I was one of 140 or so punters who attended the Shetland Blues Festival’s Friday night show in the Lerwick Legion.
Opening the concert was the 16-strong line up of Shetland Youth Jazz. I was particularly impressed with their uncluttered arrangements, control of dynamics and command of the critical swing feel; a testament to the skill of the players and the years of effort put in by mentors Roy Hughson and Co.
(I was in an early incarnation of Shetland Youth Jazz as a nipper and I can vouch for the ardour and enthusiasm of all the tutors involved).
Young Scalloway vocalist Erin Sandison did an admirable job of cutting through the layered horns during renditions of My Funny Valentine and Sunny Side of the Street, a departure from the more spacious guitar and piano accompanied panache for which she is renowned.
Each time I see Erin perform I’m impressed with her ever-emergent vocal abilities and blossoming stage presence.
But for me the stand-out performer was saxophonist Norman Wilmore, who freely improvised an inspired solo over a superb rendition of St Louis Blues. Norman, last year’s winner of the prestigious Junior Young Musician of the Year award, has just entered first year at the Anderson High, yet his command of both instrument and the jazz vernacular belies his age. One of the most capable and naturally gifted young players I’ve heard in years.
Keyboard player Daniel Smith was next on the bill; an immensely accomplished British ivory tickler who hurtled through a tour de force solo performance of blues piano. Daniel has a naturally rolling left hand technique reminiscent of past boogie-woogie masters such a Pinetops Perkins, Otis Span and Professor Longhair, over which his right hand effortlessly pounced and scampered. His vocals weren’t as authentic as his nimble finger work, but were proficient nonetheless. Nothing a decade or two of Bourbon and Marlboro wouldn’t sort . . .
After a short break it was time for Welsh songstress Cherry Lee Mewis and her band. Although only 23 years old and five foot tall, Cherry Lee dominated the stage from the moment she strode on, with an assuringly confident yet unaffected attitude.
Her accomplished band of two acoustic guitarists, acoustic bassist and unassuming drummer were the perfect vehicle for the singer, capably switching between mouth-wateringly smooth blues tunes and rousing R&B romps.
The previously reserved audience warmed to Cherry Lee immediately and within a couple of numbers she had the crowd chanting and stomping along to a rendition of Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz, breaking the ice and ensuring the formerly vacant dance floor was filled with appreciative revellers for the rest of her set.
As Cherry Lee shimmied and strutted her stuff I was reminded of the compact power of early Tina Turner and, dare I say it, Suzi Quatro, but with a controlled vocal nod towards songbirds such as Emmylou Harris.
And when Cherry Lee told me she had lived a few miles from Duffy, current queen of dinner party pop soul, I couldn’t help thinking how fickle and unjust the music business can be. But Miss Mewis certainly has the potential for chart success. One to watch.
Rounding off the Legion concert was The After Hours R&B Revue, a 10-piece horn laden assemblage from Thurso who served up a hearty menu of classic soul with a meaty stock of Stax, a drizzle of Motown and a garnish of 60s pop.
The After Hours didn’t play to their full ability on this occasion (as was evidenced by more upbeat and polished performances later in the festival) and at times lacked the proficiencies displayed by the other visiting acts. But their choice of material and affable demeanour kept the crowd on their feet until the lights came up and the bar closed, and the contented audience headed to the Norscot Angling Club for after-hours shindiggery with the Hokum Hotshots or set off home for some respite before Saturday’s afternoon sessions in the Lounge and Baroc.