Railsplitters top the bill on a night of quality music in Sullom
The Folk Festival concert staged in the Sullom hall on Friday night can be summed up using a single word – quality.
One delightful act followed another, from start to finish it will be remembered for years to come as being a bit special even by the old gnarled attendees who are apt to declare that they have seen it all before.
Top of the bill was the American band, the Railsplitters. They are a five piece outfit based in the Rocky Mountains.
Their music is broadly based but perhaps best described as Ole Time and Bluegrass. Bass player Leslie Ziegler declared her love for 1950s music and this introduced a Buddy Holly number, glasses and all.
Predominant in the band was banjo player Dusty Rider, a successful performer in his own right and fiddle player Christine King showed very slick bowing techniques especially with the heel of the bow as an accompaniment to the vocals.
Audience reaction to this group was somewhat muted at times but this was not so much because they were overshowed by earlier acts but more because the audience had already clapped and cheered themselves to a virtual standstill.
It was the Shetland Heritage Fiddlers who got the entertainment off to a great start. Those seven ladies were all pupils of the late Dr Tom Anderson and long experience of travelling the world and playing together have given them a tight but easy sound.
They never fail to play tribute to their teacher who did so much for Shetland culture but at the same time they included some new tunes showing that the tradition is never static.
Starting the second half of the concert was another Shetland act, this time a duo, Matthew Adam and Lana Elaine. They were the performers who were totally different from everything else in the show.
Lana confessed that this was the first time that she had sung in public but the certainty is that it will not be the last.
She has a beautiful voice and she blended so well with the powerful Matthew who is also a fine guitar player. It was quite hard to pigeon hole the songs but Lana said, in answer to the question, that what they did was neo-trad.
Most enjoyable but Lana is a very fine accordion player and a couple sets of reels would not have gone amiss.
De Temps Antan is a French Canadian trio from Quebec. Lively and high energy are words that seriously understate this performance. Among them they played fiddle, mouth organ, bouzouki, guitar and melodeon attacks that makes Brendon Begley look timid.
The most striking of all was the mouth music. This is the music associated with l’voyageurs, the French folk who used Canadian rivers as their highways and paddled canoes to rhythms of songs rather like sea shanties.
They are big, fit looking men who seemed to fill the stage but they displayed a softer touch too.
The fiddle player, Andre Brunet told us about his young son who could not get to sleep and, eventually, he came downstairs with a tooth in his hand that was stained with a little blood and skin.
This inspired an air dedicated to the tooth fairy, clearly active in French Canada as well as everywhere else.
For this punter the showstoppers were the all-girl band the Outside Track. Their music encompass places as far apart as Canada, Ireland, Scandinavia and Scotland, it is a rich blend of excellence and the Sullom audience responded in the most positive way.
A Shetland crowd can identify with some of their songs, for example the problems of the fishing industry in Prince Edward Island. In a set of tunes they could switch effortlessly from Cape Breton strathspeys to rip roaring, rollicking reels.
Fiona Black is a fine accordion player from Evanton in Easter Ross, Tia Files from Oban, guitar, has been in Shetland before.
The flute player and vocalist, Teresa Hogan, hails from Co Cork and Ailie Robertson from Edinburgh plays an electro harp that has a Brian Boru look about it.
To borrow a line from an Alex Couper song ‘shu’s a strong peerie harp it shu’s stoud up ta Ailie so long’. She made a mighty contribution to the band.
If this fantastic band has a leader it is probably the fiddler from Cape Breton, Mairi Rankin. She is a member of the famous Rankin family and she showed herself to be a great step dancer as well as the hallmark fiddling and backing vocals.
They showed, above all, that traditional music is truly international and musicians can get together in friendship and harmony regardless of their country of birth.
Hats off to the Folk Festival committee for, yet again, coming up with the goods. It has to be remembered that any concert staged in a rural hall is heavily dependant on the local hall committee.
In Sullom the hall was set out with comfortable chairs to be audience friendly and they had food available too. This truly memorable event was well held together by the compere, the quiet, unassuming but very able Christine Murchison. Full marks all round.
By Lawrence Tulloch