The 40th Shetland Folk Festival Line up

The Shetland Folk festival will turn 40 in style this spring with a visiting artist line-up showcasing some of the many festival favourites from the last four decades as well as a host of brand new acts from across eleven different countries. With a range of artists from Oscar nominee Julie Fowlis to a South African choir featured in the line-up, the Festival has again proven itself capable of bringing an eclectic and exciting musical mix to the isles.

Scottish music legend, Dougie MacLean will make a welcome return having first appeared at the Festival back in 1986. Famed for writing the much loved anthem, Caledonia, MacLean has built an international reputation as a songwriter, composer and extraordinary performer, and has wowed audiences all over the world including on the prestigious stages of Carnegie Hall in New York, London’s Festival Theatre and the Sydney Opera House.

Grammy-nominated string band, Della Mae, are among the debut bands to perform at the festival this year. Comprising of some of the finest bluegrass musicians from USA and Canada, the 5-piece have been receiving rave reviews and acclaim across both sides of the Atlantic and have been on the festival’s radar for some time.

Heidi Talbot Trio will also appear at the festival for the first time with the Irish songstress marking 20 years as a performer this year. She is appearing alongside Swedish 12-string guitar player Roger Tallroth of Väsen fame who performed at Shetland Folk Festival in 2003 and 2010.

Also crossing the Irish sea to perform for the first time are exciting quartet JigJam who blend the best of traditional Irish music with bluegrass and Americana in a new genre which has been branded ‘I-Grass’. Their onstage energy along with their virtuosic musical ability has captivated audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

South African choir, Imbube UK will also be brand new to Shetland audiences. Formed of the most talented and professional African artists and musicians based in the UK, they are a sub-group of the South African Choir UK who toured as part of the Graceland Tour with Josh Turner last year and whose appearance in Shetland is being supported by Loganair airlines. Under the directorship of Luyanda Lennoz Jezile, a group of musicians will perform at the Festival sharing stunning and evocative harmonies as well as energetic Zulu dancing and drumming that brings excitement and tells a story.

Making their UK debut are American contemporary folk duo, Paper Wings, who have been gathering acclaim with their subtle blend of acoustic Americana. Other first-time performers to Shetland are Bristol-based 9-piece outfit, Cut Capers who have become a cult hit at festivals across the UK with their heady mix of brass-driven swing, funk and hip-hop!

Making their Scottish debut are New England Contra Dance-band, Stringrays, who may be playing in Shetland for the first time but their fiddle player, Rodney Miller, is no stranger to our audiences and possibly one of the most influential musicians to come to the isles in the last 40 years in his own right and with former band, Airplang.

Scottish super-group, The Poozies also hold iconic status in Shetlanders’ memories when they wowed audiences back in 1991 and featured in the Shetland Sessions TV series that same year. With a new line-up and material, they are sure to do the same again. Newbies Sarah McFadyen (fiddle, banjo, guitar) and Tia Files (guitar, fiddle, percussion) have joined founding member Mary Macmaster (electro-harp) and long-term cohort Eilidh Shaw (fiddle), and together they continue to play a dazzling, joyfully eclectic mix of contemporary and traditional tunes with beefy, powerful accompaniment.

Other returnees include a smorgasbord of Scandi favourites – Finnish power-folk septet, Frigg, Danish party band, Habadekuk, and fiddle trio, The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc comprising of Sweden’s Anders Hall, Norway’s Olav Luksengård Mjelva and Shetlander, Kevin Henderson.

There is also the highly anticipated return of Le Vent de Nord from Quebec. Now touring as a five piece with the addition of Andre Brunet (formerly De Temps Antan), Le Vent Du Nord last delighted Shetland Folk Festival audiences in 2008 with their hard-driving soulful music, which is rooted in Celtic, but incorporates a broad range of global influences. They bring to their live performances a vast repertoire of both traditional and original compositions, combined with an amazing energetic stage presence full of dynamic flair.

It was only last year that Cape Breton’s multi-instrumentalist, J.P. Cormier was performing on the isles but due to popular demand he will be back (possibly the worst kept secret but he needs to show off his new impressive Shetland Folk Festival tattoo!). This time he will be accompanied by long-term collaborator and swing guitarist, Bill Elliott, who also appeared with Cormier at the 2012 Festival.

The Shetland Folk Festival prides itself each year in displaying up and coming talent and Project Smok brings together three of Scottish music’s most exciting young players. Hearing the trio revitalise their native West Coast traditions with a high-octane brew of funk, jazz and electronic stylings. The band comprises of multi award-winning musicians Ali Levack on pipes & whistles (who is one of this year’s finalists in the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year), Pablo Lafuente on guitar (who performed at last year’s Festival with both Josie Duncan and Anxo Lorenzo) and Ewan Baird on bodhrán.

To top everything off in style, the musical connections between three of Scotland’s island groups – Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides – are to be celebrated at this year’s Shetland Folk Festival, with one special collaborative ‘Between Islands’ concert featuring celebrated musicians and singers from each of the areas.

Leading Western Isles vocalists Julie Fowlis and Kathleen MacInnes will appear alongside Orcadian duo Saltfishforty (Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty) and Shetland’s Jenny Keldie (née Napier) from Burra, as well as plenty of other Shetland musicians and young singers who will make guest appearances. Of her forthcoming trip to the festival, Julie said “I’m just delighted to be returning to the Shetland Folk Festival! It’s been a good few years since I visited, and it’s especially exciting to be heading to the festival as part of ‘Between Islands’ - a project that really celebrates the music, culture and craic that binds island folk together.” The concert was part of Orkney Folk festival last year receiving rave reviews and the collaboration will take place in Shetland on 3rd May this year, thanks to support from LEADER. As well as Saltfishforty, Orkney will also be represented by a one-night-only performance by much-loved 8-piece supergroup The Chair who will once again bring their riot of fiddles, banjo, accordion and drums to the Festival.

The festival’s Publicity Officer Louise Johnson is excitedly counting down the days and said “We strive to showcase a real variety of styles during the Shetland Folk Festival and we hope that this year’s visiting line-up of returning favourites, new favourites-to-be and up and coming talent will hit the mark for our festival goers. We are so proud that the festival has reached this 40th milestone and can’t wait to celebrate with locals and visitors, while showing off the amazing local talent that Shetland continues to deliver for us year on year. We will be sharing news about the local acts due to perform at the festival in the coming weeks. We are hugely grateful to the investment we have received from EventScotland and Creative Scotland, which helps us ensure the Festival is accessible and appealing to locals and visitors alike.”

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events said, “I’m delighted to see the Shetland Folk Festival celebrating this landmark year with such a fantastic line-up. EventScotland’s National Funding Programme helps to support events the length and breadth of the country and this event is a welcome addition to our 2020 portfolio”

Siobhan Anderson, Music Officer from Creative Scotland adds “The 40th year of this major festival will see local artists as well as some of folk’s biggest national and international names take to the stage in Shetland. This year looks set to be one of the Festival’s best yet, and is sure to have something for everyone.”

The 40th Shetland Folk Festival runs from 30th April to 3rd May 2020 and early memberships go on sale at the festival’s website on 1st February until 29th February. As well as making their tickets considerably cheaper, early members will be able to buy concert tickets from Monday 16th March, which gives them a week’s head start on the general public who can only buy tickets and memberships from 23rd March.