Review: an astounding start to folk festival 2011

An astounding start to the Shetland Folk Festival 2011 – that’s the simple resumé from the Cunningsburgh Hall last night. The line up was eclectic with participants from Poland, Louisiana, Ireland and Shetland via Bute.

First up, the self-confessed nervous Rosanne O’Byrne – she had no need to be nervous in the slightest. For her what perhaps started the evening as a daunting solo appearance was greatly appreciated by the crowd as she drifted through a mix of covers and own work. Nanci Griffith herself couldn’t have made a better job of Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness.

Next up were a blend of old friends and new. Oonagh Derby is new to Shetland, from Lurgan. She is a refreshing singer and came prepared with a line-up which included weel kent faces in Gino Lupari and Gerry O’Connor and Shetland newbies Gerry Thompson and Nicky Scott. The range of material was a mix of Oonagh’s own work with a few traditional songs and melodies thrown in for very good measure.

The weel kent duo of Lupari and O’Connor made a brief stage exit before returning. The duo, members of Four Men and a Dog, are probably among the finest exponents of the bodran and banjo respectively. Gino’s patter is as good as his playing, he is no Derry Pele but he is indeed in great shape and with Gerry they proceeded to humble the Cunningsburgh Hall with a sound that simply sends tingles to the back of the neck.

How do you top that? Well, the answer is to bring on stage an extremely talented, bouncy, bright and enthusiastic L’Angelus. Four siblings from Lafayette, Louisiana, Katie, Paige, Johnny and Stephen Rees, blew the roof off. Musical talent is clearly deep rooted within the Rees family of Louisiana.

They play a mix of music which draws influence from Cajun, swing and R&B and swamp pop, which is a new genre of fushion music inspired by, apparently, the swamp and well, popular music. It was good though.

They had the crowd in their hands from the off and even managed to engage the entire audience in some participation as they had them singing and waving to Rice and Gravy. Wow.

Would any band like to follow that? It didn’t phase a first for Shetland, a band from Poland, Beltaine: seven piece, with a shop load of instruments including fiddle, Irish bouzouki and Galician bagpipes.

Led by Grzegorz Chudy with his infectious humour, whistles, flute and accordion, the music they blow at you is new to us, different and as they say inspired by Polish, Celtic and music from kebab country (Turkey). It was funky, upbeat and you were drawn in by so many sounds your ears played tricks. They were energetic and if you are lucky enough to have a ticket for tonight’s TA Hall “Spanging Spree” you are in for a real treat.

Me, well I get to sing Rice and Gravy again at the Clickimin. Great stuff.

Brian Johnston

For all the latest folk festival pictures see


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