Another sell-out crowd gathered in Scalloway Hall on Saturday night for the festival’s “headline” night – with a typically varied line-up.
On the bill was Irish/Appalachian tunes, Estonian folk-rock and Rockabilly blues from Italy.
Another indication of what a melting pot of styles and techniques the Shetland Folk Festival is.
Warming the crowd up for the musical feast ahead was returning student duo Shaun Alderman (on mandolin) and Iwan MacBride (guitar).
Immediately the pair had to deal with some unexpected issues – a mandolin that needed tuning and a dodgy lead that meant MacBride’s guitar could not be heard. As the sound engineer conspicuously twiddled, the music carried on regardless and the boys deserve great credit for dealing with the awkward situation.
The set took in reels and polkas, traditional arrangements including the Merry Boys of Greenland, and a lovely tune that saw MacBride swap the guitar for a ukulele. Also included were two self-penned tunes Red Sky Over Ronas and Far From Home, which were beautifully played.
Hot on their heels were New Road – a riotous grouping of Irish and North American musicians who mash up the Celtic and Appalachian traditions.
“Jesus, it’s great to be back in Shetland; it’s only taken 20 years,” said Uilleann pipe player Leonard Barry. Given the strength of Saturday night’s performance a return trip should not be so long in the making.
The five-some really knows how to take a tune and squeeze every ounce of energy out of it – with a good bit of humorous patter thrown in for good measure. It was difficult not to be impressed by the band’s sheer enthusiasm.
Shane McGowan fairly hammers out the rhythm on the guitar, with the instrument sitting high on his lap, while Canadian claw hammer banjo player Leonard Podolak was evidently having the time of his life.
At one point he said: “If you see me having too much fun up here, it’s because I am.” That musical joy was contagious as the high-tempo sets lifted the atmosphere high up into the hall’s high rafters.
Being very picky I’d say the group’s vocal talent did not hit the same high level as their musicianship. But, admittedly, that’s a ludicrous criticism.
New Road are all about the tunes and the music. That was very good and thoroughly enjoyable.
Popular Yell band Rack & Ruin were the second local act who brought a mixture of country,
Cullivoe, Scottish and self-composed tunes.
Rack & Ruin style themselves as a “Yellbilly” party band. But there is more to them than that and it was one of the self-written pieces that stood out. Fiddler Barry Nisbet’s Bryden and Iona’s Wedding Waltz was beautiful and deserves to be heard again.
From Yell to Estonia and next up were one of this year’s most talked-about acts, Trad.Attack!.
The trio have split opinion with lovers and haters seemingly in equal measure. I fall firmly into the former category.
The reason for the divergence in opinion is down to the band’s use of electronic samples and gadgetry, as well as the fact that they’re very loud. For me the use of archive recordings (and some “new archive” recordings) is a creative way of keeping traditional songs alive and relevant.
There’s something mesmerising about the chants. And by looping whistle and pipe sounds over them Trad.Attack! have created a unique sound – and one which I enjoyed.
When you learn that some of the recordings are of ladies in their 90s who had fallen victim to the Soviet-era machine and had been taken from Estonia to gulags in Siberia it adds extra poignancy to the approach.
The music itself is powerful and there’s little wonder that reports from those who’d seen them perform in the festival club were good. That said, there is a softer side as the band displayed when playing the track Sparks. It is a combination of guitar, glockenspiel and whistle which goes to show that sometimes less is more.
Completing the line-up were Italian blues band Veronica and the Red Wine Serenaders.
Armed with a washboard and kazoo I feared they were going to stray into the territory of novelty act. And although the set included one “stupid song” – their words, not mine – I need not have worried.
Veronica Sbergia is an eminently likable frontwoman with a powerful voice which at times takes you by surprise. Backed by two talented musicians Dario Polerani on double bass and Max de Bernardi on guitar, the trio combine to deliver a polished and stylish sound.
Polerani’s bass solos were at times mesmerising and de Bernardi’s finger-picking guitar style was impressive. What’s more the Serenaders are another group of players who are quite obviously enjoying the chance to do what they love.
That kind of attitude was something that tied the whole night together.
From the bubbling enthusiasm of New Road’s banjo man Podolak to the cheeky approach of lead Serenader Sbergia This was a night of musical fun.
It was difficult to leave without a smile on your face after another great night of music.