Last night’s Spangin Spree at Mareel lived up to its name onstage and on the dancefloor.
Four full-on acts that produced some of the liveliest music at this, the 35th Shetland Folk Festival, took the stage. As in the previous night’s performance at Mareel, any one of the acts could have been the headliners, but it is a measure of how far their stock has risen that the special slot was reserved for Shetland’s very own The Revellers.
The Mareel auditorium was decked out in bows of old fashioned looking lights which gave the hall a somewhat old-timey but cheerful look when the main lights were off, and the sound, as ever, was excellent. But once more the arts centre foyer played host to the tail end of half-hour long queues for the bars – a second bar having been opened below the stairs for the event. It is a perennial problem Mareel has yet to solve, but one that led to exasperation bordering on fury for many a paying punter.
The night opened with a truly excellent performance from the Irish “alt-folk” act Tupelo, who produced some wonderfully charming sounds despite their normal line-up being reduced by one to a three-piece.
Fronted by the charismatic James Cramer on lead vocals, banjo and guitar, the Dublin outfit struck an immediate rapport with the crowd. By the time they closed with the powerful and moving I’m an Irishman, the mesmerised crowd were eating out of their hands.
Next up were the exuberant Finnish folk rock lineup the Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band. Led by innovative fiddler and composer Esko Järvelä the band immediately got into high-gear, with the instrumentalists boogying and gurning like a group of heavy metal monkeys.
The Epic Male’s music is packed with energy and complexity as well as musical virtuosity. Their performance was reminiscent of Jethro Tull, which led one observer to comment the music was very much of mid-70s style – the wheel comes round again.
Although the media has likened their sound to a collision of the aforementioned Tull, Bon Jovi, Jimi Hendrix, Lau and Led Zeppelin, the band itself likes to talk simply about Progressive Hard Folk. At any rate, the band got an epic cheer from the exultant crowd at the conclusion of their set.
Tull could also be namechecked as a formative influence for the Bristol based five-piece Sheelanagig, whose description in the Folk Festival literature is that they “deliver intricate, rhythmically complex arrangements of original and traditional works in a Balkan style.”
If it was unlikely anything could top the frenetic activity of the Finns, Sheelanagig probably succeeded in the unlikely. At times the punter was left wondering if they were witnessing a musical gig or an acrobatic performance. This ambiguity did not impress everyone in the audience, it has to be said, but there was no questioning the exhilarating intensity of Sheelanagig’s performance.
Finally, the band many in the audience had been waiting for took the stage. The mighty seven-piece, The Revellers, now with Magnus Bradley on vocals, cut into a set laced with compositions off their first album Renegades plus the “radio hit” announced by Bradley as The Waves Are Free but actually the Lewie Peterson and Daniel Gear penned Islander Man.
Judging by the crowd response, The Revellers and their folk/rock energy had succeeded again. And so the night ended, at least the Mareel part of it. Many punters were headed to the Folk Festival Club at Islesburgh, or elsewhere, to continue their partying.