Saturday 4th May 2019 - Day 3
“That was the craziest bus-ride I’ve ever been on,” said one Shetland Folk Festival first-timer, shaking his head in wonderment, as we arrived back at Islesburgh following the 90-minute trip from Yell, around 2am on Friday night. When you’re lucky enough to have journeyed to a few isles concerts over the years, it’s easy to forget that finding your post-gig artists’ transport transformed into a riotous mobile session – with a thicket of fiddles, guitars, accordions and more in play, as cans are cracked and bottles of half-a-dozen different spirits are passed round at hair-raising speed - remains beyond most folk’s ken.
All this taking place, of course, as our chariot’s dauntless driver (Leask’s folk festival team are surely the very definition of unflappable) steered along seriously bendy single-track roads in the pitch dark, plus on and off a ferry en route – during which interlude we welcomed lots of likewise cheery visitors off the other bus onboard, from the concert in Unst, while sundry car passengers, heading back to the Festival Club, also dropped in.
The live soundtrack to all this, meanwhile – with a certain Mr Tim Edey as ringleader – started off with a mash-up of the Dallas and Star Wars themes, five minutes or so down the road, and continued for the duration by gleefully unpredictable leaps and bounds, taking in Adam Sutherland’s ‘Road to Errogie’ and ‘The Drunken Sailor’, via several reprises of ‘The Hokey Cokey’, before finishing with an Abba/Britney medley. Not really so surprising that our new friend found himself a peerie tad confuddled by the experience – albeit very happily so.
As mentioned in yesterday’s bulletin, J.P. Cormier and Yell have a particularly special place in each other’s hearts, and his spiritual homecoming last night, for his fourth visit, attained truly transcendent heights, in company with his soul brother and fellow multi-instrumental prodigy, the aforementioned Tim Edey.
After a hilarious surprise guest appearance (introduced as “young up-and-coming talents, Timothy and John-Paul”) to round off top local stringband Vair’s set, the duo settled in and set about making an unforgettable, utterly spellbinding 45 minutes of music; a one-time-only selection of songs and tunes from both artists’ vast, virtuosic repertoires, wholly unplanned and unrehearsed – musical telepathy at its purest and its finest. No wonder Mr Edey was buzzed on the bus back home.
With these two at its apex, the Burravoe line-up contained a pretty formidable summit-meeting of exceptional guitar prowess, also including the young Scottish/Spanish player Pablo Lafuente, in both his award-winning partnership with singer Josie Duncan, and Galician piper Anxo Lorenzo’s trio. Then you’ve got not only the Vair boys, but also Arthur Nicholson, whose agile, inventive self-accompaniment completes a powerhouse triple with both his singing and songwriting: it all added up to a fingerlickin’ feast of six-string mastery. By contrast, as one departing happy customer was overheard observing afterwards, “That was an unusual concert for Shetland: only two fiddles the whole night.”
After the heady heights and dancefloor delirium of da Spangin’ Spree at Clickimin, finishing off with red-hot folk/fusion rising stars Elephant Sessions, the late-night revellers were thinning out at the Festival Club by the time the Yell squad arrived, but there was still plenty of fine yarnin’ to be had, catching up on other people’s nights, before a nosey around the side-rooms revealed some very choice tunes underway, in the more than capable hands of fiddlers Rua MacMillan and Charlie Stewart – both former Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musicians of the Year; Stewart also being that rare fiddler who also wields the biggest version, the double bass – plus local players, and Lafuente again on guitar, evidently already blown away by his debut Shetland visit. “All the people here are just so amazingly nice,” he’d been heard to marvel earlier in the day, while after his double duty in Yell, J.P. Cormier took him aside to shake him personally by the hand, and plans for collaborating with Edey seemed to be well under way on the bus.
After his epochal performance at Cunningsburgh in 2018, we’re sorry to report the absence from this year’s festival of peerless local bard Steven Robertson, after he was spotted by a homecoming Shetland expat at Sumburgh last week, beyond gutted to be heading away offshore and missing the funs. Relaying this info yesterday, however, prompted one of Da Committee to recall the elaborate contingency planning – on top of the festival’s usual myriad logistical challenges - that went into last year’s gig.
Long after it had sold out - substantially on the strength of Robertson’s billing - a rejig of his shift patterns meant he couldn’t be sure, pretty much up to the last minute, whether he’d actually be here on the night. The secret backup strategy, if he did end up being called away, involved having a videographer on standby, to record him doing his set before he left. Come showtime at Cunningsburgh, Robertson’s namesake Shetland actor and fellow local celeb, who also happened to be home, would then walk onstage in his stead, presumably to much audience perplexity – and then introduce the film. Thankfully it wasn’t needed, but that was a truly excellent cunning plan. No more than we’d expect, though, from what must be one of the most determinedly resourceful event committees anywhere on the planet – and all in the name of making sure you have fun.