I can’t think of a Shetland Folk Festival concert at the Clickimin that had quite so many people up on their feet dancing. Four acts and a crowd willing and full of, well, energy among other things.
Faced with the warm-up slot were the local drumming and dance troupe Aestaewast, formed around nine years ago. This eclectic mix of locals specialise in, predominately, West African songs, drum and percussion numbers.
I’m not going to throw in feeble attempts at delivering any of the titles of the pieces but fair play to those in the group who introduced so flawlessly, well as far as I know of course, the names of the songs and dances.
They started with a song which wandered into that well know African-American spiritual number Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Great song, ruined by the Twickenham rugby crowd. The set was quick, with a couple of pieces with roots in Cuba. The real thing would be along shortly.
Drumming looks like a great release and the smiles aplenty showed the enjoyment the members gained from their appearance on the biggest stage of the festival.
Cast your minds back to last year’s festival, a band from Nova Scotia, Sprag Sessions, wowed crowds across the county. Two members of that five-piece, fiddler Colin Grant and pianist Jason Roach, return with Cóig. Pronounced “Ko-ig”, which is Gaelic for five. And, there were five of them. Those returning were joined by fiddlers Chrissy Crowley and Rachel Davis and multi-instrumentalist Darren McMullen.
Individually they are top of the range musicians who blended superbly. I guess great musicians find that easy enough. Colin Grant from Cape Breton, announced they were in fact a fake band, together for this trip to Shetland. I could get used to fake bands.
Each member took turns throughout to showcase individual skills and tunes, a nice touch. In that unique twang, Grant introduced and played a tune he called Mam and Dad’s, and he pointed out that this was the furthest his parents had travelled to see him play. They looked to be enjoying their Shetland experience.
Grant can make a fiddle sing and, at the same time, his energy sometimes has him almost jogging while thrashing out reels. In fact, later in the set all three fiddlers casually threw in a little step-dancing. Damn these people, classy musicians and dance skills!
The fiddle music speaks for itself from these three. The other elements of the band were a real treat.
Rachel Davis can also sing, yes, fiddle, dance and sing. I don’t know if she could do all three at the same time. She probably could.
Steve MacDougall’s Spanish Bay is a fantastic, melodic love song. It was a very good “hair up on the neck” rendition with Darren McMullen providing soft guitar accompaniment.
The Lounge has a piano. Upstairs, if you frequent the posh bar, you will have seen it. In fact many musical households in Shetland have one. Rarely, if ever, have those treasured pieces of musical furniture’s keys taken the battering pianist Jason Roach gives his keyboard. Can you picture his style?
In folk circles at least, the piano is there as an add-on – a subtle accompaniment, providing the vamp but be quiet about it. Not in Cape Breton. Introduced by Grant as a “musical Swiss Army knife” Roach doesn’t sit back in the quiet hole, he is up front. His solo piece was mesmerising as he thrashed through reels and jigs and no better homage can be paid than to say, no disrespect to the others, that he received the heartiest applause on completion of his spot in the headlights. A piano never sounded like that before.
I’m biased though and thought Darren McMullen’s banjo solo was the highlight. Did I mention he was superb on guitar and mandolin as well? He told a wonderful tale of a gift of a four-string banjo from the widow of a John Fowler. In short he had thought she wanted to sell him a banjo when in fact she wanted her late husband’s instrument to be played and gifted it saying only that if he didn’t want it to give it back to her. So, Darren plays the tune John Fowler’s 4-String Banjo on the very man’s 1929 Gibson. A brilliant story and piece.
It was to become a night of “how do you follow that?”.
Up step Son Yambu, with front-of-house singer and lady in perpetual motion Yuri Moreno and those legs. Moreno steps right up and with her wonderfully cheerful and infectious “Spanglish” introduces the rhythms of the Afro-Cuban streets of Santiago de Cuba. “zat wot am talkin’ bout”.
The band are based in “Lawndon” but the moves and music certainly aren’t. Safe to say, other than the continued welcome and marvellous verbal interludes from Moreno to explain the songs and tunes, the band swung through the evening. It would have been easy to focus on the front lady but the playing of double bass by Oscar Vazquez Romero and Rey Crespo on guitar were perfection. They, along with drummer and percussionist Rene Savigne, laid the foundations of the show.
Back to Moreno, she added the icing on the cake. Explaining the roots of tunes, the coffee break call of Big Mama, “big mama, you ain’t got no big mama in Shetland”. I haven’t seen so many people dancing before and when they played Gloria Gaynor’s classic I will Survive, sung in Spanish of course, the house erupted.
Wow. But, once again, how do you follow that?
Having seen Cedric Watson the previous night in the more intimate Cunningsburgh Hall I wondered how the bigger venue would suit. Well, he, Desiree Champagne on washboard, triangle and vocals and Chris Hall with button box, vocals and drums had the audience in the palm of their hands from the off.
If “coolness” can be personified then Cedric Watson does it. He drew life from the bellows of his double-row Hohner whilst almost puffing like a powerful cockerel. Again the song Pa Janvier had me in awe of the trio and the Pow-Wow two-step and Cry Baby Cry were up there.
Another magnificent night’s entertainment.