Dwaam – or the Folk Festival Spree Band – may be the headline Shetland supergroup debuting at this year’s folk festival but they are not the only one.
In truth, Dwaam is dwarfed in size by another debut ensemble – the Shetland Mandolin Band. The group boasts a 32 member lineup featuring 28 mandolin players, two guitarists, a pianist and a bassist.
Around six months after the group was established by High Level mandolin tutor Jenny Henry they will be giving their first live performance, as part of Friday’s Mareel concert.
Jenny explained that the idea of a mandolin band had been something that players in Shetland had spoken about for a while. The idea seemed to float around for a while without coming to fruition but was eventually pushed through by Jenny because of her tutoring role at High Level.
She said: “I realised that there was nowhere for my pupils to go and play other than regular sessions which were normally dominated by fiddles.
“So we started the band as a way of giving the pupils somewhere to go and play with other folk. They’re all really enjoying it.”
The ensemble group may be dominated by mandolins but that doesn’t mean that it is not a diverse crowd.
There are players from all ends of the ability spectrum, from beginners to seasoned musicians. Ages vary greatly as well – the youngest is 10 and the oldest is 79.
Although meetings initially took place once a month that soon increased to once fortnightly. The band then inquired about performing at the folk festival and once they were given the all clear practice sessions became more regular still.
One of the beginners who has benefited from the band is Lee Leaper from Mossbank. Lee started lessons with Jenny roughly 12 months ago and says that the band has helped her to “improve her playing a lot.”
She was inspired to take up an instrument because of her family members who are very active in Shetland’s musical scene. Her daughter Ashley and husband Andrew are both seasoned players and also members of the band.
Lee said that she had “always felt a bit left out” and was glad to have the opportunity to participate in the band’s meetings and become active in music herself.
“Jenny has done an amazing thing in setting this all up and I don’t think we can thank her enough.” LEE LEAPER
She feels that the meetings have really helped her, not least because musicians such as Hom Bru’s Gary Peterson are on hand to give tips and pointers.
It is not just about the music, though. Lee also feels that the band provides a great social event for people “that doesn’t involve going to the pub.”
Though she is worried that nerves might creep in on the night she is also glad to be playing with such a large contingent of musicians “who will drown out any slips”.
The experience is one she expressed gratitude for, saying “Jenny has done an amazing thing in setting this all up and I don’t think we can thank her enough.”
Friday’s set will be a mixed bag featuring some of Jenny’s original compositions alongside traditional favourites and tunes from other musical styles, though Jenny remained coy on what tunes would feature exactly.
Overall she felt that the band members were “really looking forward to it.”
“But it might be a bit nerve-racking” she added.
And even before a string has been plucked on stage the band already have their follow-up performance scheduled with a slot confirmed for a concert at the Garrison Theatre on 17th May.