21st May 2019
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Mareel on fire with epic lineup

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.

About Peter Johnson

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as an employed and freelance reporter and editor for a variety of print and broadcast media outlets and as as a freelance photographer and film maker/cameraman. In addition to journalism, I have experience in construction, oil analysis, aquaculture, fisheries, the health service and oral history.

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  1. Haydn Gear

    How pleasing and uplifting to read about the Mareel report.I hope that the grouches who seem to think that the making of money is the main focus in life take note. In any case, the financial gains obtained from the tourist industry should be considered of major importance.GA’s and oil terminals along with wind farms are not the be all and end all of the prosperity of Shetland surely. One may find philistines, grumblers and sour critics but what benefits do they REALLY bring to the Isles? And suggesting that they lighten up and expand their horizons is about as beneficial as shovelling water uphill.

  2. Adam Priest

    I see you fell for Magnus Bradley’s joke, the song announced as “the waves are free” was actually the Lewie Peterson & Daniel Gear penned “Islander Man”.

  3. Haydn Gear

    Adam ,sorry to disappoint you but I fell for no joke in regard to Magnus Bradley’s introductory comments —-unfortunately. I’m glad to read, however, that Lewis Peterson and Daniel Gear gave high quality performances ,as one might expect. Had you read my previous letter more carefully it should have been apparent to you that my comments were essentially in praise of musical/ artistic endeavour despite the fact that some correspondents to The Shetland Times have sought to downgrade even to the extent of stating that money spent on such activities is money wasted. In my experience, such people are usually beyond help so it is probably best to let them stew in their own juice.

  4. iantinkler

    Haydn Gear. absolutely nothing happened at Mareel that was not happening just as well 10 years ago on Shetland, and indeed in the few other music venues left today on Shetland. Sadly our community is many millions of pounds less well off and Shetland Arts is being forced to sell off its assets and many redundancies are threatened. I ask you , could the £15 million funds and rising,to build and keep Mareel from bankruptcy, perhaps have been better spent? Congratulations to all those artists during the folk festival, those inside and outside the protective and expensive cocoon of Shetland Arts, very well done all of you.

  5. Haydn Gear

    I guess there are those who are “with it” and those who are “without it” ,those who seek to improve and those who seek to destroy , those who praise and enrich life and those who choose to denigrate human endeavour .Let them stew. They should know who they are but being so tunnel visioned and “always right” they may be incapable of recognising themselves.No loss!

    • Iantinkler

      They should know who they are but being so tunnel visioned and “always right” they may be incapable of recognising themselves.No loss! A bit of self veneration, Haydn?

  6. Haydn Gear

    Oh come on Ian, you can do better than that—- can’t you?????????? By now, you should know that I am no more inclined to dabble in self veneration than you are.We both tell it as it is despite sometimes holding opposing views. Freedom of speech and points of view is what it’s called. Remember?? As an artist and writer (sadly not a musician, though a love music) I am strongly supportive of artistic expression even though a cost will be involved.Nothing that’s good ever comes cheaply apart from naturally occurring events.

  7. Iantinkler

    Haydn, The point I am making is that Shetland Arts has been virtually bankrupt by Mareel. The Arts on Shetland were brilliant before Mareel and have hardly, if at all been, improved by it. The cost was so great a real threat exist to the very resistance of Shetland Arts and many Artistic assets, for example “The Garrison Theater” are under threat of closure. The costs of Mareel have not yet been remotely covered and we have seen bail outs of £1 million just plus to keep Shetland Arts solvent.We also have staff turnover at extraordinary levels and senior personnel leaving Shetland arts like Rats from a sinking ship. On top of all that now there is a real threat to those whom remain of mass redundancies. Hardly a wise investment in the Arts or would you disagree.

  8. Haydn Gear

    Ian , assuming all that you have said is true, then I would not defend an opposite point of view. I must say that it seems sad and remarkable that the problems have not been made more widely known. I know that Shetland is a bit remote from mainland Britain but it is still a part of Britain (just!!). Maybe an approach should be made to Nigel Farage. He seems to know all about solving problems and who to blame for numerous shortcomings .

  9. Iantinkler

    Sadly there is a code of face saving and silence going on. I have been contacted by former and present staff of Mareel in confidence and asked to continue my comments. If any of them went public they would be sunk without trace. Hopefully, Shetland Arts, now under nearly totally new management can pull things round, just have to wait and see.

    • Sandy McDonald

      It could be worse Ian, you could be living in Dundee…

  10. Ali Inkster

    Just out of curiosity can anyone explain why two sets of tickets i have bought for events have been franked for postage hayfield house an the whitehouse respectively? SIC offices posting out Shetland arts tickets.

  11. Haydn Gear

    Well done Ian. Keep plugging away !! HG


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