Mandolins, bagpipes and jazz violin at Legion

The all-mandolin playing Belgian four-piece MANdolinMAN played a set of lovely tunes that were high on charm and melody at the Lerwick Legion on Saturday night.

 Believed to be the first all-mandolin group to feature at the Folk Festival, MANdolinMAN draw their inspiration from a mixture of traditional Flemish Folk and South American Bossa Nova.

 The notes flowed like water in a burn, which their melodies quite often sounded like, as the band’s three mandolins were backed by the larger and deeper sounding mandocello. 

 MANdolinMAN played a polka from the village of Volkstadder – at least that’s what it sound like – not that it apparently matters as band-founder Andries Boone quipped – “there’s nothing to do there so do not look it up in Google Maps.” 

 Next up were local band Laeverick, featuring Ivor “Fred” Polson on bass, Gordon Tulloch on guitar and Rhonda Simpson, Mhari Pottinger and Jenny Keldie on vocals – Jenny also played fiddle and piano.

 The band wasted no time launching into their set of mostly covers, kicking off with New Shoes, followed by the Wailin Jennies’ Across the Sea. Laeverick were in good form, with the three Burra lasses harmonised vocals sounding quite beautiful.

 Their version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene was excellent with Simpson and Pottinger taking turns on the lead vocal. Next the band tackled a number penned by the “wonderfully talented” Keldie, who now lives in Orkney, and this turned out to be another very pleasing tune in the Parton/Rodgers mould. They then played the slow and dreamy Reasonland.

 Laeverick hit another high point with the “cheeky, saucy” Fever, with Simpson looking the part and doing a great number on the vocals. This was followed by the jaunty Love Me Honey Do, where Keldie played a slice of cooking country fiddle. They finished with My Heart Skips a Beat and a warm round of applause from the Legion crowd.

“Fred” Polson and Rhonda Simpson perform Fever.

Mairearad and Anna are dubbed two of Scotland’s finest multi-instramentalists and after a few numbers they swapped guitar and accordion for the even weirder pairing of bagpipes and banjo. 

 The Highland lasses soon proved to be the funniest act the reviewer had seen in this festival with yarns and digressions on books about beautiful sheep, bringing enough clothes on the road for a tour and by-names – Anna had always thought she’d be heiress to a gravy fortune as her Peterhead grandfather was known as Peter Oxo, only to be disappointed.

 They played a rather sad number dedicated to Anna’s mother which became a crowd singalong. Then, moments before the great wheezing groan of the great pipes filled the Legion, Mairearad warned the audience that her pipes weren’t miked up so could they provide the drone accompaniement for a tune called Mozart on the Rampage.

 They finished with three accordion tunes the last of which included Mairearad’s own-penned Cathederal Cave and Malteezer Madness which earned another warm round of applause.

 The last act of the evening, Rose Room, was eagerly anticipated by many in the audience. the Scottish four-piece specialize in the gypsy jazz of Django Rheinhardt and Stephan Grapelli, and outstanding they are at recreating this style too.

 At the helm is virtuoso violinist and vocalist Seonaid Aitken, who is well known as a solo artist and won a prestigious Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections in 2010.  She also plays on the orchestra of Scottish Opera. 

Joining her is instrument maker Jimmy Moon on double-bass, long term member of The Moonshiners bluegrass band and a frequent visitor to Shetland.  Completing the lineup are jazz guitarists Tom Watson and Tam Gallagher on solo and rhythm guitars, who with their duo Swing Guitars have performed at Festivals throughout the UK and Europe.

Seonaid Aitken on vocals with Rose Room.
Seonaid Aitken on vocals with Rose Room.

Aitken is a great singer, though her voice veers more to style than emotion – in keeping, it could be supposed, with the type of music the band plays. Her fiddle (or violin) playing is out of this world, and the perfect foil for Watson’s stratospheric playing. 

Her playing prompted Boone from MANdolinMAN to say: “If you hear her, you can do two things: cry in a little cellar or start practicing.”

Overall, Rose Room were the most polished act, and one of the liveliest, the reviewer had seen at the festival, though firmly rooted in their 30’s Paris jazz club genre, despite the odd foray into Bossa Nova. 


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