Mexican vibes add spice to festival variety

Mariachi Tequila lif the spirits in Islesburgh's Room 16. Photo: Stephen Gordon
Mariachi Tequila lif the spirits in Islesburgh’s Room 16. Photo: Stephen Gordon

It’s folk festival Friday and there’s another sell-out concert in Islesburgh.

Room 16 offers a cosy venue with a cosmopolitan atmosphere created by the draped flags of all nations reflecting the international ethos of the gathering. Breaking down borders is the message here.

A pre-concert word with committee member Davie Nicolson reveals the prizes up for grabs in the night’s raffle, a crucial part of folk festival funding. Aall to play for including a 161-piece DIY kit, a Fair Isle “toorie” and a garden gnome! I also had a chat with that amazing man with his flying machine, John Coutts during which he asked me if I was an “adjudicator”. “Oh no,” I replied, “just an appreciative punter”.

There’s a good vibe building up as Jenny Keldie and Brian Cromarty take the stage. Shetland-born Keldie is rightly taking a bigger profile this festival with both her singing and songwriting ability. With Brian Cromarty from Orkney they produce special silky harmonies with tender songs. One of the songs was so new only to have a working title Light. This duo gradually morphed into Saltfishforty with our own Andrew Gifford plucking a mean double bass.

This was the band’s first gig with their new line up, and they looked happy on stage and have a stomping good groove, that sometimes seems to be a prolonged intro rather than complete tunes, but presses all the right buttons with the mood of the evening.

Some of this band is in Chair who are performing at Clickimin later. It always surprises me how many bands musicians can be part of these days but it is credit to their versatility.

Now there’s a break and people are queuing to get out (probably to get to the bar). It makes a change from queuing to get in, but the room soon filled back up.

Lynn and Hannah Nicholson in the club concert on Friday. Photo: Stephen Gordon
Lynn and Hannah Nicholson in the club concert on Friday. Photo: Stephen Gordon

Next it’s local combo Lynn Nicolson’s bigger band featuring the singing mother of local rising star Arthur Nicholson who is strutting his electric stuff along with his sister Hannah on vocals. If I’m not mistaken I was present at the gig when Lynn’s waters broke on stage (expectant with Hannah) at another folk festival. “Not yesterday, not even the day before”, it must be over 20 years ago.

It has been 34 years of festivals and now we have another generation of performers. Arthur plays some snappy lead guitar and is complemented by Lynn and Hannah’s competent vocals there’s some classy keyboard from Chris Thompson. Their set is a choice of popular covers with the Beatles’ On Our Way Home a tasty version with some springy mandolin from Arthur.

Lynn says she felt a “sense of obligation” to play with her bairns. The Richard Thompson song Let me Take my Chances on the Wall of Death puts a rather melancholic note to proceedings but is a perfect vehicle for the band’s talents.

The Mountain Firework Company is a passionate group of “musoes”, my favourite would have to be the fiddler with his gypsy virtuosity. They continue the sombre song theme, “a tad morbid” as someone said, with a song about the “great leveller” – death, not the independence debate, as you may think.

“Lower me down” the song went. Another was about a hanging. “The devil will not take him but he passes now and then”. There was a joke though, that old Chinese folk song Tuning.

By the time the Mexicans, Mariachi Tequila, came on the crowd was ready for some hoisting of the spirits and the jolly foursome certainly pushed the boat out for me with a sense of fun visually as well in their music. It was explained that the dark glasses came about when they had to play with them at an open air concert and got fed up with people asking “Where’s the shades?”

With one trumpet, guitar, a seriously groovy acoustic bass and accordion they went through some familiar tunes and at times you felt you might have been transported to some sunnier climes rather than a chilly May in Shetland.

Variety is the spice of the folk festival and a varied line-up is essential to keep the momentum going from year to year, along with the local traditional elements. The Mexican band did it for me, especially Emily on trumpet, that big boxy Bass, it has to be said, and Julian on accordion had a more laid back approach to events. Mañana!

Stephen Gordon


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