There’s no denying the special place the “man in black” Johnny Cash has in the hearts of many Shetland musical punters.
And it stretches through all generations if the crowd of about 400 attending Mareel on Friday night was anything to go by.
The sincerest form of flattery can be seen as impersonation and the highly successful tribute act superbly recreated Cash’s rockabilly sound to a largely standing audience – more in awe rather than dancing.
For the more mature fans seating on the balcony was available. Walls and pillars in the auditorium assisted the “more relaxed” as the musical extravaganza proceeded.
But first the local musical contributions. With doors opening at 7.30pm it was good value from promoters Klub Revolution and it wasn’t long before the first act Delorean had kicked off. They played a curious mix of country standards and heavy metal.
With an underlying thread of irony, I hope, the novelty managed to last for their allotted slot, but it was touch and go at some stages. Men in hats led by vocalist Dave Kok, who was also playing an array of weird and wonderful instruments including a toy xylophone and a large recorder, softened the gathering crowd well. However, I found it difficult to get my head around a seriously heavy interpretation of Glen Campbell’s normally mellow Rhinestone Cowboy, but that could be an age thing!
The second combo on were Isaac Webb and the Zets, a relatively new and very tight rockabilly trio with more than a passing resemblance to the headlining act’s delivery.
They did do the majority of their own snappy songs including Smittin and Cod Liver Pill or was that “Phil”? It was loud and the vocals sometimes indistinct – it’s a whole different ball game for the sound crew without the Bleacher seating.
Sven Macalpine on drums and Gary Smith on bass provided a smooth hypnotic rolling rhythm section which provided suave Webb with a bed for his versatile vocal delivery and clean cut guitar sound.
Local party band Scaldin Brag were up next, all seven of them squeezing on stage. And they certainly lit the touchpaper with their unbridled enthusiasm.
Their mixture of thrash folk was appreciated by a crowd now simmering with “lubrication” – at this stage the queues at the bars were at least three songs’ worth. Could another small bar in the auditorium help ease the strain on the bar staff at the others?
I first saw the Johnny Cash tribute band previously at the Symbister Hall Whalsay at a very “exuberant” gig. Scaldin Bragg were there too, for good measure. Then the man playing and singing Johnny’s momentous hits seemed bigger and the sound a touch slicker.
Consuming soda water and lime on this occasion and not being on the “Bonnie Isle” provided a different perspective, though none the less enjoyable. The four piece does an admirable job, augmented by “June Carter” and for fleeting moments, with your eyes half closed, you can feel yourself tiptoeing back in time.
The band did give us less well known Cash compositions from Johnny’s vast catalogue along with the anthemic classics, like Jackson, A Boy Named Sue and Walk the Line. But with the addition of Kris Kristofferson and Hank Williams songs like Help Me Make it through the Night and I Saw The Light (would that be the simmer dim!) you got the idea the constraints of a Johnny Cash impersonation can have at times, constantly playing the American even between songs.
Besides this, it was a rhythmic roll of an evening with a heavy stroll of nostalgia.
One punter, originally from Belgium, working here as a midwife, thought the show upheld “a non-conformist spirit”. Another hit the nail on the head, in an albeit reserved manner, “Soonds braaly lik’ ‘im” .
After the encore came a chance meeting with “Johnny Cash”. Some of the magic was lost when he confessed he was really from the North Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough. Explaining I worked with two Yorkshiremen from Barnsley, he was quite adamant: “Oh no that’s West Riding!”
Maybe it’s like a Lerwick/Scalloway thing!
You can catch the Johnny Cash “thang” again tonight in Yell at the “Party at the Pier” when they are joined by David Sandison (not the SIC councillor) and the Tennessee Wannabees.