A cosy Carnegie Hall made the perfect setting for a wonderful showcase of Shetland music last night.
Under the warming glow of candles and fairy lights, the sell-out gig was a celebration not only of the quality of music in the isles, but also its breadth.
A host of top local musicians were on the bill for the North Atlantic Sessions – performing roaring fiddle tunes to bluegrass numbers and self-penned foot-stompers.
Orcadian Kris Drever, who now lives in Shetland, also made a guest appearance, joining Arthur Nicholson and Erik and Lewie Peterson on stage, before performing a short set of his own.
Five-piece band Haltadans opened the show with a lively set of fiddle tunes, and the fiddle trio of Ewen Thomson, Lois Nicol and Maurice Henderson played with plenty of verve and feeling.
A group of tunes followed, written about a trip to Foula as part of last year’s Back From Beyond arts project – including Foula Transit – a jolly tune about a temperamental Transit van that trundled the band around the island.
From a beautiful waltz written by bass player John Clark, to driving guitar rhythms and choppy chord changes from Grant Nicol, it was stirring stuff; powerful, emotive and music for the soul.
Award-winning singer-songwriter Arthur Nicholson was next up – and delivered the goods in impressive fashion.
Armed with his trusty Martin guitar, Nicholson is a formidable force. His guitar accompaniments are rich and detailed, and his voice is pure and distinctive.
The alternating bass and bluesy tones of Call It As You See were a standout.
But Sticks And Stones was catchy and clever as Nicholson wove memorable melodies and thoughtful lyrics together.
Nicholson was joined by the Peterson brothers for Part Of The Frame and Leaving – the latter penned by Michael Williamson and Gordon Gibson.
Lewie and Erik added impressive harmonies, combining well with Nicholson’s lead vocal.
Drever made the three-piece a four-piece – for the gospel-fused Sweet Honey In The Rock – with harmonies from Nicholson and the Peterson brothers soaring above the bunting and into the rafters, and brilliantly delivered lines from Drever.
Drever then opened his set with Wintermoon – a song featuring on his new Mareel EP recorded with Eamonn Coyne and some of the isles’ top musicians.
His guitar work was intricate and marvelously melodic – as he picked and strummed through his setlist.
Drever’s voice is full of character and honesty and he sings from the heart, immersing himself in his performance.
The Call And The Answer was nothing short of brilliant as Drever’s voice took flight in the words “you are the night and I am the day”.
After the interval, Sandwick lads Erik and Lewie returned with Vair to kick off the second half.
The quartet played a mixture of heady, fast-paced guitar and banjo tunes and delicate mandolin melodies and flourishes.
Lewie took to the mic for their adaptation of Water Lilies – a Vagaland poem which the band have written music to.
It was a pleasure to listen to, with the brothers harmonising strongly in the chorus and Jonny Polson and Ryan Couper adding a delicate guitar accompaniment.
The lively Trip to Breckon saw shoeless Erik play the cajon with plenty of power using his foot to slide up and down the drum, Couper’s fingers danced up the guitar fretboard and Lewie let rip on the banjo.
The band also performed their achingly beautiful tune Ackrigarth, for absent friends, with a charming melody that had the audience transfixed.
Ewen Thomson swapped the fiddle for the guitar and joined the outstanding fiddle player Peter Gear for the next act.
Gear really made the fiddle sing – attacking the strings with such vigour, at times his whole upper body shook. Others, he played with such a richness of tone and feeling the world seemed to stop with only Gear performing.
Bluegrass six-piece Kansa were the last act of the evening – with a wide-ranging set from Woody Guthrie’s Union Maid to their take of A Little Respect by Erasure
Singers Karlyn Garrick and Norma Wishart gathered around the microphone with Garrick’s warming, deeper tones matching perfectly with Wishart’s.
Instead of pick-ups and foot pedals, it was three microphones between six musicians, with members of the group taking it in turns to sing, or come forward to the main mic for solos and instrumentals.
Their rendition of the Punch Brother’s Rye Whiskey – complete with hearty interjections of “oh boy” – was fantastic, with great fiddle playing from Stewart Grains.
Double bass player Adam Priest also took centre stage with Garrick for some nice three-part harmonies in their rendition of White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes.
A cracking performance, although I had to feel for Kansa lads as it was pretty warm to be wearing waistcoats.
Up-Helly-A’ favourite Wagon Wheel was played by all the acts as they crammed on to the Carnegie stage for a final number.
And Mexican party song Guantanamera was even squeezed in too.
Lois Nicol, who helped to set up the event, said Shetland music “was alive and kicking”.
I have to agree, and long may it continue.
Another sell-out concert is to take place in Fetlar tonight.
And, if last night was anything to go by, I am sure folk will be in for a treat.