As the UK's most northerly folk festival, the Shetland Folk Festival is regarded a prestigious event for performers, locals and visitors alike. The 35th festival will be held between 30th April and 3rd May 2015.
The Shetland Folk Festival is often regarded as the granddaddy of folk festivals. For more than thirty years, the Festival has brought eclectic and innovative line ups of visiting performers to the isles.
The first festival was held in 1981 and has grown steadily throughout the years. It originated with a conversation held between the late Dr Tom Anderson and Charlie Simpson who had played at several festivals on mainland Scotland with the Shetland Fiddler's Society. Why shouldn't Shetland have a festival too, they wondered, and so the planning began.
This was the ideal event to celebrate Shetland's own unique fiddle tradition and rich musical heritage. The inaugural organising committee was formed and in affirming their pride in Shetland's own musical tradition, the decision was made that local performers would share the concert platforms with visiting artistes. With people like the late Willie Hunter to promote, there was no fear that local talent would be wanting. This is a formula that has continued through all 35 Festivals to date.
Organised by a voluntary committee (and run by an even bigger pool of volunteers) the Festival prides itself in reaching out to even the most far flung areas of Shetland. Concerts are organised throughout the isles, consisting of some of the best International, British and Shetland music that the world has to offer. In fact, visiting artistes are regularly dumbfounded by the quantity and quality of local musicians that these remote isles have to offer.
The event culminates with the Foy concerts on the Sunday night, where audiences have an opportunity of seeing most visiting acts in one evening. Held over three venues, the acts are shuffled between halls by mini bus and perform in each hall for around 15 minutes. It's crazy but it works!
Jamie Smith's MABON
Jamie Smith's MABON are Wales' finest purveyors of original InterCeltic music and are consistently considered one of the outstanding live UK roots acts.
Through songs and melodies, from thoughtful lyrics to energetic jigs and reels, a haunting Welsh-language love-song or a driving sing-along epic all are given the same refreshing, creative treatment as the band dances along the borders between Celtic heritage and contemporary sound.
They had a busy year last year, touring widely in Britain, Brittany, Belgium and Borneo! Composer, accordionist and lead singer Jamie is joined at the front of the stage by fiddler Oliver Wilson-Dickson and by Adam Rhodes on bouzouki. Behind them are two consummate accompanists, Matthew Downer on electric and upright basses and percussionist Iolo Whelan at the drum kit. Between them they create a fluid yet undeniably solid and groovy foundation, tastefully supporting the front line through gracious airs, cantering songs and dancey reels alike.
The band have won Spiral Earth’s Best Group Award in 2014 (by public vote), and their Best Instrumental Album Award in 2010.
Scottish fiddler extraordinaire Duncan Chisholm is one of the country’s most recognised and accomplished players and composers.
He plays regularly with gaelic singing sensation Julie Fowlis, and with his own well-known folk rock band Wolfstone which, incidentally, can lay claim to being the first ever act to perform at Celtic Connections in 1994. Duncan was nominated within the ‘Musician of the Year’ category in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2013, and to winning Scots Trad Album of the Year Award in 2014 for his album Live at Celtic Connections.
Duncan will perform his highly rhythmical and powerfully personal selection of music along with the brilliant and accomplished talents of both Matheu Watson (guitar) and Jarlath Henderson (uilleann pipes / whistles). Jarlath played at the Shetland Folk Festival in 2012 with Ross Ainslie, and Matheu Watson attended the festival in 2011 when he played with the Fred Morrison Trio.
Their performances combine traditional and contemporary tunes, gripping stories of Scotland’s ancient Chisholm clan lands and irrepressible humour.
Cahalen Morrison and Eli West
When people talk about the music of Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, terms such as ‘amazing’, ‘lush’, ‘sophisticated’ and ‘soulful’ get bandied around. The Seattle-based duo tap the root of the old country and bluegrass duets and it is clear that this duo was made to sing together.
They are, simply put, two of the most innovative and subtle roots musicians today. Their music draws from old folk sources, but it sounds vibrantly alive. Cahalen Morrison writes songs that are simple, beautifully crafted, and seemingly formed from raw natural elements. Eli West brings jagged, angular arrangements based in bluegrass and old-time, but refracted through a 21st century lens.
This is music built on the joy of the craft, made by hand by two young masters with love for the traditions, but a bold vision for how the old sounds can fit into new soundscapes.
Both musicians play guitar, banjo, mandolin and bouzouki. Cahalen also plays lap slide.
Tupelo are an award-winning alt-folk act hailing from Ireland. Featuring four members from different musical backgrounds and an all acoustic line-up, the band take sounds as disparate as bluegrass, American folk and Irish traditional and make them their own.
A hardworking band, Tupelo enjoy the road and have played an impressive number of gigs since the band's formation, appearing at major festivals, playing support to some of music's biggest acts and attracting plenty of fans along the way.
Several tracks from Tupelo’s debut album in 2011 were released as singles and received rave reviews as well as plenty of airplay from Irish and UK radio stations including RTE Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2. In March 2013 Tupelo was announced as the 'Best Folk Act 2013' by the music magazine, Hot Press. The Sunday Times described the band’s music as “beautiful” and Metro described them as “deeply charming”.
The band members are James Cramer (lead vocals, banjo, acoustic guitar, guitjo and harmonica), Kevin Duffy (fiddle, mandolin and backing vocals), Damien McMahon (double bass and backing vocals) and Paul Murray (acoustic guitar, dobro, mandolin, guitjo and backing vocals).
Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys
One of the most exciting emerging bands on the American roots music circuit, Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys have a fresh approach which meshes Appalachian tradition with rootsy Michigan vigour. It’s been said there is something for everyone in live performances –– from bluesy works of wonder to blistering bluegrass beauty.
Since issuing their second album ‘Release Your Shrouds’ in 2012, the band has been on the road almost non-stop all over the USA. It was the ‘Here Between’ EP that finally got them the level of attention they deserved in Europe with a huge amount of radio exposure and positive reviews.
With their great vocal harmonies and tight-knit playing, it’s no wonder they were described by Folkwords as “intoxicating”. They describe themselves as “a finger pickin', harmony slingin', tight knit family fashion conglomeration who show no signs of slowing down”!
The band consist of Lindsay Lou on guitar and clawhammer banjo, husband Joshua Rilko on mandolin, Mark Lavengood on dobro and PJ George on bass.
Ahlberg, Ek & Roswall
Swedish trio Ahlberg, Ek & Roswall play a mixture of traditional Swedish tunes and polskas, as well as their own compositions.
They have played together for several years and released their second album in 2013 which was nominated in Sweden for the Manifest prize for Folk Album of the Year. The band were also nominated for Folk Group of the Year at their national Folk and World Music Gala the same year.
Fiddler Emma Ahlberg and nyckelharpa player Niklas Roswall are graduates of the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, and became Riksspelmans in 2010 and 1996 respectively, which is one of the highest accolades within Swedish folk music. Niklas also won the title of World champion of chromatic nyckelharpa in 1996.
Daniel Ek is a sought-after guitarist who plays several genres of music but finds that Swedish folk music lies closest to his heart.
Rugged yet disciplined, heartfelt whilst rousing and anthemic, refreshingly contemporary but rooted in tradition… Rura are a band at the forefront of Scottish folk.
Their powerful sound comes from a line-up of highland pipes, whistle, flute, fiddle, bodhran, guitar and vocals, and a combination of traditional and contemporary music that is both original and timeless. The band features three ‘BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year’ finalists and an All-Ireland Bodhran Champion.
Since bursting on to the scene in 2010 as award winners at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival, Rura have firmly established themselves as a major force. The release of their heralded first album, Break It Up, in 2012 was accompanied by multiple award wins and nominations. Their second and hotly-anticipated album is due for release in spring 2015.
The instruments of Steven Blake, Jack Smedley, David Foley and Adam Brown create muscular, yet intricately arranged and lyrical instrumentals to match singer/songwriter Adam Holmes’ haunting songcraft – a perfected mix that has seen them rise to headline status at festivals throughout the UK and Europe.
Troy MacGillivray and Shane Cook
Multi-award winning duo Troy MacGillivray and Shane Cook are two of Canada’s finest fiddle players playing a blend of Canadian old-time, Cape Breton, French-Canadian, Celtic and other tunes from a variety of traditions.
Troy MacGillivray is from Nova Scotia and displays a real sense of pride and commitment to his Celtic heritage in his delivery of the traditional music that is the epitome of Canada’s Maritimes provinces. As Shetland audiences from 2007 may remember, Troy is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who is also known to display a talent for stepdancing!
Still in his twenties, Canadian Shane Cook from Ontario "rates at the top of the short list of the finest fiddlers in the world today," says the Canadian Fiddlers' Hall of Fame. Shane has distinguished himself as a master of the Canadian old-time fiddle tradition and excels at an array of fiddle styles ranging from Irish and Scottish to French-Canadian, Texan, and Bluegrass. In fact, after a concert at The Opera House the Boston Herald proclaimed "Shane Cook's Celtic fiddling was enough to break hearts."
Troy and Shane will be accompanied on piano and guitar by Jake Charron, a young man who is continuing to build a reputation as one of Canada’s finest multi-instrumental accompanists.
Contagious rhythms characterise Habadekuk – described as Denmark’s most exciting and innovative folk band - and they are guaranteed to get you on the dance floor!
With a vibrant mix of folk, salsa and big band jazz, the lively eight-man band catapults old folk melodies into the 21st century. Expect everything from wild polkas and jigs to lyrical waltzes and rough ‘n’ ready sailor songs in an unforgettable live experience.
Habadekuk has delighted audiences across Europe and Canada at many major music festivals, with the band and its individual members picking up several musical awards along the way. Habadekuk’s motto is “we blow you away”.
Fiddler Kristian Bugge attended the Shetland Folk Festival with Baltic Crossing in 2012, and pianist Theis Langlands with the Fionia String Band in 2013. The other members of Habadekuk are Anders Ringgaard on trombone, Jakob Holdensen on trumpet, Rasmus Fribo on saxophone, Rasmus Brylle on drums, Søren Lund on double bass and Peter Eget on accordion.
Photo Credits: (1) Shetland Folk Festival Logo, (2) Dick Gaughan, (3) Tom Anderson & Peerie Willie Johnson, (4) Jamie Smith's MABON, (6) Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, (8) Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys, (9) Ahlberg, Ek & Roswall (unknown/website); (5) Duncan Chisholm, (7) Tupelo, (10) Rura, (11) Troy McGillivray (by Walkin' Tom); (12) Habadekuk (by Karsten Rube).