Spiritual performance in ‘Da Big Kirk’

 Members of the Sojourners and the Shetland gospel band come together for a final song, which prompted an ovation. Photo: Stephen Gordon
Members of the Sojourners and the Shetland gospel band come together for a final song, which prompted an ovation. Photo: Stephen Gordon

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.

 Jenny Keldie at the keyboard during Thursday night's gospel concert in St Columba's Kirk. Photo: Stephen Gordon
Jenny Keldie at the keyboard during Thursday night’s gospel concert in St Columba’s Kirk. Photo: Stephen Gordon

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”.

Stephen Gordon

Full folk festival coverage, including more reviews, reaction and photos in next week’s Shetland Times.


Add Your Comment
  • Marian Macintyre

    • May 3rd, 2014 12:26

    I was at the above concert on Thursday night, and whilst I agree with the critic’s comments about the groups’ performances, I cannot let his criticisms…..explicit and hardly veiled……of what happens regularly every Sunday in the Big Kirk.
    This is not the platform for criticising the church’s work, nor it’s Sunday services, and I take exception to his comments.
    I am not a member of the Big Kirk, but I have attended services there and I know a lot of people and the minister who together are working on a daily basis to live out the Christian message in word and action.
    I strongly object to the Shetland Times music critic using his position of privilege in a widely circulated article for a personal a attack on the Big Kirk and by implication on the church as a whole.

  • May Gair

    • May 3rd, 2014 18:12

    Well said Marian Macintyre!

    I was not impressed with the above report either. Being one of the “concoction” of local musicians at this gig, I would like to have thought that Stephen Gordon (a member of a band himself in the past) could appreciate the difficulties facing bands with more than 3 or 4 members when asked to perform in a venue where the stage area is restricted, as it was in the Big Kirk. I am sorry he felt our set was “marred” by the changing of personnel. In my opinion, possibly a little biased, the format made for an interesting set, highlighting the talents of each of the lead singers individually.


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