In recent years Fiddle Frenzy has established itself, for many, as a highlight among the many music festivals that Shetland is proud to offer each year.
The first and foremost function of the event is be a summer school for fiddlers. This year is the biggest to date with over 100 visiting students enrolled in the daily classes.
The concerts staged in the evenings are the icing on the cake and the opening concert held last night in Mareel was indeed a tasty morsel.
The Reid sisters from Quarff, Jenna and Bethany, are hosting the festival on behalf of Shetland Arts and it was fitting that they should also front the opening concert. In their right they are among Shetland’s best fiddle players. They play very much together and they gave us a mixture of traditional tunes and some of their own compositions.
One of the tunes they played is said to have come from the trows. A West Side man, Sigmund of Gord, was tempted into a trowie hadd; he thought he was there an hour or two but discovered that he had been away from home for generations. However, the tune that he learned from the trows survive to be heard to this day.
Top of the bill was the group NE3 Folk and they something of a surprise package. When this trio came on stage with an accordion, fiddle and guitar it looked, for all the world, as if this was to be another traditional band.
They were totally different from everything that we had seen before, it was the only accordion and the only guitar to be seen on stage on the night. Victoria Laurenson, Cathy Geldard and Meredith Chris gave us a programme of music that was distinctly non-traditional.
This branch of folk music is more and more popular especially among younger students and, without a doubt, will establish itself even among the old diehards like myself. However, it is unlikely that anyone will go about their chores whistling those kind of tunes.
They had elaborate arrangements and they produced a deep, rich sound, much of what was dark, melancholy and haunting. We had to wait until the last set to hear lively music that made the feet want to move.
When Jenna introduced the Shetland Fiddlers Society she made the point that so many of Shetland’s best known fiddlers got their start with the “40 Fiddlers”. As youngsters the Reid sister would get picked up by Charlie and Anna Simpson every Wednesday night for rehearsals at Islesburgh.
Aly Bain started with the fiddlers as a peerie boy and Willie Hunter, both junior and senior, also played with them when they were founded by Dr Tom Anderson for “The Hamefarin” in 1960. Current leader Shirley Mills told a few stories to give better understanding of where the tunes come from.
In introducing three tunes form Yell, Shirley stated that once there were 250 motorbikes in the isle. The first two of those tunes were composed by the late Peter Scollay – The Road to Hollygarth and Magnie’s Matchless was the bike that was the pride and joy of his brother.
In this case the road started in Burravoe, the destination was Hollygarth and no motorcycles were involved. The road had to taken on foot by a crofter who had a cow requiring the services of the bull kept by Lollie Clark. What is not known is whether the cow anticipate the delights awaiting her on arrival.
Most of the tunes were traditional and well known but there was a few contemporary tunes, illustrating the fact that traditional type music is alive and well, and evolving.
With her on stage Shirley had seven other fiddlers and they were accompanied by Charlie Simpson on keyboard, Mary Smith on bodhran and Bertie Tait on double bass.
After a short interval the second half started off with a delightful spot by Pauline Irvine and Linda Gair, the sisters from Whalsay. They gave us what I can only describe as the very best of traditional fiddle music.
They included a range of tunes from slow airs to lively reels all so together and tight that they sounded like a single instrument. The tunes were a rich mixture of Shetland and Irish, old and new every set at least as good as the one just heard.
Brian Morrison manned the keyboard with the air of a man entirely at home playing in a comfort zone with fellow musicians of the same ilk. I, for one, could have listened to them for hours but in reality they were another of the component parts of a brilliant, memorable concert.