Eclectic certainly sums it up. Fiddles with every act, repetition you might think – but wow could the musicians on show do justice to a range of different styles and interpretations from traditional Shetland to Scottish, Irish, country and a self-styled Canadian funk. So, in short, fiddles good.
A receptive and appreciative crowd filled the hall to hear festival chairman Davie Henderson introduce the first act of the night, local first timers Country & Northern.
Front man for the four piece band Malachy Tallack was ably supported by brother Rory on fiddle and mandolin, Graham Malcolmson on double bass, Steven Laurenson on guitar and Victor Sandison as substitute drummer.
Their own penned songs produced by this talented local quartet were classic country. Chalk full of tragedy, sadness and good old honest heroes. From the moving tale of love in John’s Roller Disco Blues through the heroic An Honest Man (Willie Leask) to the almost Don Willamsesque Dear Susan, which Brian Thompson in the audience was ecstatic about and was seen frantically scribbling down the words of.
Country & Northern finished up with a very fine cover of The Band’s prison work song Ain’t No More Cane. Praise is due for the heights reached by the backing vocals, maybe it was the fishnet tights.
A wonderful kick-off to the evening, get out and see these guys soon.
Up next was another local man, fiddler Ross Couper joined by Tom Oakes from Devon with guitar and flute – not at the same time of course.
Energetic and polished is perhaps a little cosmetic a description for these two but they were. Very often tune names are dull but Ross introduced the Bigton Hall to I’ve been Here Before but Not With You. Written in reference to an unfortunate incident involving sherry, a one-night stand and an ex-girlfriend’s house. The tune was a delight but didn’t reflect the horror of the situation; there was nothing in there that made you envisage Boris Karloff at all.
Oakes loved Shetland already and in his best Shetlandese he pronounced the previous night’s trip north on the boat had been a “bra struggle”. His playing wasn’t reflected in that.
The two men were certainly raising a sweat with their powerful performance, it felt like that even watching. There is something perfect about the fiddle and flute together, just ask the Irish. A couple of hornpipes later, including the uplifting The Newcastle Hornpipe and the audience were in complete agreement.
Act three was the wonderfully named Birls Aloud who are Eunice Henderson with the Bremmer babes, Alison Moar, Susan Thompson, Wendy Laurenson and Sophie Moar on fiddle with Graham Malcomson, he was back on that wonderful double bass and Martin Henderson on piano. As they said, they overlooked the lads when naming the band but they have now become experts in the subjects of fashion and skin care product selection.
Eunice is the most infectious front any band could have, you could well have listened to the banter all night, her “Give us a Clue” re-enactment had laughter ringing through the rafters: The News followed by The Weather indeed!
Not to overshadow the music though, the repertoire was lovely and played with real passion despite a few self-acclaimed nerves. Enthusiasts love traditional Shetland music played “not too fast lasses”.
The penultimate band were first time visitors Lori Watson & Rule of Three, the three being made up of Lori’s brother Innes on guitar and backing vocals and John Somerville on the box.
Now, confession time. I haven’t been the most enthusiastic recipient of traditional Scottish singers. I don’t know, I kinda thought that far too many of the songs were sad and too few included anything upbeat or humorous. I may now have changed my tune a little. Perhaps these guys letting me join in did the trick, in fairness the whole audience were encouraged to join in, a feat in itself for the normally reticent and shy Shetland audience in my experience with James Hogg’s Maggie (When Maggie Gangs Away) and from there on in I was converted for the evening at least.
The soft husky voice of Lori was perfectly accompanied by the wonderful guitar work of her brother while the box playing of Somerville melted into the songs and tunes like the white streaks in fine steak.
After the short break the last act, who travelled all the way from Nova Scotia and certainly inject more than a little umph into traditional music were introduced, five-piece Sprag Session.
They didn’t mess about either, straight into a bursting set of Strathspeys. You could do little else but sit up and pay attention and I defy anyone to sit motionless when these guys are on stage.
Colin Grant, not the local ex-footballer, leads with that recognisable Scots/Irish rooted Cape Breton style only he has, if you can, modernised it a lot.
Electric bass from Donnie Calabrese, Merlin Clarke on drums, banjo, guitar and mandolin from Darren MacMullen and the mesmerising piano playing of Jason Roach had you hooked from the off.
It was funky, they like that given the pure enjoyment they show while playing and the ethos was summed up perfectly by their take on the Cape’s Paddy’s Jig, or just Paddy’s as they call it, the jig was certainly still there but it had been given a rocky, bassy, funk redecoration. It made you want to dance, nobody did but see the earlier comment re the normally reticent and shy Shetland audience. They were very appreciative nonetheless and the hands and feet certainly did the dancing.
Five piece Sprag Session are sure to be a huge hit this weekend throughout Shetland and if you like to dance I believe there are a limited number of tickets still available for the Clickimin concert tonight. These gents are well worth the visit alone.
So, first night over. A first class concert and eclectic does cover it. Onwards and upwards to Yell.