Fantastic variety at Burra

The Whalsa Weemin were hilarious. Photo: Mark Burgess
The Whalsa Weemin were hilarious. Photo: Mark Burgess

Burra Bears came to life in a jam-packed evening of comedy and quality local music.

The variety show at Burra Hall was a near sell-out – helping to raise funds for the return of the Thomas Fraser Memorial Festival next year – after a three-year break.

Arriving a little late to the gig, I managed to perch on the end of a row of seats – just as guitar trio The Pottingers kicked off proceedings.

Compere Geordie Pottinger introduced his brothers to the stage and the audience listened intently to the blend of earthy vocals and catchy guitar accompaniments, with hilarious anecdotes in between.

A stripped-down affair, there were no guitar leads or fancy foot pedals, just one microphone, three acoustic guitars and plenty of toe-tapping music.

The band’s take on Caledonia was a highlight of the set and was met with rapturous applause and whooping from the crowd.

And after a quick quip about absorbent underwear from Geordie, the Whalsay Weemin were treading the boards, complete with fancy hats and shopping bags.

It was the first of three appearances on the night as the group told tales of bannocks, sponge cakes, their search for a man, and of course the Burra Bears.

My sides were aching when the women were welcomed back for the second half, dressed in patterned onesies and faces painted to look like the famous cuddly toys.

With the lyrics in dialect, and being a Yorkshire lad I struggled a little with some of the words, nonetheless I could catch enough to have a good old chuckle.

Brian Nicholson too had the audience laughing along. In a clever solo set he told tales of a hangover and night of excess, gales in Yell and a black comedy about a Yell batchelor taken to the cleaners by a fast-talking woman from the city. As ever his guitar work was spot on and Nicholson brought the tales to life with excellent delivery.

Nicholson then accompanied Young Fiddler of the Year Callum Watt, vamping his way through an impressive set by the youngster.

The rousing and effortlessness of Watt’s playing was there for all to see – a joy to watch and a talent I am sure many in Shetland will be seeing a lot more of.

Tea and fancies were on offer during the break, and a welcome cuppa whet my whistle.

Laeverick's harmonies were a delight. Photo: Mark Burgess
Laeverick’s harmonies were a delight. Photo: Mark Burgess

The second half saw bands Laeverick and Kansa perform. With impressive three-piece harmonies, the former played their way through an enjoyable and varied set list.

All three female singers showed an equal amount of strength in their vocals and swapped between themselves for the lead lines. As self-confessed fans of Dolly Parton, they also performed a rendition of her hit Jolene.

The group made it their own and more than did the song justice. Their own material was equally as good, and for a group that admits to not writing a great deal of their own stuff, they should certainly do more.

Kansa, the final act of the night, opted for a similar set-up to The Pottingers, with one microphone on stage.

A few members were missing from the group but walking bass lines from Adam Priest, intricate guitar work from Robert Wishart, top fiddle playing from Stewart Grains and powerful vocals courtesy of Karlyn Grains, made for a strong and distinctive set to end the evening.

Stewart gave plenty of gusto when he performed a set of four American tunes, which was met warmly by the crowd.
Afterwards an impressed Geordie said he would definitely be inviting the group back.

Kansa finished off the evening in fine style. Photo: Mark Burgess
Kansa finished off the evening in fine style. Photo: Mark Burgess

Plans are under way for a return of the memorial festival and also to release a “best of” CD of the Burra fisherman’s songs.

The festival was formerly staged annually in honour of Fraser, whose reel-to-reel musical recordings were discovered after his death and subsequently released on CDs to great acclaim. It ceased in 2012 after the launch of the sixth album.

Before the show, Karl Simpson, grandson of the late musician, said there had always been a plan to bring back the festival and three years seemed like a good break to have.

Afterwards he said was “delighted” with the range of acts on the night.  “There were some humorous ones as well so there was a good variety,” Karl said.

About 150 people turned out for the variety concert and Karl said they could not have asked for better, helping with the finances for festival next year.


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