Fiddle Frenzy launches with memorable show

Violet Tulloch and Bryan Gear perform at the opening concert. Photo: Dave Donaldson.
Violet Tulloch and Bryan Gear perform at the opening concert. Photo: Dave Donaldson.

Shetland is a place where scarcely a week goes by without a festival of one sort or another taking place somewhere in the islands.

For many the Fiddle Frenzy week has become the highlight of the musical year and it is above all a celebration of Shetland fiddle music. But that said there is a place for musicians of all persuasions.


In Shetland, students come from all over the world to learn from the very best of Shetland fiddlers.

On the first day another joyous aspect is the meeting up of old friends, some visitors have attended for 11 consecutive years while others are new to the festival but they are ready to widen the circle of likeminded friends and steep themselves in musical excellence for a week.

The organisers of Fiddle Frenzy have a policy of staging a blockbuster concert on the opening night and this year was no exception. The Reid sisters, Bethany and Jenna are the curators of the festival and it was Bethany who came on stage to introduce the concert and tell the audience something of the evening and week to come.

The Mareel auditorium was comfortably filled and the anticipation was high and it is hard to believe that anyone was disappointed. First up were Ewan and Martha Thomson, a father and daughter duo with strong Fair Isle connections.

Ewan is known as a fiddle player but on this occasion he played guitar. He is even better known as a maker of high-quality fiddles and has a long waiting list for his beautiful instruments.

Martha, by contrast, is studying zoology at Glasgow University but together they make great music. Martha’s fiddle has a lovely tone and the chosen tunes came from a wide geographical area, they included a Trip to Skye and the Papa Stour Sword Dance as well as jigs and reels both traditional and contemporary.

Their time on stage went past in a flash and the audience were generous and appreciative.
Rather sadly, Martha’s time in Shetland, on this occasion, was short-lived – she was due to fly out of Sumburgh on the first flight the following morning.

Next up was another duo, Claire White and Robbie Leask. Claire is a singer/songwriter of exceptional quality as well as being a great fiddle player. Robbie is a guitar player but he showed himself to be no mean songwriter and composer.

Together they are known as “Trig Bag” and their time on stage was a delight.

Claire plays Shetland reels and jigs, both old and new, at a brisk, lively, pace but like all great fiddlers she had the air of one who had plenty to spare. The high tempo music was peppered by a sprinkling of slower tunes including a waltz from the pen of Robbie Leask.

For this punter Claire’s songs were most memorable of all.

She has really attractive dialect and she tells stories from Shetland history in unique musical form:

• The story of Betty Mouat from Sumburgh, an elderly lady who drifted alone in a boat to Norway. An epic nine-day journey.

• The story of Jan Balsrud, a Norwegian resistance fighter who survived unbelievable hardships when he was part of a Shetland Bus mission that went wrong.

Claire has the knack of telling a story, in song, that captures all the essentials without being longwinded. Wonderful entertainment.

After an interval allowing the audience to stretch the legs and banish numb bums, the showcase act took centre stage. Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch are a duo that encompass all that is best in Shetland traditional music.

There is little that can be said about them that has not been said already but Violet has recently been inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame and Bryan, while still a young man, is acclaimed as a Shetland icon and a worthy successor to his teacher and musical hero, the late, great, Willie Hunter.

The content was music from Canada, Ireland, Scotland and, of course, Shetland.

Bryan had fitted new strings for the occasion and this caused a few minor tuning issues. It is hard to imagine any improvement that could have been made to their performance, it was as near to perfection as we will ever see.

Violet is as brilliant as she has ever been in a long career playing with great musicians like Tom Anderson, Hunter and Aly Bain to name just a few.

Bryan is still the quiet, modest, but smart ambassador for Shetland. He has changed in one way only, he is now at ease talking to his audience in an inclusive, conversational manner. The finished article.

A truly memorable show, congratulations to Shetland Arts, more power to your bow arms.

<i>Lawrence Tulloch</i>


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