals, guitarist Kevin MacKenzie, Duncan Lyall on double bass, flautist James Thomson and Iain Sandilands on drums.
Jenna then jets off across the pond to the Milwaukee Irish Festival before a short jaunt around southern Scotland, then hitting the States again as part of Julie Fowlis’ American tour in September and October. In November, the Jenna Reid Band will play a week-long tour of Denmark.
The current incarnation of one of Shetland’s top rock bands over the years, Drop The Box, who have not released an album since 2001’s Loveday, played on a stage in the isles for the first time in three years at Isleburgh during this year’s folk festival and are back together again for two shows over the weekend.
They share a bill with MacDonald and Lien at Baltasound Hall on Friday 9th August and play with Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag at the Garrison Theatre on Saturday 10th.
Former Rock, Salt & Nails drummer Russell Gair, the only one of the quartet currently based in Shetland, said they had been delighted with the way they had gone down at the folk festival. “We got a really good response,” he said, adding it was particularly encouraging as few of the audience would have been the same people who saw the band live during their more frenetic period of touring activity between 1999 and 2002.
“We really enjoy getting together and playing music,” he said. “For a lot of people, if the band’s not hitting the heights [they’re not interested] but we just really enjoy playing.”
With band members living so far apart – bassist Jonathan Ritch lives in Edinburgh, frontman and guitarist James Henry is in Orkney and Mark Laurenson, fiddle and mandolin player, teaches fiddle in Oslo – and having family and work commitments, it can prove tricky to get together to rehearse and record, but the group are hoping finally to start recording some new material this autumn and intend to distribute it through their MySpace site.
The boisterous band, who have always been strongly influenced by folk-rockers like the Waterboys and the Levellers, have now got three-quarters of an album ready to record, including some tracks they have been performing live for a number of years now. Gair said the band were “trying to get into the 21st century” with Henry recording material and making it available to the rest of the group over the internet so they can make their own contributions.
There are also performances over the week from Bryan Gear with Violet Tulloch, the Jim Halcrow Dance Band, the Shetland Fiddlers, Maggie Adamson and Brian Nicholson, Leeshinat, Fradenr Gamla and the Heritage Fiddlers.
The week’s programme will also include fiddle tutoring and guitar accompaniment workshops with some of those performing at the festival, including a class run by Lien and Laurenson on Norwegian fiddling in Unst next Friday. Guitarists MacKenzie and Shetlander Ryan Couper will be passing on their skills to budding guitarists.
Fiddle Frenzy’s annual scholarship for young fiddlers will this year include Claire Wilson, a rising star from Orkney, while places were also offered to section winners of the Young Fiddler of the Year competition, Adamson and Ryan Stevenson, together with six young tutors from the Young Tradition Bearers programme through which fiddlers learn tunes and techniques from older players in order to pass them on to the next generation.
Shetland Arts’ music development officer Bryan Peterson said: “The Fiddle Frenzy Scholarships provide an opportunity for young fiddlers to gain experience and receive tuition from some of the most skilled exponents of the Shetland style. Many of this year’s tutors rarely get a chance to teach in Shetland due to commitments outwith the isles, such as Catriona MacDonald, Jenna Reid and Mark Laurenson.
“Fiddle Frenzy attracts students from all over the world, so it’s an ideal chance for musicians to meet, socialise, expand their repertoire and exchange ideas. All in all it’s a pretty intense but immensely enjoyable week.”
Also being staged along with the frenzy is a storytelling festival, which will include workshops
in the mornings and cultural trips with storytellers in the afternoons. The storytellers for the week are Yell native Lawrence Tulloch, who has authored a book of folk tales called The Foy, writer and illustrator Davy Cooper, Highlands storyteller Bob Pegg – who weaves music and song into his tales – and Valerie Watt, a friend of journalist trow Tushie Truncherfaece. Their workshops will include sessions on where to draw inspiration from, voice techniques, how to build a rapport with an audience and storytelling for children.
The festival draws to a close next Sunday with an afternoon tribute concert to fiddler and composer Gideon Stove, hosted by Charlie Simpson, which will feature the Alan Gifford Quartet, Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch, among others, before the final fling at the Lounge.
• Fiddle Frenzy ’08 runs from 4th to 10th August. For more information visit www.shetlandfiddlefrenzy.com and to buy tickets for any of the events, call Shetland Arts on (01595) 743843.