Islanders once more turned out in their droves to see over a dozen visiting acts fiddling, strumming, picking and singing their way through 24 concerts over four days at the Shetland Folk Festival.
Organisers have hailed the 33rd festival as one of the best yet, with local performers sharing the bill as artistes, including five talented North American acts, brought a diverse blend of genres to Shetlanders’ welcoming ears.
Meanwhile the weekend’s most exotic outfit, Cuban group Son Yambu, proved a big hit and were reportedly to be seen leading a salsa in the foyer at Islesburgh at 5am on Monday morning.
Canadian April Verch, Juno Award-winner Old Man Luedecke, Cape Breton collective Coìg and bluegrass-y Brits Leon Hunt n-Tet also won plaudits.
Many of the performers gave the festival, and the islands in general, some rave reviews too.
Trad group The Long Notes had been hunting in vain for a pub in Sandness before soundcheck: “A Shetland local drives past and has a quick chat, five minutes later drives back with three bottles of lager for us. The Long Notes like Shetland!”
UK roots group Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra had a “brilliant time” playing alongside some “amazing international artists”. “[We’re] being hosted by lovely people in their houses, and admiring the amazing landscape of the Shetland Islands,” read the group’s Facebook page.
Slightly hoarse-sounding committee member Christine Fordyce said on Monday that audiences had been excellent, with only a small handful of concerts not selling out.
The undoubted non-musical highlight was the joy of her friend and fellow committee devotee Mhari Pottinger giving birth to a folk festival baby. Hamish McLeman came into the world in the early hours of Sunday, not long after Mhari had been welcoming concert-goers at Clickimin.
Christine said: “Besides Mhari having a baby – that was just the most brilliant highlight – I think [local singer] Steven Robertson at the concert on Friday night in the club [was a highlight]. I laughed until my make-up came off. He was absolutely hilarious.”
She said all the visiting acts had lived up to expectations. Feel-good band Skerryvore’s “sheer enthusiasm” had people dancing in Cunningsburgh on Thursday, which usually tends to be “more of a warm-up night”.
Christine was chuffed to have Kieran Goss back at the festival. She remembers buying her first piece of folk festival memorabilia, a cassette tape of Goss, many moons ago. North Carolinian singer Woody Pines had been “excellent”, while Son Yambu had enthralled audiences with their infectiously danceable sound. “I’d feel vexed to pick one out, there’s nobody that disappointed.”
She admitted the committee had wondered whether an increase in the number of folk concerts taking place since Mareel opened might have dented the turnout, but that definitely wasn’t the case.
“We certainly had that concern as well,” she said. “Obviously Mareel needs to make money, and because they’re putting on a lot of things that have either been at the festival before, or run along the same lines, we did wonder if it was going to impact on our audience.
“The festival does have a very strong following, and we’re very lucky in that. Ticket-buyers have been loyal to us.”
It was the festival’s first time using Mareel, where The Gathering – a concert combining some of the best talents from Shetland and Orkney – enthralled over 300 punters on Saturday. Christine said fellow committee member Davie Henderson felt the Mareel events had gone smoothly.
Festival club memberships were only on sale up until 5pm each day instead of the previous 10pm, an arrangement she felt had “worked really well”.
“[We did it] for the sake of our club members, the ones that buy every year and are there for the sessions, the music and the craic that’s going on there,” Christine said.
“The ones that tended to be buying up to 10pm at night were there maybe more for having a dram and treating it more like a pub. I don’t want to be disrespectful, they were having a fun as well, but it was that packed… This year I felt there was more moving back to the way the festival club used to be, more folk in among the sessions.”
After tonight’s Final Fling at Islesburgh, the committee will take a “peerie break for a couple of weeks to recharge our batteries” before work towards the 2014 festival begins in earnest.