A PACKED programme and some very special acts made the 21st Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival one to remember.
The festival has grown in popularity over the years, and now that it has come of age artistes from the UK, Ireland and Norway, Scottish dance bands and local acts played to full houses.
So popular has it become, in fact, that most of the venues, which stretched from Burravoe to the Ness, were sold out well in advance of the last Thursday’s opening.
Chairman of the festival committee Peter Leask said the weekend was “very successful”, with the numbers of visitors up and many new faces among the regulars.
Festival member and music teacher Alan Gifford, who opened the ceremonies on Thursday, agreed, saying the event was one “where old friends meet and meet again”. Musicians come up, he said, not necessarily to play but to listen to others, and in the same way people who enjoy dancing come up year after year. “They enjoy the spirit, the fellowship, and they bring fellowship too. It’s a two-way thing. The enjoyment is infectious.”
A highlight for him was seeing his pupils play, and he also singled out the performance of elderly Irish fiddler Tony O’Donnell, making his debut at the festival. O’Donnell’s rendition of The Spinning Wheel was so plaintive and the technique so outstanding, said Mr Gifford,”that it almost had me in tears. People were saying ‘Did you hear The Spinning Wheel?’”
O’Donnell, whose first fiddle was made of tin and who also plays the clarinet and saxophone, once lived in the USA and is now based in Redcar in the north of England. He received a rapturous reception at the festival and vowed his first visit would not be his last.
Mr Gifford thanked the festival committee who “work so hard” to make the event happen.
Festival member Gussie Angus described this year’s festival as “first class”. Every venue was a sell-out, he said, with more than 300 visitors – “musicians, dancers and people coming up for the craic” – swelling numbers in the halls and providing a welcome boost to Shetland at the end of the tourist season.
It would be difficult to pick out a highlight, he said, when the standard of musicianship was itself a highlight. But he mentioned 15-year-old Craig Paton as a “minor sensation”, a very talented young player who started playing the accordion at the age of nine and who is already a multi-award winner.
Then there was Tom Orr’s Scottish dance band, a “very talented young band” whose launch of their debut CD at the festival was another highlight. Irish band Dalltach were extremely popular, with a “very different” sound played to a very high standard. Not surprising with the button accordionist and mouth organ player, the guitarist, the tin whistle player and the fiddler all being renowned in their fields.
The concert-goers were all well satisfied as Mr Angus said he had not heard a critical word. “The rest of the world might have been in financial meltdown,” he said, but in Shetland for the duration of the festival it was all forgotten.
He paid tribute to the people who made the event happen – those who provided accommodation for the visitors, the halls that provided suppers and the army of volunteers without whom the festival could not take place.