Boating club bounces with Oxjam music festival

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With the closure of Oxfam’s shop on Lerwick’s Commercial Street, the charity’s presence in Shetland has been severely curtailed.

So the Oxjam event, “local music with global impact” (“glocal” is apparently a new buzz word) in Lerwick on Saturday, consisting of a staggering 20 seven musical acts, certainly upped the profile of this very worthwhile international charity. With it happening in four venues across town from 2pm until 2am, the town was awash with music to suit all tastes.

As for myself I ended in the intimate surroundings of the Lerwick Boating Club, affectionately known as the “water masons”. This is a snug venue and the line-up through the day reflected a mix of young acts with all to play for and older players with little to prove, to a crowd that gradually swelled to capacity as the day developed.

The club’s massive collection of triangular flags from around the world displayed on the roof above must have been eventually flapping to the sheer toe tapping furious folky energy rising from below.

As the day developed the still view of sea and sky scape through the club’s all-glass seaward side was a perfect backdrop to the music from duos in the afternoon, jazz at twilight and finally Shetland folk music at its best as the curtains were closed behind the musicians.

Taking a pew, my attempts to engage with some of the young people waiting to preform revealed understandable pre-gig angst. I did, however, ascertain that the first pair of duelling guitars of Patrick Mainland and Brydone Williamson were moonlighting from the band Automatic Chicken and jokingly said they did want to go international.

Asked why Pete Stack an Da Rayburns were not visible at this laudable occasion, I explained we eight souls were an “all for one, one for all act” with some of our number away in foreign parts. But I had heard rumours of a tribute band, “Pete Stuck and the Rare Burns”. I was there in my capacity as a muso pen pusher with the local rag. Later I was coerced into MC-ing the mandatory raffle – whit can you do?

Proceedings were running little late but this added to the general ambience, as the lads fired up a competent set ranging from a couple of their own tunes to a Led Zeppelin medley, with much changing of guitars. “Fine day. Dis is the Rain song,” one of them muttered; thankfully it was not a forecast.

Another duo next, Project Jaymin, comprised a guitar and a “Cajun” box, a kind of seat that’s a wooden rhythm box of tricks, saves on transporting a drum kit.

Their set with Joseph MacCormack on guitar and vocals (a little muffled but that might be the style) and Eamonn Watt on that box, took the proceedings up a notch with a varied choice of songs running through their turn from Randy Newman’s You’ve Got a Friend to a Gorillaz song. That’s a band they told me. They achieved a surprisingly full sound for two people.

Toni Sidgwick is a singer songwriter who had a fast tune to start with. What she lacks sometimes in exact vocal notation she makes up with emotional dynamism. An original artist I take my hat off (and probably would eat it) to anyone who performs on their own just with a guitar. I have seven other musicians with me when I perform – safety and security in numbers. Toni is an adept songwriter as she displayed when performing her own songs.

With the next act I surprised myself as a confirmed “auld proot” for recognising the voice of Chloe Robertson who I’ve heard on “Radio Ian” performing her own song Fish Out of Water which was later in the set, along with Keirynn Topp and Murray Arthur putting the jam into Oxjam at the end of their spell. Just in sixth year, Chloe and Keirynn showed much promise with a slick delivery, equalling musicians twice their age.

At this stage I was joined briefly by “Red Robbo”, a keen commentator and supporter of the live music of these pleasant sounding isles, who reckoned we were witnessing a “resurgence” of the local music scene.

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Alison Kay Ramsay took the stage as the light was fading outside and her gentle resonant tones with jazz standards fitted perfectly with the time of day, ably abetted by her backing band, including the sweet guitar antics of Brian “I’ll play wi ony band apert fae da brass band” Nicholson, relaxed the enlarging crowd.

Hom Bru were next. I’ve not caught them for a few years but they are still top of their game with familiar favourites, despite line-up changes. Here was Brian again with stalwarts Gary Peterson (“Ir you no’ hame haen yir tae?”) picking on melodious mandolin, John Robert Deyell bowing flowing fiddle, and John o’ da Burns slapping an upright booming bass.

The door was now ajar with music wafting out into the still harbour, but inside things were hotting up. If Hom Bru are old masters then Vair are the young apprentices, sporting two of the Peterson musical dynasty, Lewie and Erik, and Jonny Polson. They having a “supergroup” feel this evening with Ryan Couper and giving musical continuity to the evening, one of Shetland’s most accomplished fiddlers, Maurice “full scale” Henderson.

They gave a boisterous, fast and furious set (this was the reel thing) to an eager and appreciative audience, all primed now to spree till the early hours. Musically satisfied by the show I had a longing for chips.

With the scaling down of the (now non-Peerie Willie) guitar festival, Oxjam provides an alternative musical date on the calendar with a young group of enthusiasts willing to give up their time, not only for the love of music but an ethical cause. Both local and global, sorry that should be glocal.

Stephen Gordon


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