By JOHN ROBERTSON
LOVERS of women singers have much to be excited about this week with the unveiling of at least five acts featuring female vocalists in the provisional line-up for the 29th Shetland Folk Festival.
The most famous of them booked for the event between 30th April and 3rd May is Cara Dillon from County Derry in Ireland who is bringing her husband Sam Lakeman, the piano-playing brother of English folk heartthrob Seth Lakeman.
Dillon has a new album, Hill of Thieves, out later this month which is already earning rave reviews and should save her from any more Kate Bush/Corrs comparisons.
Scotland’s award-winning young singer-songwriter Emily Smith is not quite so well known yet but, still only in her mid-20s, she already has three albums to her name and is a firm favourite among folk music radio DJs.
Smith featured on the BBC’s recent Hogmanay television special, singing and playing accordion, and was voted Scots Singer of the Year at the Scottish traditional music awards in November.
From across the Atlantic come the modern country-pop harmonies of Madison Violet (also known as Madviolet), a female duo from Toronto who play guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin and harmonica. They reckon they sound like a cross between Gillian Welch, Steve Earle and Alison Krauss.
The four women in Gadelle also come from Canada or, to be more accurate, the French-Acadian part of Prince Edward Island. They play at least 13 instruments between them and sing and step dance too.
Female vocal act number five comes in the shape of ZAR from Denmark, one of the stars of the 2004 festival with their sophisticated jazzy folk, the stunning voice and cute stagecraft of Sine Lauritsen and, of course, the familiar face of festival regular Steffan Sørensen on double bass.
It’s a safe bet that audiences will go crazy for Finnish-Norwegian fiddle powerhouse Frigg, favourites on both sides of the Atlantic, who will be making their first appearance in Shetland. Any band combining dynamite tunes with communal shouts of “hey” in the middle will no doubt have people eating out of their hands.
Doing something similar but with a Celtic rather than Nordic flavour will be Dàimh, a six-piece fiddle and bagpipe-driven boy band from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and the US, who top it off with a bit of Gaelic singing.
Blues lovers will be in a lather about this year’s offering from that genre – a wild guitar and drums duo from Queensland, Australia, going under the dodgy name (don’t tell them I said that) Hat Fitz and Itchy. This is the kind of hoary old laidback blues from weird-looking blokes that we’ve come to expect and love at the festival each year.
Southern Europe throws up just one offering this year in the form of the seven-piece Celtic roots band Felpeyu, from Asturia in northern Spain, who have been going 17 years.
This year’s big name for the big Friday gig at the Clickimin Centre, which used to be known as the stomp, is old acid-croft favourites Shooglenifty who surely need no introduction.
The Irish tradition is kept alive by the appearance of the Brock McGuire Band featuring fiddler Manus McGuire, veteran of multiple Shetland folk and accordion and fiddle festivals. His partner Paul Brock is a button-accordionist and melodeon player who has also been here before and they are usually backed by Enda Scahill on banjo and Denis Carey on piano.
The gypsy flavour for 2009 comes from the most unexpected quarter – Aberdeen – in the form of the Jani Lang Band. Jani is a Hungarian fiddler who has gathered Egyptian, Scottish and Irish musicians in his Granite City ensemble to fuse together Balkan and gypsy musical influences. Apparently they are to be joined at the festival by Scottish sax and bagpipe virtuoso Fraser Fifield.
There will be a special welcome for the New Rope String Band, making their first appearance since the tragic death of Joe Scurfield in a hit-and-run accident in Newcastle in 2005, which was the end of the line for the festival’s most popular band, the Old Rope String Band. The remaining veterans, Pete Challoner and Tim Dalling, have since been joined by fiddler Jock Tyldesley and guitarist Vera van Heeringen.
The last of the visitors announced so far are Saltfishforty, the familiar fiddle and guitar duo of Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty from Orkney who also star in The Chair. The festival committee claims at least 11 nationalities are represented among the acts, albeit strictly Western breeds this year, if you include the Aussies.
The concert venues outside Lerwick are South Nesting and Hamnavoe on Thursday 30th April; Cullivoe, Mossbank and Sandwick on Friday 1st May; and Fetlar, Baltasound, Walls and Voe on Saturday 2nd May.
Memberships go on sale two weeks today. Forms and lots more information can be obtained from the festival’s new-look website on www.shetlandfolkfestival.com The committee is keen to hear from anyone interested in sponsoring events, or even the bands, during the festival. Contact Mhairi Pottinger by email at firstname.lastname@example.org