28th March 2020
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Folk Festival gets under way with stellar opening concert

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The 35th Shetland Folk Festival is under way, with folk queuing more than two hours for a glimpse of this year’s visiting acts.
Crammed into room 16 at Islesburgh in the festival club music fans were served up a glorious taster of what’s in store.

And if this weekend isn’t a cracker, I’ll eat my notepad.

Lerwick Guizer Jarl Neil Robertson, complete with Up-Helly-A’ attire, opened the festival, with a humorous speech comparing 1981, the year of the first folk festival, to now.

“One of the important things about the festival is the variety of music… and that’s what brings people together,” he said.
“It really is a festival for the folk.”

Australian comedian and variety entertainer Steve Cousins compered the opening, spinning a toothbrush round his finger and tickling the audience with his patter.

The folk/brass fusion of Danish band Habadekuk opened the afternoon concert this afternoon, with rolling drums and fiddle led melodies.

Among the musical treats were Rura – a magnetic and polished folk band with Shetland favourite Adam Holmes on the mic. The haunting electric guitar tones, driving guitar and bodhran, and delicate fiddle playing brought a rapturous applause from the audience.

Vocal powerhouse and Grammy award winner Mollie O’Brien took the the stage with husband Rich Moore, whose fine blues inflicted finger picking underpinned O’Brien’s soaring and sophisticated voice.

Award-winning Mollie O'Brien sings at Islesburgh. Photo: Dave Donaldson.

Award-winning Mollie O’Brien sings at Islesburgh. Photo: Dave Donaldson.

Many double bass players will be performing at the festival this year, and no doubt be joining in with the tunes and a new instrument was presented to the folk festival following a memorial concert for Michael Coutts and Wilbert Henry, who were long-standing members of both the folk and fiddle and accordion festivals.

More than £2,700 was raised at the fund-raising night in November to buy a double bass to present to the two festivals – to save on the high costs of transporting the hefty instruments to the isles each year.

Liam Mullay, who was involved in organising the fund-raising concert, said: “It’s brilliant to see it here and it being in use after all the effort by the people involved.

“It’s nice to know the double bass will be getting out and about in the festival, like Michael and Wilbert enjoyed doing.”
Bristol band Sheelanagig were the first to get their hands on it.

Flautist Adrian Sykes said he was looking forward to playing the festival, having visited the isles previously with Elephant Talk in 2002.

“It was brilliant. I’ve warned the other guys just to pace themselves a bit and catch up with sleep when you can… It’s brilliant to be back.”

About Adam Guest

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as a senior news reporter at The Press and Journal, The Barnsley Chronicle and as a freelance reporter for The Doncaster Free Press. Alongside news reporting I specialise in music and sports journalism. Pork pie lover.

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