Last night’s concert at Mareel, headlined by Orkney band Fara, proved to be a three-pronged blockbuster lasting three and a half hours.
The unknown quantity for many in the audience was the Danish band Himmerland, although it might be more accurate to describe them as musicians who live in Denmark.
The one who looked nothing like a Scandinavian was the superb drummer, Ayl Solomon, who hails from Ghana. His drum solo came out of the blue and was one of the most memorable spots in the whole show.
The rest of the line-up were two fiddlers, a guitarist and another man who played a small, fun-sized saxophone. Guest performer was none other than Scottish fiddler Eilidh Shaw of Poozies fame who also contributed backing vocals.
Together they made a most pleasing, if unusual, sound. At the start they announced that the material they used came from many sources. They describe themselves as playing world, traditional and roots music.
Fiddle player and singer Ditte has a beautiful voice and sang several, really old, Danish folk songs, mostly ballads that a Shetland audience were at one with.
There were stories about men being lost at sea, a girl who wanted a husband, determined to go out into the world against her mother’s wishes, and another girl who married a merman and lived at the bottom of the sea watching the fish and the whales swimming above her. Also included was a lullaby written by Han Christian Anderson.
Tunes ranged from the old to the contemporary including one from the wonderful accordion player Karen Tweed. One well-known local musician described this band in a single word – “fun”.
First on stage was local band Haltidans and it is hard to imagine how the concert could get off to a better start. The group consists of three great fiddlers, Maurice Henderson, Lois Nicol and Ewen Thomson supported by Grant Nicol on guitar and John Clark on bass.
They need no introduction to a Shetland audience but, as always, they sounded fresh and came up with a selection music that would be new to many. Maurice is also a great storyteller and his tales about the tunes was entertainment in itself.
He told of a trip to Foula before they played weird sounding, wild tunes inspired by the awesome cliffs that Foula is famous for.
There were pipe tunes heard from long-haired piper Fred Morrison and tunes that recall the days of the Greenland whaling and the contact that Shetland whalers had with the native folk that they referred to as Yakkies. This super band could have done the whole show themselves. Their time on stage flew past – it seemed far too short.
The second half of the show was given over to the top-of-the-bill band Fara, from Orkney. The four lasses performed at the 2015 Shetland Folk Festival and they were in North Roe where they learned Fishers Hornpipe from the Shetland group Tyunes while sitting outside the hall.
They were so charming and friendly that they endeared themselves to everyone who met them. Combine that with their brilliant music and you have something quite out of the ordinary.
They are a fairly recent band, formed to play at the Orkney Folk festival just a few years ago. They have a debut album and the gig in Mareel was part of a promotional tour.
They opened their innings with a slow strathspey that soon blossomed out into an energetic reel. At every break between sets they established contact, banter and audience participation.
The band has three fiddlers – Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price – and pianist Jennifer Austin.
If anyone expected Jennifer to be seen and heard very little then they were in for a surprise. She was assertive in her accompaniment, at times almost Cape Breton in style.
There was a moment of concern in the audience when all three fiddlers left the stage and left Jennifer by herself but it was to allow her the play one of her own compositions, a beautiful tune commissioned for Orkney science festival. When the fiddlers returned normal service was resumed.
The lasses are all vocalists but Jeana usually takes the lead and is backed by the others. Some of the tunes were played at what my granny would have called “a rate of no allowance”, but never, for a moment, did they lose the lift and bounce that makes difference between the mundane and the superb.
No-one would even guess that they were near the end of a very long tour. Fara are four lovely lasses, they have fallen in love with Shetland and those of us in Shetland, lucky enough to hear them, have fallen in love with them.
Please come back as often as you can Jennifer, Jeana, Kristan and Catriona. You will always be welcome.