Last night’s 36th Shetland Folk Festival gig at Mareel saw a mixed bag of musical presentations that ranged from the fairly traditional to wildly original.
First in the running order were the long anticipated Shetland Mandolin Band, ably led by Jenny Henry, who also got the loudest laugh of the night when she speculated on who had the biggest instruments in the band – oddly all seemed to belong to male members.
The 30 mandolinistas (precise figure may vary) hale fae aa aerts and include musical veterans like Gary Peterson and Trevor Jamieson as well as newbies who have been only on the mandolin for six months. That said, the newbies must have considerable musical talent as there was no sign of such inexperience in a well appreciated set.
Next up, Danish pair Fromseier Hockings, more fully known as Ditte Fromseier and Sigurd Hockings (a couple in life as well as on the stage), played a pleasing set of tunes and songs on fiddle and guitar, with Fromseier’s moving vocals providing the focus for many of the tunes.
Local favourites Kansa were next on stage with their good-time mix of country, bluegrass and swing. This up-tempo lineup provided a total contrast from the charming but fairly downbeat Fromseier Hockings, the sombre but beautiful Hank Williams song House of Gold excepted.
The penultimate lineup were the accomplished Alan Kelly Gang which contains the by now familiar lineup of Irish, Scottish and US musicians led by the “King of the Stomach Steinway” Alan Kelly, who hails from the west of Ireland and is now based in Galway City.
The AKG field a sound that was once the newborn hybrid of the new folk movement, complete with flute played by NYC native Steph Geremia, who now speaks with an Irish lilt after moving to Ireland 10 years ago, but could now almost be said to be sterotypical of the new folk synthesis.
But the foursome, including Kevin McGuire on double bass and Ian Kerr on a guitar that can seemingly make any sound, play such a variety of material that it defies classification.
Headlining the gig were a quartet of young American (ok one is Canadian) women whose buzz preceded them. Laura Cortese (pronounced Corteezee) and the Dance Cards proved to be one of the best acts that the reviewer has ever seen at the folk festival.
The invention, originality, depth and power of the band, enthusiastically led by the charismatic Cortese, was something else and many of the arrangements had something of the orchestral to them. In short, it sounded like there were many more than four people on stage, and the quality of the singing and playing was simply of the highest order.