A good humoured Mareel audience were treated to an eclectic gig of high quality music last night with five acts from around the globe proving that the Folk Festival can still bring diversity to the musical table.
Kicking off were the excellent Freda Leask and Shoormal, who surely should have been higher up the billing – but then the same could be said for all of the acts, with the powerful string underpinnings of Alice Mullay and Greg Arthur.
Shoormal delivered a Vagaland poem put to music by Bernard Smith, which was a gentle intro to proceedings, before serving up a slice of Americana courtesy of Amos Lee’s Supply and Demand. Mullay and Arthur swapped places at the grand piano and electric keyboard demonstrating the versatility that Shoormal is shot through with.
They they played another fine dialect tune called Winter Light before finishing off with the lively Bill Monroe bluegrass number Can’t You Hear Me Calling, which was probably the pick of the bunch with some particular interplay by Arthur and bassist Jonathon Ritch – more normally at the helm of Mareel’s awesome sound system. Rich or no, the sound at Mareel was excellent and remained so throughout the night.
Next up was one of the interesting curiosities of the festival. Swedish trio Ahlberg, Ek & Roswall produced a very well-crafted sound of antique beauty that at its best was quite haunting. Ahlberg on fiddle was well complimented by the decidedly odd-looking nyckelharpa, or key-harp, wielded by Roswall – a world champion on the instrument and Ek on guitar.
Together they produced a very pleasing set of traditional and new Swedish tunes and polskas which received a great ovation from the audience. Much like the nyckelharpa itself, much of the music had a very old quality, that resonated of 18th century ballrooms and chamber music.
Normally, the reviewer thinks music unaccompanied by singing is often lacking something, but the Swedes proved a very honourable exception.
After the break the Australian Frank Yamma was centre stage, sporting a very basic set-up of man and guitar, but boy, could he crank out some volume on the acoustic six-string.
Yamma sang in both Aboriginal and English – sometimes with both languages in the same song. This meant that the reviewer had no idea what many of the lyrics were, but the frequently anguished emotions in Yamma’s voice were unmistakable, whatever the language.
Yamma is a fine composer of fairly simple folk/acoustic material. There are probably better guitarists around and certainly better singers, but his power and feeling elevates his performance to a higher level. Yamma, oddly complaining of the heat in Mareel, got another rousing ovation from the audience, and was probably the highlight of the night.
Next up, homebodies Haltadans got off to a rollicking set of fiddle tunes from Collafirth and followed that with a Swedish set that had developed a definite Shetland accent, according to the jovial Maurice Henderson on fiddle.
Ably accompanied by Lois Nicol and Ewan Thomson on fiddle, John Clark on bass and Grant Nicol on guitar, Henderson and Haltadans were very warmly welcomed by their home audience and their expert and electric playing received perhaps the loudest cheers of the evening.
The band played tunes inspired by Foula’s spectacular scenery, notably Easter Hoevdi, that are on their new EP and then a set of out-takes that didn’t make it onto the EP. It was very lively stuff played mostly at a high-tempo and a great crowd-pleasing addition of Shetland fiddle music to the concert.
After the ubiquitous raffle, the much anticipated Rura were last up. With a lineup including bodhran, fiddle, bagpipes and guitar, Rura produced a very fluid and, unsurprisingly, Celtic sound. With the familiar face of Adam Holmes and his guitar joining the lineup, the tempo dropped for Holmes’s distinctive vocals to take over.
Rura were a fitting finale for the evening. David Foley on bodhran, Jack Smedley on fiddle, Steven Blake on pipes and flute and Adam Brown on guitar are all accomplished musicians and the varied instruments meshed beautifully without the pipes dominating proceedings. Rura were met with enthusiastic clapping and cheering from the crowd and even managed an encore, though the crowd would have demanded that of all the musicians had there been time.