Hurdy gurdy comes to the legion

Friday night and the sound of a hurdy gurdy bouncing off the Lerwick legion’s walls – quite a change from the rock and roll and amplifiers.

I craned my neck to get a glimpse of the medieval whirring, and was transfixed along with the rest of the audience, with opening band Still Game plating up the first taste on the musical menu.

Guitarist Dave Pepper led the way with the onstage patter, with jokey jabs at Steve Davidson’s army of instruments.

The Radio Shetland presenter cracked out the Northumbrian pipes for a beautiful lullaby, with rich and soothing vocals from Pepper working perfectly.

Davidson dedicated the tune to “Sue”,  a fellow Northumbrian piper in the audience – to which octave mandolin player Neill Hall quipped “there’s two of them?!”

The experienced five-piece played a charming set of swing tunes with Pepper vamping away on guitar and accomplished fiddle playing from Bernadette Porter and Jim Leask.

Throughout, Hall showed impressive dexterity and skill, and a set of Shetland tunes, finished off an enjoyable start to the evening.

Fellow local musician Arthur Nicholson was next up and was given a round of applause by the crowd for bagging the prestigious Danny Kyle award at this year’s Celtic Connections festival.

As always, Nicholson delivered the goods in fine style. He opened with the catchy Sticks And Stones – the title track from his debut album.

Deft and subtle guitar playing matched a heart-warming vocal from the popular singer-songwriter, with the bluesy Call It As You See hailed as “brilliant” by an appreciative onlooker near the soundesk.

And Part Of The Frame was snapped up in equal measure, with Nicholson even getting a cheer before he performed the song – which has regularly been played on SIBC.

After seeing American trio Brittany Haas, Jordan Tice and Paul Kowert at South Nesting Hall the night before, it was interesting to see them second time around.

They opened with Leadfoot, a tune written by formidable double bass player Kowert, whose sliding, picking, thumping and bowing of the strings was an absolute joy to behold.

But boy can Haas play the fiddle. Gliding along the instrument with ease and completely consumed in the music, she pulled the notes from the strings with vigour and intensity.

Tice, like the night before, offered subtle accompaniment, outstanding melodies and plenty of pizzazz with his guitar playing.

The jazzy sound of Monkey Trouble was a highlight of their set. And, all three gathered around the microphone for their rendition of Bob Dylan’s Walkin’ Down The Line – complete with a double bass solo which was met with a huge round of applause from the crowd.

Adam Holmes and the Embers were next up, and a group I had been keen to catch at this year’s festival.

Having heard their album Heirs and Graces a few months previously, I was keen to see if the honesty of the record shone through on stage.

And that it did. Holmes and his bandmates opened up with the lazy lull of Monday Morning, which eased into the set nicely.

The warmth and vulnerability to Holmes’ voice meant each line was given with sincerity, and the truthfulness of his lyrics pulled at the heartstrings.

Fire In The Sun was one of my favourites, as Holmes delivered the line “bonnie lass by anybody’s standards” in his Scottish burr.

Flourishes on the keyboard and sympathetic bass and drums made for a solid accompaniment to his set list, and the electric guitar tones to accompany Holmes on his final track Mother Oak worked well.

Holmes and his band were hyped as one of the top acts to see this year, and on that performance it is clear to see why.

With one act remaining, FullSet gave it everything. The Irish six-piece played a mixture of reels, jigs and songs with fiddle player, Michael Harrison getting the audience cheering from the start.

Their enthusiasm was infectious, and with the pounding rhythms of the bodhran, and rip-roaring melodies, everyone, myself included, was clapping along.

The uilleann pipes played by Martino Vacca brought something a little different and there was no denying  the vocal talents of Marianne Knight.

Ned Of The Hill, a romantic ditty about a  long-haired harpist wooing a lady, was stunning. Knight performed the tune with such purity that it sent shivers up my spine and gave me goosebumps.

A definite must see this year.


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