A golden experience in Skeld

Silver in celebration and gold in entertainment value pretty much sums up the second night of the 25th Shetland accordion and fiddle festival at Skeld Public Hall last night.

An extremely welcome aspect, in my ever so short experience of this festival, is the addition of cracking comperes. Charlie Kirkpatrick, who hails from Iona, is no stranger to Shetland. His dance band would feature heavily later on, but he stood in for the night as the front man for the concert.

His style from the off grabbed the attention of the capacity Skeld crowd as he announced “cabin crew, five minutes to landing”. It took a few minutes but the penny dropped, Ricky Fulton had joined the bill for the evening; he had that voice, manner and air. The ticket price was worth it alone for his comical fillers.

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First on stage were the local Westside Fiddle and Accordion group, 10 members, ranging in age from the late teens to the more mature. As their leader said, “it’s great to see the young eens”; they certainly keep the traditions going out west. They were really good, getting the evening off to a great start. I loved the rendition of Ontario Swing in particular.

Next up were another local duo, Vaila Grant (nee Tait) and Alison Kay. Vaila won the Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year competition back in 2000 and it was easy to see why. Firstly though, Alison’s accompaniment with the guitar was light, sympathetic and never intrusive. Really first class. Vaila is effortless spinning through the tunes with a heartfelt style, she enjoys what she does. Favourite for me was her playing of Steven Spence’s tune Pierhead Reel. Come to think of it quite a lot of Spencie’s famous Unst tunes are being aired this weekend.

The Lisa Laird Trio was next up. Charlie Kirkpatrick introduced the support pair, “before getting onto the musicians”, drummer Allan Sutherland and Ewan Barrack on keyboard. The trio were tight and Lisa had a sweet tone. I’m never short of praise for the tune The Inside Oot Fish Eater.

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I didn’t expect to see what came next, neither fiddle nor accordion. Gerard McGranaghan from Donegal on banjo and Graham Watson on guitar were something very different from what it says on the tin but they fitted like a glove. Both gents were lightning across the fretboard. That allied with great sets of jigs and reels and I couldn’t help but be impressed.

A long time favourite of mine is Arthur Daly’s Swedish Jig and as Gerard said “it probably sounded Swedish to an Irish ear”, brilliant.

After the short break up stepped local band Leeshinat. They are Darren Stewart on accordion, his sister Dana on piano with Michael Philip on accordion and John Leask on drums. Not only do they play superbly and will hopefully be on the Shetland circuit for many years to come, but they can decorate and offer plumbing services to boot. Now that is multi-tasking!

Included in the sets was The Gift of the Gab written by Kirtsen Henry. Now, not in any way am I being derogatory but Mr Philip from Kirkcaldyshire certainly has that. He is a decorator to trade and will “write a 2/4 march for a livingroom” but it would need to be a staircase for a set of jigs apparently. Mr Phillip is infectious and like his playing quick, polished and entertaining. Look out for him he might be nesting near you soon.

My only gripe of the night pops in now and applies to a few acts. I know it’s difficult, in some cases impossible, but the (mostly) seated audience would like to see the musicians. John, for example, was speaking from behind a rather large symbol and Michael Philip’s napper while Dana could have been playing the keyboard from behind a curtain. Come out, don’t be shy, we want to see you, you’re good to look at!

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Polished is an overused word in the music world these days but it applies in spray cans full to Gary Blair from Renfrew. Gary was the penultimate act, not the ultimate act as Darren Stewart might have you believe, and he blew the socks off the head shaking crowd. The last time I saw fingers move this fast was from my lifelong neighbour and hand knitting expert Florence Shearer, knitting Fair Isle. You get the picture. Can fingers really move that fast? Go on, drum them on the table and see how fast yours move, I can’t match that.

He opened with the Russian classic Casatchok, what a start. He then proceeded to introduce the mesmerised hall to a range of tunes from around the globe, all played with perfection, Usain Bolt speed, and a great big smile. Flick Flack, a German tune, was a treat and while we have all heard The Hen’s March, I swear I heard a real hen but I saw no feathers.

A one man band, maybe they should do a television programme, One man and his Box. If you haven’t heard Gary Bair, stick it on your to do list or Crimbo pressie list.

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The last act of the concert was to be the dance band afterwards. The Charlie Kirkpatrick Scottish Dance Band, maybe they should change the name to the Charlie Kirkpatrick Experience? Because he was and so were they.

The band line up with Charlie on accordion, son Niall also on accordion, Derek Hamilton on keyboard, Kenneth McLean on fiddle and Gordon Young on drums. The music and patter were brilliant from Charlie and keyboard player Derek Hamilton.

We’re told by ex-polis man Charlie not to take photos “because of security reasons, social security reasons”. They have a great West Coast sound and I loved the lift. Great tunes in the Ornithologist and Northlands played with feeling. Another great night’s musical entertainment. I stuck around for the soup and sannies served up by the super Skeld folk. Sadly, dancing was out of the question because I had elderly people with me and it was long past their bed time.

Brian Johnston


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