Dazzling white lights, softer shafts of smoky blue and orange and a strong long bass sound made for an exhilarating experience to end Friday night’s performance at Clickimin.
Jamie Smith’s Mabon had the audience enraptured as they punched their powerful music into the night at the big space of the games hall, with sounds ranging from the tender to the mystical, or jigs to dance to – and by the end of their set the space in front of the stage was crowded with dancers.
The Welsh-based five piece band, maybe the only Welsh band to play at Shetland Folk Festival, according to accordion player and vocalist Jamie Smith, went down a storm. Specialising in Celtic music, their sound got people in the audience clapping as they ranged from reels to driving melodies with sterling work by fiddle player Tom Callister and a touching love ballad about a woman in throughout the stages of her life, sung in Welsh.
The band must be special, said Smith, as they had had comedian and circus man Steve Cousins from Wangi Wangi, Australia, late of Britian’s Got Talent to introduce them – Cousins also drew the raffle.
But the night was all about the music. First on stage were Hansel, a group of sixth-year pupils playing fiddle and accordion, accompanied by their tutor Margaret Scollay. Their faultless rendition of Shetland music, some written by Scollay, was delightful, but sadly this would be their last gig, she said, as all five members were about to leave school and go their separate ways. In spite of that they ended their set with a high, playing three Irish tunes called the “Paddy set”.
Next up were American duo Mollie O’Brien and her “current husband” Richard Moore (although they met in 1981 and have grown-up daughters) – a description O’Brien quickly changed to “my epic man”.
Together they produced a brilliant and varied set, with Moore’s guitar accompanying the soaring, sweeping voice of his wife. O’Brien sang with gusto and raw power with jazzy or bluesy overtones, filling the vast arena. Some numbers were funny, like her own composition about trying to become a star in New York and some were thoughtful, about breaking up or questioning the definition of love. But all were delivered in her strong voice, alternately strident or sweet, with consistently clear diction.
The pair had the audience laughing along. Moore asked: “How’s my hair?” when he came on, and said: “If you get bored there’s a strapping young man up there,” he said, pointing out someone working out in the gym area whom he suggested the audience watch instead.
O’Brien, who also performs with her brother Tim, is a Grammy Award winner, and fact that was not lost on the next act, local singer and songwriter Arthur Nicolson. “I’ve got to follow a Grammy Award-winning singer, no pressure,” he said.
But his performance was polished and belied the fact that this was his first solo show at Clickimin. His superb guitar playing and song-writing talent produced a fine set, with his songs including Sticks and Stones, Lay Me Down, All the Right Mistakes and Go For It (we’ll deal with it later) getting whoops and whistles from the audience. And the sales of his CD were brisk.
He was followed by the third visiting band of the night, Flook, making a welcome return to the folk festival after nearly 20 years. “We’re going to lower the tone after that lovely singing,” said main man Brian Finnegan, who composed one of the numbers inspired by a beach in Donegal.
His flute playing, and that of Sarah Allen, together with guitar and bodhran made for an amazing sound. Technically brilliant, their instruments interwove in fast and furious playing, and the band, well known on the English and Irish folk scene, even got the audience to hum along to provide a trombone part.
Altogether it was a great night of music with great atmosphere.