Quality music in a cosy setting

After a day of glorious sunshine people packed into Ollaberry Hall for the third night of Shetland Folk Festival. There was a cosy atmosphere with informal round tables and candlelight, and the audience was treated to high quality music all night.

Recently-formed band Soothmoothers, four lasses and front man Adam Guest opened the show, with traditional and self-penned numbers.

Guest engaged the audience with easy banter – the buttons might pop off his shirt, he said, thanks to the hall’s hospitality of fish and chips and sticky toffee pudding. This fare and drinks were served by discreet table service all night – something which worked extremely well.

With Guest on guitars and vocals and the girls on fiddle, harp, and sometimes vocals and keyboard as well, the Soothmoothers displayed an amazing array of talent. Their personalities shone through: “Don’t fall asleep”, said Guest, when introducing a lullaby, and of his composition Withered Hands,, he said: “It’s really romantic”.

Their set had the audience listening intently and ended with a rousing number which gained loud applause.

Next up was all-male group Macanta, a Scottish four-piece including two members from the Western Isles and Shetlander Terry Balfour. Front man Dol Eoin MacKinnon’s humour went down well. “I don’t introduce myself for tax reasons”, he said. His lyrics, jam-packed with great poetry, were funny too, especially when singing about being unfriended on Facebook. Their combination of guitar, mandolin and drums combined Celtic with Americana, and has been in demand at festivals as far away as Portugal.

American trio of Brittany Haas on fiddle, Jordan Tice on guitar and Paul Kowert on double bass was next – an extremely talented group coaxing amazing sounds out of their instruments.

Their blue grass Stormy Waters was most effective, and the two-part singing of TIce and Kowert was a joy. An energetic act with fast and furious fiddle playing, they impressed with the memorable melodies and driving rhythms.

Local group Haltadans followed. Comprising the best of Shetland talent, the five-piece band of three fiddles (and sometimes a banjo) and two guitars excelled with traditional numbers. Fiddler Maurice Henderson told tales of caa’ing sheep in Foula – if you do it after tea they apparently come in by themselves – and of playing fiddle at the trowie places in Fetlar, where he gave himself a fright.

The band, which performs three or four gigs a year, delighted the audience with Shetland and Norwegian tunes and some new compositions, including a waltz and one about Ewen’s toorie head.

They were followed by headliners The Mountain Firework Company. The Brighton-based band has a great following both sides of the Atlantic, and their performance of Irish, blue grass and country music went down a storm.

The subjects of their songs tended to be deep and meaningful, such as Can’t Keep from Crying, and other about a samurai and the “great leveller”. The music was lightened by the fiddle player who made his instrument positively sing, and Belfast-born front man Gareth McGahan’s jokes.

The audience stamped for more when their set ended, and were rewarded with an encore.

Altogether it was a great night – male and fiddle dominated, a female vocalist act would have added diversity – but great nevertheless.

• More in Friday’s Shetland Times.

Rosalind Griffiths


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