The 25th annual Shetland accordion and fiddle festival is well underway with six roaring concerts last night, 43 acts in all from the Ness Boating Club up to the Sullom Hall.
I was told from the off that being a “festival virgin” was no impediment to understanding the music on offer or enjoying the volunteer led festive. Turns out I wasn’t told a lie.
Having long been an attendee of the local folk festival I have come to love the spread of venues across the isles; there is something smashing about a concert in Bigton, Burra or Bixter. So, it is fitting that my first ever taste of the accordion and fiddle festival should be in the intimacy of the Bixter public hall because, I’m not 100 per cent sure now, but I think the last time I walked through the doors the GTL Disco had Dr Feelgood’s Milk and Alcohol turning on the table. I work on a Friday so it would have to be milk with tonight’s musical feast.
Within my racks of music you will find Fergie MacDonald next to Amy MacDonald so I’m open minded at least. I had thought to myself on the way to Bixter last night, just why hadn’t I been to this festival before? I came to the conclusion that it might be the name. I like the fiddle in most guises and the accordion has been a frequent visitor to the speakers in wir hoose for, well forever. Maybe the name had represented, in my mind at least, the dance band, the wedding, Up-Helly-A’ or other special event. I didn’t fancy a night sitting watching dance band after dance band in concert style. How wrong can a person be?
On to the concert. In simple terms it was a smashing night’s entertainment. Four visiting acts, three local with a special mention to the night’s compere, Peter Sinclair, who had the appreciative crowd in stitches with his between acts jokes. I for one will never look at Prince Harry again without thinking of a certain type of ginger biscuit!
Up first were Fradner Gamla. They line up: James Erikson, Peter Sinclair and Nigel Hallett on fiddle, Elaine Copland on keyboard, Bertie Tait on electric bass with Darren Stewart and Rachel Ann Hunter on accordion.
The band’s repertoire is heavily influenced by Scandinavian music. They turned out the sound of Sweden, Norway and Denmark with little effort. I recall a band called Spælimenninir that played in Lerwick some years back, quite a few years back in fact, and some of the lift and melody reminded me of them.
Second up, from Tulla in County Clare, Ireland, was the McNamara family of Kate, Amy and Gearoid who were joined for the evening by virtuoso piano player Gordon Middler from Aberdeen. The Clare trio’s style is certainly instantly Irish in sound but has a swing to it that we were told is distinctly East Clare and rare. It was jigs aplenty and I Ioved it.
Third act on was fiddle player Barbara Anderson with Gordon Middler. Her style is firmly Scottish, which to my ear is more regimented and straight compared to what I am more used to hearing predominantly in Shetland. Barbara was very polished and her playing of Phil Cunningham’s waltz Belle Mere’s Waltz was a treat.
Maggie Adamson and Brian Nicholson were next to appear and they, again, were not what I expected at all – more variety to the concert. They are both exceptional local musicians and together enthralled my lugs. A few highlights in an all too quick set were a rendition of Walt Disney’s classic Jungle Book song I wanna be like you, which was lightsome and drew audience participation, Mason’s Apron and the fantastic Hungarian tune Czardas played with gypsy style gusto.
A short break was followed by Wis Twartree. The local band, consisting of Gilbert Hutchison and Annabel Smith on accordion, Ivor Smith on fiddle, Terry Williamson on electric bass guitar and Evelyn Hutchison on piano, played good style marches, waltzes and a first rate rendition of the Kiwi Pipers march. Terry announced that the band “were just a bunch of amateurs enjoying themselves”. I wouldn’t mind being that level of amateur!
The penultimate act on stage was the Andrew Gibb Trio. The trio were Gibb on the box, Scott Nichol on the piano and ex-Fladdabister resident, now of Glasgow, Maggie Adamson. This is the first time I have heard Andrew Gibb, and I don’t say this lightly, together they are up there with the players with no surname required, Phil and Aly. They were that good.
Bouncy, note and fingering perfect, flashy at times with power and precision. I just thought they were superb and the audience clearly did as well. One last thing on the trio, they threw in the classic Boston two-step wartime dance and sing-along set we get at almost every wedding in the isles. It had the audience limbering up the vocal chords as well, but for the McNamara clan Tipperary is only 73 kilometers away chaps!
The last act of the concert doubled up as the night’s dance band. Archie MacPhee and the Bogroy Band did a couple of sets and it struck me that this was what I had expected all the acts to be, good, balanced tempo dance bands who played the staples for dancing (they would later).
Archie is joined by Carol Irvine on fiddle, Jacqui MacDonald on keyboard and George Bremner on drums. Carol is of Shetland decsent, her parents stay in Sumburgh so we can lay claim to her talent as well. The band were first class and although I had to make a getaway after the concert, missing the marvellous smelling soup laid on by the Bixter hall, from what I heard and the mood of the crowd I don’t doubt the rest of the night would have been as good as the concert, after all it only had to be half as good to be memorable.
My festival road heads west tomorrow night again, to the Skeld Hall no less. It has taken me until the 25th year to dip my toes in the water, I might just have a swim next year!
For more reports and pictures see next Friday’s Shetland Times.