The folk festival is back … and if opening night in Bigton was anything to go by it’s back with a bang.
By the end of the evening Danish band Habadekuk had the crowd on its feet clapping and stamping along to their finale.
It is no disrespect to the other performers to say that they stole the show – and it was the perfect way to end “folk festival Thursday”.
They were introduced to the stage as “the best thing to come out of Denmark since Lurpak butter” and they certainly spread good vibes around the hall.
Habadekuk must be the biggest band – both in terms of height and in number – at this year’s festival. And judged on their performance they are one of the boldest, brashest and downright fun acts you see.
Comprising fiddle, accordion, drums, double bass, trombone, trumpet, keyboards and saxophone the sound is not subtle. It is well worth hearing, though.
“You cannot imagine how happy and excited we are to be here,” said fiddling frontman Kristian Bugge. “We are ready for a party, are you ready? You’re welcome to dance.”
It took a while but by the end of the set the entire audience was on its feet accepting that request to dance.
The set took us through Danish polkas, waltzes and reels. And then came the one song. It’s in Danish with a ridiculously long title, and involves an audience sing-along.
The lyrics being in Danish the best option was for us to “scream your lungs out”.
“Breathe deep, find all the anger from all the mortgages you cannot pay and all the sons and daughters you don’t talk to any more … and roar,” ordered saxophonist Rasmus Fribo.
And roar we did which is no surprise really when you consider that Shetland “Vikings” know a thing or two about roaring. It certainly brought the night to a rip-roaring conclusion.
The night had begun in much calmer fashion, with talented young Ollaberry-based singer-songwriter Antonia Sidgwick.
Her mix of self-penned songs and a smattering of Johnny Cash covers endeared her well to the crowd. She has warm earthy vocals and a great tone and Sidgwick’s confident performance, including some exceptionally creative guitar playing, set the bar for the night’s entertainment.
The stand-out song was Frankie-Oh, one of her “story songs” on the EP Now, which is surely worth a listen.
Next on were the fantastic Flook making a festival return after 17 years. “It’s fantastic to be back in Shetland, we
were starting to think we were getting a wee bit too old. We were getting the WD40 out today,” joked Brian Finnegan.
If lubrication was needed it certainly worked as the four-piece burst into a superb lively opening set.
I’m always amazed by the range of sound a simple bodhran can make and despite cracking his fingerJohn Joe Kelly’s skills again had me mesmerised.
They took things more upbeat with a set of Irish tunes. The impeccable timing showed why Flook are so highly thought of. Is it really possible that four people can create such a rich sound?
Ireland – more precisely a Donegal beach, not the one just down the road from Bigton – was also the inspiration for a more tranquil set. There was even time for Habadekuk trombonist Anders Ringgaard to join the band for a while.
It was an impressive performance, and one wonders why it took 17-years for them to return.
My reason for choosing Bigton on the first night was aboriginal singer Frank Yamma, who I’d listened to online as soon as the festival line-up was announced.
His deep, warm vocals are full of character and were unsurprisingly more impressive live.
He is this year’s furthest travelled visiting artiste and it was pointed out that his songs take the audience on a journey, too. I was swept along by them, both in English and aboriginal.
If Yamma’s voice tells a story it is no surprise if his tales of drinking, smoking, driving, getting busted and doing time before being saved by a woman are anything to go by.
There’s certainly a grittiness to his songs, but there’s also beauty. I particularly liked the lyric: “I see mountains, I see rainbows dreaming for you… and I see the time the sky was on fire.”
Songs did the talking for Yamma on the night but if there is a criticism, his interaction with the audience was missing a bit of spark and perhaps that’s why he did not quite live up to the high expectation I had of him. I’m still going to buy his CD, though.
Local boys Väir completed the lineup with the post-break, pre-raffle slot and they were up for enjoying the night.
Cheeky banter aside, Väir are four superb musicians and the set included everything from foot-stomping jigs, to beautiful waltzes. The guitar playing from Ryan Couper and Jonny Polson was immaculate supported by the Peterson brothers on mandolin/banjo.
Their set was brilliant throughout, but it was the tune Ackrigarth written in memory of and dedicated to Davie Henderson, who was instrumental in encouraging Väir to form, which was a highlight. It is a stunning tune given extra poignancy.
One of the great things about the folk festival is the eclectic mix the committee excels in bringing here. If this show was a precursor to what is ahead they have done it again.
How long before somebody says, “it’s the best festival yet?”