Quirky, novel gigs are all well and good, but the bread and butter of the folk festival is a hall filled to the brim with eager locals watching a wide variety of interesting, talented acts.
Friday night’s concert at the Sandwick Social Club was an example of how to get that simple
formula so very right.
First up was the Unst-based Tru Nort, who were ‘very proud’ to be performing at the Folk
Festival for the first time.
A vocal-based group, they used their mellow harmonies to good effect in a range of laid-back numbers by artists including Little Big Town and Adele.
Their rendition of the much livelier Shut Up and Fish suited the tone of the evening better than their more sedate pieces.
A good first impression made, Tru Nort received a warm and encouraging response from the enthusiastic audience.
The Lowest Pair, the American country/folk duo of Kendl Winter and Palmer T Lee, were
also Folk Festival first-timers.
They wielded a pair of five-string banjos – an arrangement they referred to as ‘Kentucky earmuffs’– with exceptional proficiency.
Separately, both are clearly extremely talented performers, but together their playing
became greater than the sum of its parts, a fast-paced musical back-and-forth that really
caught your attention.
A couple of impressive,rapid numbers got the feet in the hall stamping, and the warm, funny
patter between the two quickly endeared them to the audience, who gave them waves of
applause when their set finally came to an end.
Finebymidi comprises sisters Sarah and Catherine, who hail from the Black Isle, and
Robbie Leask on guitar.
Sarah and Catherine are both very gifted fiddlers, and Finebymidi’s strongest points were when the pair of them played as one, in perfect time, with rousing marches and reels that got the crowd cheering.
One of Catherine’s own compositions, The Fiddlebox Carrier, was a slow air written, she admitted, before she’d been to Up-Helly-A’. This was immediately apparent – the serene,
beautiful piece was extremely soothing, hilariously at odds with any UHA experience.
Finebymidi ramped up toward the end of their set, saving the best for last and ending on a
superb, blood-pumping number that left the audience baying for more.
The Langan Band, an award-winning Glaswegian trio who cite Celtic, Baltic and Flamenco
influences, came onstage to a crowd who were already in the mood for something fiery.
They did not disappoint.
“I’ve been told that Shetlanders like really fast music, is that right?” guitarist John Langan asked an extremely responsive crowd, before wiring into a series of blistering, string-wrecking contemporary folk pieces, the crowd clapping along.
Sitting on a cajon, with a guitar across his knees and a tambourine strapped to one foot,
Langhan was never still for a moment, his intricate guitar-work complementing Alastair
Caplin’s skillful fiddle, while Dave Tunstall’s double bass provided the music with a strong
No one part outshone the others as pieces would build up, fall away, and resurge
unpredictably. Each of the trio played like their life was on the line – a savage mauling of
instruments that produced the most incredible, passionate sounds.
The music was irresistible, and the thunderous foot-stomping suggested that the audience
was under its spell. One particularly moving song was a Romani gypsy lament – a heavy,
haunting number with superb Romani-language vocals.
Suddenly, they were off – all solemnity dispensed with as the tune transformed into a fantastic, frantic barrage of music that had the audience clapping like castanets.
The last number, they said, was a 15-minute long piece.
“Buckle up,” Caplin said with a grin.
If The Langan Band’s final number was as exhausting to play as it looked, then the band are
more than regular men. A feverish, instrument-slapping, musical powder-keg; the band never
showed a sign of effort as the rapid, stunning notes moved through the hall, mesmerising
everyone, and raising them out their seats at the big finish.
The Langan Band went off-stage having made not just a mark, but a crater from the sheer
force of impact of their energetic, explosive music. Easily one of the best acts of the festival.
Once the cheers and applause finally abated, the final act were up. Ten Strings and a
Goatskin, a charming and funny trio from Prince Edward Island, Canada, were also festival
Their first tune, a lively, upbeat and technically impressive piece from Salamanca, set the
tone of their output – skilled, stirring, and varied.
Celtic tunes ran into songs from medieval France, and a Canadian tune about surviving the winter co-existed peacefully with a Kentish miner’s protest song. It was a feast of different influences and styles, refined and perfected.
“We hope you find that at least mildly palatable”, said fiddler Rowan Gallant, ever the polite Canadian. The trio, including Jesse Périard on guitar and Caleb Gallant on percussion, quickly formed a great rapport with the audience, explaining how their ongoing quest to experience Scottish culture culminated in having to help deliver lambs.
Ten Strings and a Goatskin kept the variety up, but each tune was as deep and complex as
the one before. Every note from every song hit the mark, and the timing and cohesion
between the three was perfect.
They ended on a series of short pieces they had proudly titled Duck Duck Goat, that served as a showcase of their best work. Memorable, exciting and enjoyable, Ten Strings and a Goatskin went out in a whirlwind of good music and good feelings. The audience went
Friday night at the Sandwick Social Club is, in essence, what the Folk Festival is all about.
New acts rubbing shoulders with award-winners, a horizon-expanding variety and a faultless
level of quality that left each audience member with a smile on their face and a tune in
By Alex Garrick-Wright