Just when you think you’ve seen and heard it all something else comes along to blow you away.
On Saturday in the Burra Hall it was Troy MacGillivray and Shane Cook who left the crowd mesmerised.
The two Canadians, accompanied by Jake Charron on piano and guitar, are supremely talented and it was great to see them enjoying the performance as much as those of us who were fortunate enough to be in the audience.
Their first flawless set lasted fully 10 minutes and left this reviewer hoping that it would not end. It was incredible but despite its energy, that was just the warm-up. “I hope you like jigs,” joked Cook, before launching into another belter of a set.
If that wasn’t enough there was time for a quick change of instruments, MacGillivray moving onto the keyboard leaving Cook as the sole fiddler – his legs jumping up and down like an out of control puppet’s. And to top it all a guitar solo from Charron.
Temporarily the tunes slowed a little with Revival of the Fiddlest after which MacGillivray looked around for a clock asking if anyone was keeping an eye on the time. “No,” came the shout from the audience. “You’ve got an hour left.”
That was not a bad estimate, the musicians staying on much longer than their allotted slot. I get the impression they would have continued all night – and there would not have been any complaints from the audience had they done so.
The remainder of the set took in bluegrass, strathspeys, reels and jigs and effectively turned into one of the best sessions imaginable with Cook and MacGillivray taking turns to lead – leaping effortlessly from tune to tune.
In short it was tremendous.
The difficult job of following that fell to the young Fiddle Finale group of eight girls tutored by Alan Gifford opening with a set of five reels including the brilliantly-named The Doon Hangin Tie.
But there was more to Fiddle Finale than traditional tunes, we were treated to Bach, Ukranian tunes and Shuffling Samuel and Whistling Rufus, which Gifford used to listen to at his aunt’s on a Parlophone 45. He joked that there were plenty in the audience who would remember vinyl records.
The standout moment came with the performance of Eternal Tears of Love, a musical tribute to Davie Henderson. And that as despite a mishap that saw a string on the cello snap as it was retuned. The youngsters deserve credit for carrying on regardless and the tune was beautiful without the cello. “It’s a lovely tune for a lovely man,” said Gifford.
There had been a further demonstration of young local talent to open the night’s entertainment in the form of Jane McLaren and Norman Willmore, ably backed by fiddler Martha Thomson and double bass player Haydn Hook.
Willmore is a gifted musician and his jazz-inflected keyboard playing added an extra dimension to the collection of Robert Burns’ songs performed by McLaren. The group had only had a chance to practise together briefly having reunited from various universities in the mainland. It says something about their collective ability that they were able to put on such a good show with a maturity that belied their years.
The remainder of the night was filled by two acts known for providing a modern sound that is deeply rooted in traditional music. First were Rura followed by Jamie Smith’s Mabon.
Rura started with a lively blast of tunes, given extra “oomph” courtesy of the Highland pipes, followed by a set of self-penned jigs. Theirs is a full sound with a rocky edge – but with the rhythm coming from the bodhran and those pipes the traditional link is evident.
Adam Holmes was welcomed onto the stage for two songs and his deep, mournful vocals brought a change of pace. With flutes and whistles instead of the pipes complementing Holmes’ semi-acoustic guitar there was a different complexion to the sound. Holmes is mightily popular among many music fans in the isles following his appearance at last year’s festival. His voice is superb but the on-off nature of his set with Rura was a little bit odd.
Headline act for the night was Jamie Smith’s Mabon. The band hails from Wales and blends fiddle and accordion with a rocky – and at times electro – sound. There are times when the gadgetry pushes the Celtic link to the boundaries and sometimes it could be argued that less is more.
It’s obvious that Smith and the rest of the band are well-versed in the folk tradition taking in plenty of jigs and reels delivered in an energetic and innovative way.
Despite several pleas from Smith encouraging to get people dancing it took until the very last song for a few – including some of Rura – to take heed as Mabon ramped up the pace again. It was a fantastic way to end another fantastic night and there were cries for “more” as the band departed.
That would have to wait until the band filled the late slot at the festival club. Quite how they had the energy to do it I don’t know.