Sunday 5th May 2019 - Day 4
As The Jaywalkers wound up their set at Mareel last night, ahead of the raffle, their bassist Lucille Williams expressed her fervent hope of winning one of the coveted folk festival toories, being a) very smitten with the design, and b) likely in need of a hat, given the prevailing weather. In the event, none of her tickets were drawn, but then the kind soul who did win it earned themselves a hefty block of good karma-points, by gifting Williams the prize – as we learned when she reappeared briefly onstage wearing it, to offer delighted thanks and CDs in return.
Among this year’s other hot raffle prizes is a specially-commissioned mug, a masterful exercise in wry self-referentiality, whose cartoon design depicts and precisely evokes a Shetland Folk Festival raffle, complete with Shetland dialect speech bubbles, quibbling over ticket colours, serial numbers and the like. You can’t even buy them, apparently – though plans may be afoot to add them to regular merchandise – so any donations of these would be gratefully received by your guest reporter here. . .
A conversation the other night touching on Thursday’s excellent concert at Hamnavoe (which already seems like ages ago now) prompted one Shetland music veteran to recall another memorable shindig there, way back when the hall was new, sometime in the mid-1980s. It was meant to be a fundraising dance for CND, but the entertainment ended early, and ignominiously, after tribal tensions between Burra locals and the Lerwick-based peaceniks erupted into a massive fight, a melee of fisticuffs and chair-throwing that eventually necessitated fire-hoses to clear the building.
It’s a defining feature of Shetland Folk Festival that visiting musicians are routinely awed and humbled by the class of their counterparts among the local population, but even then they can struggle to get their heads round the remarkable breadth and diversity, as well as quality, of the islands’ music scene. Take last night, for instance, in the Festival Club: a seven-piece collective onstage, playing top-notch Balkan, klezmer and East European gypsy music, with a line-up including clarinet, tuba, flugelhorn and sax, plus accordion, mandolin, fiddle and authentically otherworldly female vocals. You’re at a folk festival: it’s not unreasonable to assume, especially given the musicianship on display, that this is the genuine article, but no – this was Shetland’s very own Odessa, cooking up a storm and packing the downstairs dancefloor in last night’s wee hours, further enlivening the mix with big licks of reggae and ska, and doubtless leaving some visiting listeners wondering if there’s anything these people can’t play.
Celebrated as Shetland is among artists worldwide as an all-time great festival experience, it’s also understood that they work you very hard for it. Such was certainly the case yesterday for the mighty Elephant Sessions, whose big Saturday night included a triumphant set at this year’s first-ever rural ‘Spang’, in Brae, followed by a stage-time upstairs in the club of 1.30am, when they played another positively monumental full hour’s gig, complete with resplendent light-show: even chief sound engineer Dave Town was seen with his hands in the air at some points.
Apart from anything else with this kind of schedule, keeping the heid in the right place between times - especially while all about you are merrily and comprehensively losing theirs - is a tall-ish challenge, and/or delicate balance, which Elephant Sessions carried off like the pros they are, ultimately firing up for the show with a customary round of Jaegerbombs backstage, before a parting request from the bassist to, “Tell my mother I loved her”.
It’s an annual, albeit minor, bone of festival contention that Clickimin concert audiences tend to start bailing out early, for fear of queues at the club, sometimes leaving headline acts playing to a conspicuously depleted room. Artists are usually forewarned, and therefore know not to take it personally, but it makes the organisers feel bad on their behalf. Thus it was that committee member Mhari Pottinger – compèring back in the spot where, six years ago to the day, she went into labour with her firstborn – found herself driving a bargain with last night’s crowd, who were implacably demanding an encore after another stupendous set from J.P. Cormier and Tim Edey. Okay, Mhari said eventually, here’s the deal: they could have one more tune from the duo, if they promised to stay and listen to Blazin’ Fiddles after the raffle – a promise which apparently was largely kept.