2009 Folk Festival: Show was good, but 2000 still ranks as the best

FRIDAY – Cullivoe

There have been many memorable concerts during the history of the folk festival. One of them, by general consensus of opinion, was in the Cullivoe Hall nine years ago when Yell punters, and others, were treated to an evening with a wonderful Irish flavour.

On that night in May 2000 (it seems like yesterday), Moveable Feast, Bap Kennedy and, in particular, North Cregg, put on a show never to be forgotten. Also there was the late Peter Lynch, a great bear of a man whose down-to-earth friendliness was the wheat from the chaff in the days when the festival organisers used to persist in bringing in compères.

So it was a great pleasure to return to Cullivoe on Friday, albeit an hour late after Dave the photographer had the bright idea of taking a detour to sample the delights of Frankie’s Fish and Chip Shop in Brae. But thankfully when we arrived, grabbed a bottle of Unst beer and found a seat, the first band, local veterans Hom Bru, were only just into their second number.

The slow air Bonnie Nancy, written by Phil Cunningham after a trip to Shetland, was quickly followed by Tom Georgeson’s Stourbra Hill, two tunes including Oni Bucharesti and then the inevitable Da Trowie Song.

“We did this one at the Mid Yell School recently,” said Brian Nicholson, “and we wondered how the bairns managed to sit so still. Then we found out it was because the teacher told them I actually was a trow!”

Hom Bru finished with Da Merrie Boys o Greenland, put to words by the late Bobby Tulloch, and a few more rousing tunes.

Next up were Dàimh, pronounced “da-eve”, an interesting line-up including musicians from central Scotland, the Borders, the Western Isles, Ireland and Cape Breton.

“Last night we were in Hamnavoe, tonight we’re in Cullivoe and tomorrow night we’re going to be in the real Voe,” the audience was informed. “We asked what ‘voe’ meant and somebody said ‘hall’.” No-one bothered to put them right so maybe for the rest of their lives the members of Dàimh will go on believing that to be the case. Not that it really matters.

Bagpipes and small pipes, whistle, fiddle, bouzouki, bodhran and guitar all played their part in a high-energy mix of jigs, reels and songs from their respective areas and they showed their prowess by being able to master Da Scalloway Lasses, which they only began learning the previous day.

There was much ribbing for Callum Alec, the diminutive singer/whistle player from Lewis, who apparently had a tendency to dislike two things – Canada and Yell! We’re sure that wasn’t really the case.

Next up Davie Henderson asked the audience to give a big welcome to some more home-grown talent, in the form of Ryan Couper (fiddle and guitar) and Adam Johnson (banjo and guitar), and in their case the word “talent” is apt indeed.

I’d already heard Ryan at Celtic Connections in Glasgow last year, when he played a guitar duet with Martin Taylor, so was aware of his ability. Adam, from Muckle Roe, is more of a newcomer, but showed he can already pluck with the best of them.

Fiddle and banjo could not be faulted, but it was when they both took up their guitars to finish with Tokyo Polka, seemingly requested by Ryan’s granny, that they brought the house down. Taking turns on the lead with equal aplomb, the applause was the biggest of the evening so far, and richly deserved.

Some will say Shetland’s most famous guitar player is now per­forming in that never-ending folk festival in the sky. Or he might be shooting pool, playing dominoes, having a pint, frying fish or watching fitba on the telly. But Peerie Willie can rest assured his legacy is being carried on in fine fashion.

The next band, Madison Violet from Toronto, were for me the evening’s stars.

The beautiful harmonies pro­duced by Lisa MacIsaac (vocals, guitar, fiddle and mandolin) and Brenley MacEachern (vocals, gui­tars and harmonica), accom­panied by Adrian Lawryshyn on double bass, had the audience begging for more.

Most of the songs were off their latest album, No Fool For Trying, which is only officially due for re­lease next month, and the few copies on offer at Cullivoe were snapped up in an instant. Apparently 40 of their CDs were bought by an audience of around 100 the previous evening at South Nesting, if any more testament to their popularity is needed.

Frigg, chosen to close the concert, are a mainly Finnish line-up, with a Norwegian also included among the four young fiddlers, and are the kind of highly energetic band which rarely fail with festival audiences.

Early highlights were the reels Cross Border, written about the time the Finnish skiing team were stripped of their title for partaking in some illicit substances, and the medals awarded to Norway, and what sounded like “Adam and I”.

They were a strange outfit, Frigg, at times producing fantastic, foot-tapping stuff but also prone to the odd bout of cacophony.

The crowd were visibly more animated as the tempo increased, at times on the brink of applauding only to realise it was a pause before yet another storm was unleashed. The “party music” offering Economy Class was superb, as was the tune written by the bouzouki player while still at school, while Yalla Yalla was penned by one of the fiddlers while recovering from a nasty bout of the runs contracted while on holiday in Egypt.

All in all it was an excellent concert. The music was great, plus the glasses were glass, the seats were comfy and the welcome was real. Better than 2000? No, that legendary status shall remain untouched.

Jim Tait


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