Great show by Molsky at Muckle Roe Hall

Bruce Molsky was on fine form at Muckle Roe at the weekend. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Bruce Molsky was on fine form at Muckle Roe at the weekend. Photo: Dave Donaldson

American musician Bruce Molsky demonstrated exactly what the term “ole time fiddlin” means at the Muckle Roe hall on Saturday.

While his fiddle playing was the centre piece of his performance he also showed himself to be extremely versatile.

All the way through the show the link and the similarities between Molsky’s preferred music and Shetland traditional music were mentioned many times. In his remarks at the start Davie Gardner said that these links were one of the reasons why Molsky came to Shetland in the first place.

Gardner and Molsky had met in America some years ago and the American’s first visit to Shetland was when he took part in a concert on the opening night in Mareel. Then, and now, he wants to meet and make music with Shetland musicians.

The Muckle Roe Hall was the perfect venue for this gig. It is small and intimate and the audience feel so close to the artistes. The evening sun streamed in through the windows and the hall committee should be very proud – the whole place is so perfectly kept, so clean, so tidy.

First up in support of Molsky was the local band Tyunes. They simply picked up from where they left off at the Shetland Folk Festival. They are great value in any concert but their liking for American music made them the perfect choice for an occasion that was all about American music.

Tyunes are four-strong – Grant Nicol on guitar, Graham Malcolmson on double bass, Kenny Johnson on mandolin and Lynda Anderson on fiddle.

Anderson lived and worked in Nashville, Tennessee, for several years and she has plenty of that sort of music in her locker.

In keeping with the spirit of the occasion they played mostly American music but they also included a beautiful waltz by Phil Cunningham and tunes from both America and Shetland in the same set.

In this band Anderson is the leader and, nowadays, she plays with great aplomb and authority. Plucking the strings has become a feature of her fiddle playing and it all adds up to being a most enjoyable performance.

Nicol and Malcolmson are the quiet members of the band, Anderson introduces the sets and Johnson spices up proceedings with a few jokes that leave the imagination reeling. As always their time on stage, 25 minutes, seemed far too short. Tyunes are sure to please where ever they appear.

Singer-songwriter Sheila Henderson, on this occasion as a soloist appeared next. She explained that she had hoped to have support from a mandolin player but he had had an accident so she was left on her own.

Not that this was too much of a problem – it would be “ungallant” in the extreme to suggest that she is a veteran; she is as fresh and vital as she has always been. She sings many of her own songs and this performance was of the quality that audiences know and love.

After an interval everyone settled down to await the main event of the evening. Molsky was born in New York in 1955 but he has spent much of his life further south in the United States and it is from there that his musical inspiration comes from.

Early on in the piece he held up his fiddle. It is beautiful instrument, shining like a dollar. Molsky said, surprisingly, that he was playing this fiddle like a child learning to ride a bicycle, he needed stabilizers.

He was quick to explain that the fiddle was new, he had got it only three days ago. It was made for him by Ewan Thomson and he was clearly delighted with it. It sounded great too.

His style of fiddling looks easy and casual, in some other styles certain disciplines are expected, in Ireland for example, fiddlers who use their bow close to the bridge are admired.

Molsky has no such inhibitions; his bow wandered over the strings and it all ends in a very distinct and attractive sound. He has the knack of changing tempo in the blink of an eye and like all great fiddlers he gives the impression of performing well within himself.

He laid down the fiddle and took up a guitar and, if anything, he was even better on this. His guitar numbers were delightful. He has a superb singing voice and he then sang a song about a tragic shipwreck.

If all this was not enough he took to the five-string banjo and it came as no surprise that he was entirely at home with this third instrument.

Returning to the fiddle he had yet another card up his sleeve. He sang cowboy songs, accompanying himself on the fiddle; the way that his voice blended and harmonised with the tone of the fiddle was most remarkable.

For some of the audience this was the highlight of a night full of highlights. No matter what instrument he used it was noticeable that when he got to grips with a tune he attacked it from all angles.

It was a foregone conclusion that Molsky would return to the central theme of American/Shetland music and what it had in common.

He called on Henderson to return to the stage and they sang a song, Tear Drops Kiss the Morning Dew, that was part of the original Mareel concert.

That done, Tyunes returned for a final stramash and this brought a delightful night’s entertainment to an end.

It only remained for the hall committee to serve up a supper of soup, sandwiches, fancies, tea and coffee, all this was much enjoyed.

Gardner, who was responsible for bringing Molsky here, gave fulsome praise to Lynda Anderson of Shetland Arts and the Muckle Roe Hall committee for their help. He can be confident that Molsky can fill any hall in Shetland, as and when he returns.

Lawrence Tulloch


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