As a venue musical “Da Big Kirk” has to be up there with the best in Shetland – the sound resonates easily within its walls and it can seat 600.
Once I conquer my memories of the eternal hours I seemed to spend in this building as a youth experiencing brain-numbing boredom from the pulpit I’m all right to enjoy the concert.
I’ve even seen free jazz here a few years ago and was blown away. On Thursday I attended my first concert of the 34th folk festival.
Having to go to the kirk as youth, music was the saving grace and during this evening of gospel music we were in for a treat from a vocal American trio, the Sojourners. Their gospel aim is to connect with people and give them hope, and they’re not afraid to handle social justice issues.
First up was a “concoction” of local artistes including the vocal prowess of Sheila Henderson, Freda Leask and Jenny Keldie. They played a country-slanted gospel set, slightly marred by the chopping and changing of personnel between numbers – There were eight musicians on the “stage” at one point and some songs were a little drowned out by the drums. The bluegrass classic The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn was potently delivered, as was Dylan’s Forever Young and When God Gives His Love in my Heart saw the “happy clappy” element introduced into the proceedings, which created a good feeling between the musicians and audience which continued unabated throughout the night.
We then had what had been billed as a “toilet break”. I was able to joke with a friend who had made a “T” sign, for toilet as it turned out, that you wouldn’t get a cup of tea here. I recounted the story of the woman who used to always leave St Columba’s services early. Asked why she did this she said “You git a cup o’ tea at da Methodists!”
Sojurn means a temporary stay and the powerful vocal trio Sojurners could have easily stayed a lot longer with their soul-studded gospel music on Thursday night.
Backed simply, but effectively by guitar, bass and drums which gave a sizzling southern swamp sound to the show, the guitar licks put you in mind of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. The music was understated but allowed the vocals to ascend above the mix and reveal its restorative edge.
We were told that if a preacher in America goes on too long there are cries of “Help him Lord” from the congregation, if only they’d had that when I was young. Then we had a little advice for clapping time they’re more used with 1/3 timing than 2/4.
The music was for “sinners and the saved, no matter where you are on your journey”.
The set was mixed, with even a Buffalo Springfield song which I discovered strangely I could still remember the words to, as well as songs inspired by the civil rights movement like Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready There’s a Train comin’ and Dylan’s I shall be Released.
An hour went very fast and the Sojurners’ thought provoking and spiritual performance resulted in a standing ovation from the audience.
You’ll not see and hear that every time you go to “Da Big Kirk”.
• Full folk festival coverage, including more reviews, reaction and photos in next week’s Shetland Times.