2009 Folk Festival: Twenty years but well worth the wait

FRIDAY – Mossbank

No afore time! It has been nearly 20 years since the folk festival visited Mossbank Hall and the night was such a success that many will want it to happen again.

The packed to capacity hall – there was standing room only – reverberated for four hours to the sounds of traditional fiddle, plaint­ive singing and wild gypsy rhythms and had the audience stomping and shouting with delight.

First up were Shetland Heritage Fiddlers, the quintessence of the event, started as they were by Tom Anderson who also founded the festival along with Charlie Simpson.

The tuneful fiddle playing, complemented by guitar and keyboard, set the tone and the standard for the event with three new jigs and a traditional Finnish waltz. The audience, some of whom had travelled from south as well as from all parts of Shetland, loved the sound – and that was just for starters.

The fiddlers were followed on to the stage by the slimly glamorous figure of Emily Smith, the award-winning Scottish singer songwriter who last year became Scots Singer of the Year at the Trad Awards.

Her opening number, an un­accompanied lullaby, was a moving rendition in beautifully true and clear voice – and waitress service at the bar meant the audience could sit and listen without distraction.

Some traditional songs, such as Caledonia in which she played the accordion, and Smith’s own com­positions followed, all accompanied by fiddle, guitar and double bass. Her own song about the graveyard beside her home in the Dumfries and Galloway area – “what would you change?” was particularly thought-provoking.

But her range did not end there. Smith excelled at songs by her near neighbour Burns, and those com­posed with her fellow musicians such as Come Home Pretty Bird and Butterfly, which ended the set to rapturous applause.

Then for something completely different. The Jani Lang Band open­ed on the red and green-lit stage with a wall of sound – fast and furious fiddle, clarinet and percus­sion – a full frontal assault on the audience in the darkened hall. The all-male six piece band with its influences from eastern Europe and north Africa mesmerised the on­lookers. The clapping and toe-tapping started as the tempo and temperature increased and beer bottles multiplied on the tables.

“I want you to get up and dance”, said the hugely charismatic Hungar­ian Jani Lang, who has been playing fiddle all his life, classical as well as traditional. As the Romanian gypsy music started the lasses in the audience left their seats to find a corner to dance – not much room in the packed hall but they had to do it as the combined sound of singing, fiddle and accordion resounded like a swarm of bees.

The band continued with the otherworldly music – percussive sounds like dancing clogs and weird scraping strings – some of the audience had their eyes closed and the lasses started belly dancing.

The final number was about a grasshopper’s quest for a girlfriend. Strange but wonderful and with unknown words, it was played at the speed of an insect’s flight and was exhausting to listen to, never mind perform. The exotic rhythms had folk moving in their seats as if to dance and even those at the bar started to gyrate.

After that it was back home, almost, with Box Club from Glas­gow. The seven piece of accordions, guitars and percussion – unusually no fiddles – worked well with virtuoso performances from the accordionists.

They performed lilting dances and wistful numbers in a varied set, coaxing all kinds of sounds from reels and jigs to polkas from their instruments. Their banter was good too, asking if anyone had been on the number 62 bus, a journey that inspired a musical tribute full of energy and enthusiasm.

The final band was Vishten, four delightful young Acadians (descen­dants of French colonists who settled in the Canadian maritime provinces) from Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands. Already veterans of over 800 shows, they showed their versatility on bodhran, piano, whistles, fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitar in tunes with folk and rock influences, with a splendid display of step dancing from the girls. Their singing was in French but their English was good enough to relate a tale about jump­ing into a freezing lake, the subject of one of their songs.

It has been a long time since Mossbank Hall was so full and hosted a night of such quality. More please.

Rosalind Griffiths


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