On the Friday night of the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival the Carnegie Hall in Sandwick staged a concert of exceptional quality.
Of course it is the case that not everyone in an audience has the same likes and dislikes and there are times when there is a collective sense of relief when certain acts “blow by”.
On this occasion one act followed another with no suggestion that any one of them were, in any way, sub-standard.
The icing on the cake was the fact that the hall is obviously well run and the committee and staff are justly proud of their brand new kitchen being used for the first time.
There was quick, efficient service with a ready smile, no need to miss anything by having to queue at a crowed bar. Tables were spaced out in such a way that it was entirely possible to move around without having to disturb anyone who was already seated.
The concert itself was anchored by the Lindsay Weir Scottish Dance Band; as well as being the last act of the concert they played for the dance that followed the supper of soup and filled bannocks.
At the beginning of the evening proceedings were opened by local band Da Fustra. Led by accordionist James Leask they were Alan Gifford on fiddle, Derek Hendry on keyboard, Kevin Gifford on drums and Cecil Hughson, who has been with the band for 46 years, on bass.
James paid tribute to the great Jim Halcrow who died earlier this year, and also Rita Simpson, the sister of festival stalwart Jimmy Burgess, who died last week.
Da Fustra played great music and included the tune called The Auld Fiddler, written for Aberdeen musician the late Bert Murray.
Following them were mother and son pairing Alison and Graham Mackenzie. They have spent time in Cape Breton and this has had an influence on their music. They made more fine music but Graham’s fiddle did not always sound at ease with the keyboard.
Drewie Hawick is a veteran of many a festival but I doubt that his band have ever played better than they did on this occasion. With him were Colin Sutherland on second accordion, Derek Hendry on keyboard, Ian Williamson on fiddle, Douglas Johnstone on drums and Jack Robertson on double bass.
They can be quickly summed up – great tunes really well played. Maybe the highlights were Alex Couper’s tune The 60 Fathom Reel and one associated with Rudy Meeks, The 1st Century Reel.
Lyn Anderson appeared as a solo fiddler and she was expertly backed by Ryan Couper on guitar and May Gair on double bass.
Shetland has such a wealth of young, quality fiddlers that it is hard to find words that properly describe their excellence. Lyn is a superb musician and her choice of material was inspired as well.
Lyn seems to have a liking for tunes made famous by the legendary Donegal travelling fiddler John Doherty. The Glen Road to Carrick got its name when Doherty, his brother Mickey and brother-in-law Alex McConnell stopped to have a tune, and a rest, on the long road between Glencollomcille and Carrick. The Foxhunter is a descriptive reel. Those are fabulous tunes and long may Lyn play them.
The George Rennie Trio played a wide selection of Scottish tunes. Old traditional tunes reels punctuated with more modern tunes, Gaelic waltzes and hornpipes. They were a most enjoyable part of this bonanza of music.
The one act that was totally different from the rest was the Irish band of Martin Donohoe. He has been in Shetland, on and off, for the last 21 tears and his magic never fades. On this occasion he had with him his youngest daughter Zorn on concertina, Eamon McGivney from Co Longford on fiddle, and Owen Tierney the Orcadian guitar player.
McGivney is an expert in playing for set dancing and he said that dancers could be “fierce particular” about the standard of the music. To show what was required he played a set and it was a delight to listen to.
Martin himself played a sparkly orange-coloured press and draw, two-row button accordion … but if he ever decides to give up music he can easily become a storyteller.
Some of what he told at the concert might not find universal favour with the more sedate audiences in Edinburgh but he certainly knows how to engage and hold an audience. He has the precious quality of being funny whether the story he is telling is good or not.
But we paid our money to hear him as a musician and here he delivered as well. As a band they played music from Ed Reavey, another Cavan man, and the Scottish/Irish tune that we know as The Braes of Marr. The only fault, as far as I am concerned, of the Donohoe performance was that it was not anywhere near long enough.
This was a night of music and entertainment that did me a world of good. I felt glad to be alive and more power to the Carnegie Hall committee and the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Club.
• For more reviews and photos see The Shetland Times on Friday.