IT WAS a far cry from the first Shetland Blues Festival five years ago where approximately 50 people turned up at the Legion in Lerwick on the Friday night.
Last Friday it was virtually a sell-out crowd of both the initiated and newcomers to the fifth blues festival.
As a venue the Royal British Legion is excellent. Let’s face it Lerwick is crying out for places to play for any visiting, existing or up-and-coming bands. The layout of tables, horse-shoeing the dance floor, blends the experience.
The only curse is if you end up behind a pillar, but this means that the majority of members of the audience are discerning and arrive early. And of course the all-important good acoustics are essential to the overall atmosphere of ambience; we cannot of course forget “Fats” Magnie and team on hand at the bar. Her Majesty’s portrait curtained on stage helps the overall sound and protects the Queen from the onslaught of loud, gritty blues.
First on were Shetland Youth Jazz, providing a big, warm, soothing band sound under the competent direction of Roy Hughson. Surely an astute investment in Shetland’s musical future, these young museos encompass big band standards to an excellent technical level.
Next was Daniel Smith tickling the ivories.
A virtuoso, an astute specialist. I couldn’t help thinking sometimes I had inadvertently ended up at the Proms by mistake. Maybe lacking the raw power of many other blues operators with his clear sound.
Next was Cherry Lee Mewis, the name certainly a play on the great, and still not late, Jerry Lee Lewis. This darling of the festival was replacing local festival favourites the Rumshack Blues Band who had to pull out at the last minute due to illness.
Cherry was certainly “on the cake”, the star of the evening by a long shot. Undoubtedly viewed by many as the big success of the festival, at 22 you’d think this confident and sultry performer would be a little young to portray the hard emotional edge of the blues. Not a bit of it. She had an ability to play the crowd with a dazzling display of stage craft, belting out the lyrics with passion, Janis Joplin without the baggage.
Backed by her excellent band, the Welsh wizardess played to a delighted and sympathetic crowd. Her own take on Joplin’s Cadillac Blues – “Lord won’t you buy me a widescreen TV” – cut a chord with all present. Cherry Lee could have commanded the attention of all present the whole night long, a cracking artist with a great future.
The crowd were by now in good spirits just in the right mood for the After Hours R&B Revue from Thurso. Pure party in their white tuxedos, these predominantly elder statesmen delivered a mean interpretation of soul and blues classics till the shutters came down.
All in all the night saw variety in pleasant surroundings, showing the blues festival is continuing to widen its horizons. It just gets bigger and the ethos is still relaxed. You can’t help yourself wanting another festival sooner rather than later.
As we left, you couldn’t help wondering if even Her Majesty, safe in her portrait behind the stage curtains, would have had her toes tapping to the bluesy beat at some stage.