2009 Folk Festival: No superlatives can do justice to McGuire’s band

SATURDAY – Baltasound

The concert in Baltasound on Saturday was truly memorable. From the first chord to the last note it was sheer delight. The Brock McGuire Band topped the bill that was studded with quality all the way through.

As usual it was a local band that got the show off to a great start. The Wishart Family needs no intro­duction nor does anyone need to be told that any performance of theirs is superb.

The wonderful Carter Family of yesteryear has always been an inspiration to the Wisharts but they are never slow to add good songs that they have heard more recently to their repertoire. Perhaps the highlight was Linda’s own com­position, a song called Someone Else is Waiting There For You.

The quantity and quality of Shetland’s young musicians never fails to impress and amaze and the girls in the band Kollifirbolli, two fiddles and keyboard, are prime examples. They showed us stylish and masterly bowing technique and a variety of music, some recently composed and some from places as far apart the West Mainland and the American bluegrass country but lingering in Ireland and treating us to an inspired selection of tunes from that great storehouse of traditional fiddle music. There is clear Debbie Scott influence here and that can never be a bad thing. But look out Debbie, you are about to be overtaken!

The first visiting band on stage was Vishtén from Canada and what a band. They sang, they step danced and they played fiddle, piano accordion, banjo, whistle, trump and keyboard all with verve and fire.

They too had variety, playing music that was at times Cape Breton in style as well as Cajun and Scottish. But the cornerstones of their repertoire was the music they grew with, the French Canadian music of Prince Edward Island and the Magdelen Islands.

The energy and drive of the music sparked off some impromptu dancing and hand-clapping that had, if nothing else, plentiful gusto. It is this kind of brilliant band that folk festival goers look for every year but seldom see. Just great, they took the house down.

It would have been unrealistic to expect this level of excitement to continue and the Danish band Zar brought back, not much, but a scrap of sanity to the proceedings. They played Danish music including polkas. Some folk say, somewhat unkindly, that a polka is just half a reel but the way that Zar played them they were more like a reel and a half.

Their wide travels are reflected in the music with a touch of hoe-down and Irish. As well as the fiddles they had a viola, a double bass (played left-handed), a mandolin and the whole performance was cemented together by a girl with a beautiful singing voice. This band was lots of fun and the audience appreciation was unqualified.

And so to the Brock McGuire Band from Ireland. I could say wonderful, fantastic, brilliant, scin­til­lating and much more but the plain fact is that I have no superlatives in my store of words that can do them justice. As someone who has been at concerts in every folk festival from the start I can only say that this was, for me, the best ever.

Manus McGuire, whose day job is a GP in County Clare, has made a total of 14 visits to Shetland in the last 20 years or so. He made a huge number of friends here and none of them need any convincing regarding his musical ability. One of his friends, Liz Tulloch, was mighty chuffed when he dedicated a tune to her.

His fiddle playing is a rare mix of all that is best in Irish music, crackling triplets, rolls and slurs, but played with control, finesse and precision suggesting that he always has plenty to spare. Alongside Manus was Paul Brock. Even in a land that can number press and draw accordion players by the hundred Paul is outstanding.

He made mention that he saw the late Sir Jimmy Shand play. It was always said of Shand that he was unmistakeable. The same can be said of Brock – he has a certain sound and style and when you hear him you always know who it is. Manus and Paul have played together for many years in bands like Moving Cloud and their popularity never wanes, nor should it.

Put them in a band with composer and keyboard expert Denis Casey and fiddle and concertina virtuoso Naimh Ní Charra and you have knockout. Naimh has been the main fiddle player with Riverdance for many years but it was her ability on the “ladies’ accordion” that got the most applause. For the listeners their 45 minutes on stage could have been five or an hour and five; we were all spellbound to a point where time meant nothing. They evoked memories and thoughts of giants of Irish music like Turlough O’Carolin, Percy French, Tommy Peoples, John Doherty and Sean McGuire.

Jigs, reels, hornpipes and polkas flowed in rich perfusion. I shall never forget it and if the festival committee can ever come up with anything as good as this again – well, talk about eating your hat, I will eat anything that they set in front of me.

Lawrence Tulloch


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