The provisional line-up for the 31st Shetland Folk Festival in the spring has been announced.
With only three months (or 15 weeks, or 105 sleeps, depending on how excited you are) to go, 14 bands representing nine countries are set to play at this year’s event, from 28th April to 1st May, which features some familiar faces and many new ones.
Regulars on the folk scene, Kansas City natives The Wilders will make their Shetland debut. Describing themselves as “educated hillbillies”, their infectious blend of dobro, banjo and old-time fiddle tunes played with a raucous attitude is sure to be a hit with Shetland audiences.
As guitarist and lead singer Ike Sheldon says on the band’s website: “This ain’t sitting on the front porch rocking chair music. We play hillbilly music and we play the shit out of it.”
Another American band with an eclectic sound is St Louis based Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three.
Described as having a “one-of-a-kind sound”, this American roots style band plays a creative mix of early jazz, string ragtime, country blues and western swing in a distinctly modern way, yet with a retro vibe.
The third American band in the line up is the Louisiana-based L’Angelus (or for the ignorant of French pronunciation, a category in which I include myself, lawn-jey-loos).
The four-piece is made up of siblings Katie, 27, Paige, 26, Johnny, 24, and Stephen Rees, 22, who play Louisiana roots-based music, combining Cajun fiddle tunes with saxophone-driven swamp-pop and New Orleans-influenced R&B.
Genticorum are another North American band with a Gallic flavour. Hailing from Canada, the Cajun trio are Yann Falquet on guitar, Jew’s harp and vocals, Alexandre De Grosbois-Garand on wooden flute, electric bass, fiddle and bass; while on fiddle, feet and vocals is Pascal Gemme.
Interestingly, Gemme wrote a tune called Cascou which features on Fiddlers’ Bid latest album All Dressed in Yellow.
From this side of the Atlantic, and Scotland to be precise, comes the Fred Morrison Trio, with a blend of bluegrass and bagpipes – not what you’d expect to be a natural alliance.
Yet through his latest album project Outlands, Morrison sets out to explore the inherent connections he perceives to exist between his own music and the traditions of top Americana luminaries such as producer Gary Paczosa, banjo and guitar ace Ron Block and Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien, all of whom are included.
Also featuring pipes are the second Celtic offering on the list. Making a return to Shetland will be inventive folk band Breabach, who last made an appearance at the festival in 2009.
Another band making their Shetland debut is The Shee. Boasting some of today’s cutting-edge instrumentalists and singers in the folk scene, the music of this six-strong all female line-up features both original compositions alongside a wealth of traditional material and an adventurous brew of folk, Scots, Gaelic and bluegrass.
From Poland come Beltaine, a seven-piece outfit whose funky mixture of traditional Irish, Scottish, and Breton styles features a startling variety of instruments: fiddle, low whistle, accordion, bombard, bansuri, tabla, cajon, djembe, Irish bouzouki, electric guitar, Galician bagpipes, bodhran, drums and vocals are, somehow, all incorporated.
Ireland is represented by the Oonagh Derby Dand, featuring Gerry “Banjo” O’Connor and Gino Lupari, who will also be teaming up as a duo for the festival.
While O’Connor and Lupari will be known for their work with Four Men and a Dog, Derby is fairly new to the music scene.
Nevertheless, the grass-roots eclectic and diverse singing style she has developed, from listening to old Irish tales and ballads fused with modern tastes in blues, swing and jazz, is sure to be popular with festival goers.
Another familiar face comes in the form of Chris Newman. Having performed to audiences in Shetland in 1989 and 1998, the former member of Boys of the Lough reveals an astonishing variety of styles and techniques, from blues influences to jigs and reels, bluegrass and jazz, and makes a welcome return to this isles with two of his students from Newcastle University’s folk music course – Andy Watt on mandolin and guitar and Keith Ray on bass – in tow.
Last but by no means least is the Scandinavian contingent. Norwegian folk music is represented by Knerten & Co, a popular act at last year’s Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival and a band sure to go down a storm with their jovial mix of the traditional with a unique playing style.
Joining them, and making their UK debut, are Norwegian/Swedish band Sver, whose their modern take on traditional music, energetic performances and party attitude has appealed to fans of both folk and rock music. And if the music video on their website for the track Fossegrimen is anything to go by, they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Finally, from Denmark comes the Harald Haugaard Quartet, featuring Helene Blum. The husband and wife team are two of Denmark’s most exported and multi award-winning musical names.
Haugaard’s vibrant and virtuous trio includes Danish guitarist Rasmus Zeeberg, who Shetlanders will recognise for his previous appearances with Zar and the Henrik Jansberg Band, and percussionist Sune Rahbek, an old mate from folk-fusion band Serras.
They are joined by the expressive, crystal clear tones of singer Blum, resulting in a delicate blend of old traditional Danish dance tunes and songs complemented by Haugaard’s beautiful compositions.
Along with the visiting acts there will be a wealth of local talent, including Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag and Brian Gear and Violet Tulloch.
Mhari Pottinger of the festival committee said they had had a hard act to follow after last year but that the 31st festival would no doubt be one to remember.
She said: “It’s come together really well, there was a bit of pressure after the 30th festival last year to put together a line up that would be as good as that, but I think we’ve done it.
“I’m looking forward to hearing the diversity of the acts coming up. Personally, I’m looking forward to the American and Quebec contingent which I think will go down really well with Shetland audiences, but I’m equally excited to have some of the best acts in the Scottish folk scene visiting.”
Advance festival memberships will go on sale on 21st January and until 25th February, with membership forms and information available on the festival’s website and through The Shetland Times.
More information, including all the visiting acts’ biographies with sound samples, can be found at www.shetlandfolkfestival.com