Clever lyrics, soaring harmonies and the kind of music that grabs you by the guts and weaves its way into your bones.
Roddy Hart and The Lonesome Fire have, by far and away, been the best act I’ve seen at Mareel.
Pulling Hart away from a pre-gig, band takeaway I asked him about his return to Shetland, this time with the full-band treatment.
“Sonically it’s much bigger,” he said.
“It’s a bigger, denser sound, it’s heavier definitely.”
But there were still elements of his singer-songwriter roots.
The power of Hart’s songwriting was laid bare with the memory-inspired Boxes – Hart silencing the audience with a heartfelt, fragile vocal and a simple keyboard accompaniment.
Hart, who hails from Glasgow, told me the transition from solo artist to a fully fledged band evolved over a number of years, but working with a band has changed his approach to his craft.
“You can start to write with them in mind and take songs to places that they might not have done before – when you just had an acoustic guitar.”
Flanked by telecasters and backed by pounding drums, it was clear to see exactly what he meant.
Cold City Avalanche with it’s machine-gun like rhythms and cutting guitar melodies was a standout track on the setlist.
Hart and his bandmates filled the room with rousing tales of love and loss, delivered with haunting sincerity.
Tree of Darkness had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, even if some of the audience didn’t give it the attention I felt it deserved.
From atmospheric intros to all-out roaring guitars, clearly this was a band who had their performance polished as much as the shiny brogues they were sporting.
Hart jokingly apologised to the audience for a lack of Kris Kristofferson – referring to his last gig in Clickimin in September when he supported the legendary country singer.
It didn’t matter, as I found myself completely absorbed in the performance – both dynamic and enthralling in equal measure.
There was a good turnout on the night, but I couldn’t help feeling that the gig deserved a packed-out crowd.
High Hopes was a tune Hart played at the Clickimin during his last visit.
Now with a fuller backing, the waltz-like tune unfolded from acoustic guitar picking and drums to a moving tale that glided through the auditorium as Hart nodded to the words “ I won’t give up on you”.
Bad Blood was punchy and powerful with melodic interludes and guitar thrashing that had the crowd jumping and nodding along in approval.
Guitarist John Martin threw himself into the song – wildly attacking the fretboard to to add to the energetic number, with the six-piece taking it up a gear.
Ghost of Love had echoes of Coldplay and Arcade Fire with the keyboard accompaniment from Geoff Martyn setting the mood before the song flourished into a lavish lament.
The harmonies in Days are Numbered were equally impressive.
Hart’s lyrical strength shone throughout. All the tracks on their self-titled debut album were written by him – with the band adding to the foundations.
Forget Me Not with the opening line “In the movie of your heart do I feature from the start? Or is it just a bit part?” had me hooked.
The refrain in Bright Light Fever “may love take me to the grave like a rose upon a wave” was a line that also stuck, long after the gig.
By the end of the night the crowd was dancing away.
A surprise appearance from Kris Drever was also included in the deal as the band performed The Band classic Up On Cripple Creek.
Drever joined in with the chorus and verses were passed around band members – bringing the groove and showing off their impressive musicality.
Support act No Sweat, played a mixture of blues and rock with Blue Whiting a particular toe-tapping favourite.
It was the second time I’d seen the band perform and was impressed first time around.
And they didn’t disappoint – with a definite nod to Guns and Roses and good old 80s rock.
Brian Nicholson and lead singer David Nicolson laughed and joked with the crowd – making references to a record before I was born.
The five-piece as always, showed great musicianship and togetherness as a band.
Hart and his bandmates were genuinely grateful at the turnout, with whooping and whistles greeting most of the songs they performed.
Fingers crossed they return to the isles, but until then, I’ll just have to settle for the album instead.