SHETLANDERS’ love of country music continues, or at least Irish country music, or even the blend of folk, Northern Irish and country which was available last weekend.
The mini-festival organised by Shetland Country Music Club took in four venues: Sound Hall in Lerwick on Friday; Scalloway Boating Club and Walls Hall (which was switched to Whiteness following a sudden death) on Saturday; and the finale in the Lerwick Legion on Sunday.
The headline was Susan McCann, making a return to the isles after 12 years, and she was ably supported by the McQuaids, a talented brother and sister duo. There was also Roy Ballantine, a one-man-band kind of guy who went down a storm in Da Noost on Friday evening.
At the forefront of the organising, as usual, was Lerwick man Brian Robertson, who has been responsible for booking most of the visiting acts for the past 30 years.
Brian’s boundless enthusiasm was much in evidence at the Legion concert, as he introduced each performer in turn and made sure they got the applause they deserved. Not that the audience needed much nudging; the constant attention they showed was a testament to their appreciation. A far cry from some folk festival concerts, for instance, where there is the irritation of people constantly talking during the music.
Brian said he was absolutely delighted with the overall event, especially with the added problem of having to alter the Saturday evening venue, and also with the help he received.
“I suppose I’m the driving force but I do have a lot of support from other club members, and other folk are also there to be called upon.
“I would like to thank the Walls hall committee for liaising with us and the Whiteness committee for stepping in to organise a venue at such short notice. They went to the bother of making soup and sandwiches which was a nice touch, and well received.
“The whole weekend was fantastic, and it gives us continued enthusiasm to hopefully make it a yearly special.”
There was barely a seat to be had when the guitar-wielding Dermot and Pauline McQuaid took to the stage at the Legion on Sunday. After a couple of songs Dermot swapped instruments to reveal his mastery of the fiddle with the old Charlie Daniels number The Devil Went Down to Georgia, a performance he was to surpass half an hour later with a furious Orange Blossom Special.
The McQuaids’ song book is slightly more Irish than country, including for instance Goats Don’t Shave’s Las Vegas in the Hills of Donegal, but they were able to reverse the trend with Carl Belew’s Stop the World and Let Me Off, a stalwart of luminaries such as Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings and Dwight Yoakam.
The McQuaids went down a treat with the audience, who seemed delighted when Brian brought them back for an encore, which they filled a la Dean Martin with Little Old Wine Drinker Me.
Most people were expecting Roy Ballantine next, but Brian surprised everyone by introducing Susan McCann, accompanied by her husband Dennis Heaney on piano/accordion, the hastily-changed Dermot McQuaid on guitar and Shane O’Neill on bass.
“We’ve changed things round so Magnie Stewart can catch the 11 o’clock ferry back to Bressay,” Brian joked. The redoubtable Magnie later confessed to an infinite loathing of country music and actually having been press-ganged into attending the concert.
McCann has been described as the “queen of Irish country music” and she immediately revealed why, launching into a medley of stock numbers such as Lipstock on Your Collar, Que Sera Sera and Keep on the Sunny Side of Life, which impressed everybody.
“I’ve been around a while,” she told the audience, which prompted one chancer to reply: “I can see that.”
“You cheeky devil,” she retorted. “You don’t look so good yourself.”
McCann has been over 30 years in the business, however, and that probably accounted for a near faultless display. Her loyal fans – only a few couples made it to the dance floor – sat mesmerised as she went through a repertoire which included Ron Hynes’ fabulous Sonny’s Dream, along with the more likely fare. Blanket on the Ground, Ring of Fire, 57 Chevrolet, Sea of Heartbreak . . . they went on and on.
She agreed to a couple of requests, including the Celtic anthem The Fields of Athenry which even had a Rangers fan’s foot tapping.
All too soon McCann’s time was up, and after the customary raffle our MC was back to introduce the final artiste. Ballantine did his best but an Irish queen was a hard act to follow, and this week Brian agreed that perhaps they had got it the wrong way round.
The problem was timing, he said, with the show running until 1am and McCann reluctant to play beyond midnight.
“As far as the running order goes I might as well admit that we could have done it better. It was a struggle for both Roy and the audience.”
Hindsight will be a benefit, however, and Brian and the country club are already making plans for the future. Next month they have fixed up Irish duo Aly Herron and Marianne Currie, while in November the popular Manson Grant & the Dynamos will be making a return to the isles. Then for the Christmas bash they hope to have Aberdeen-based outfit Arizona at the Lerwick Legion.
Brian said this week he thought the future looked good, although funding was sometimes difficult and a conflict with other events often had to be overcome. Last weekend it was the Peerie Willie Guitar Festival while last year they clashed with Fiddle Frenzy, both subsidised by Shetland Arts.
“As the club goes I feel that it still has its place along with everything else,” Brian said. “The blues [festival] is becoming more established, the accordion and fiddle festival is there, so is the folk festival. Maybe it’s time we sat down and found a slot which does not clash so much.”
Last weekend’s country music show, a pretty relaxed affair all round, was in direct opposition to the more stilted Peerie Willie Guitar Festival at the Garrison Theatre.
One veteran fan captured the irony of the contrasting styles when he said that Peerie Willie himself, who had no time for anything pretentious, would have been far happer in the surroundings of the Legion on Sunday evening. Having met Willie I would have to concur with that sentiments.