Funky take on fire festival song

Steve Keenlyside (right) with his Boondock Hippy bandmates in the background.
Steve Keenlyside (right) with his Boondock Hippy bandmates in the background.

A London band fronted by a Shetland musician is having surprising success with its funky version of the Up Helly Aa Song.

The Boondock Hippy, which is also the stage moniker of frontman Steve Keenlyside, have their “funky twist on the traditional song” available as a free MP3 download and there is a video, featuring scenes from Up-Helly-A’ 2013, on YouTube.


Steve, originally from Lerwick, went to London 10 years ago after studying sociology at Glasgow Caledonian University. His first lineup included fellow Shetlanders Patrick Robertson, on bass, and Kennedy Stewart, who is now living back in Shetland.

Steve works for Thames Water but spends “every other waking moment” involved in the band, which has featured in Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. The band’s version of The Up Helly Aa Song, called The Waves are Rolling On has also been given a whirl on Tom Morton’s Through Midnight programme.

Playing acoustic guitar and singing, Steve is joined in the band by Jim Harris on piano and mandolin, Andy MacSweeney on bass guitar, Dan Szymczak on drums, Abhs Joshi on percussion, Rich Wassall on trombone and Ade French on trumpet.

According to Steve he first wrote the tune, which bears scant resemblance to the original, around a hard jemba beat, which gave it a somewhat militaristic edge. In trying to write lyrics for it, he realised that the Up Helly Aa Song words fitted perfectly and the tune took shape to the general approval of the band and various people who have heard it. “Everyone has been quite overwhelmed by it,” he added.

Making music in London is different from Shetland and cuts and recordings are shared out between the band over the internet before being assembled in their final version. Travelling across town is problematic and full-band sessions have to be planned well in advance, unlike in Shetland where everyone can be brought together in minutes.

On the other hand, London has a fantastic music scene with thousands of pubs, clubs, open air markets like Portobello and umpteen other venues.

Boondock Hippy have recorded four studio albums, all of which “have been received really well”, and were nominated in best acoustic act, best newcomer and best website categories at the Download Music Awards 2013 on the strength of their second album. Their third album, Born on a Rock, reflects Steve’s experiences being brought up in Shetland.


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