Getting Folked Up in Shetland, Part 2

by Keith Savage · 2 comments

The Revellers Put on a Spangin' Spree

If you haven’t read part 1 yet, go do that first. Then come back and read this 🙂

The alarm on my iPhone was ringing again. You know that annoying marimba sound? Yeah, that one. 8am.

Where was I again? I sat up on my single bed and put my glasses on. Oh yeah, Lerwick. Shetland. I could hear people laughing down the hall. So I had made it home last night through the primordial darkness of Shetland to Breiview Guest House. I’d even had enough wits about me to set my alarm so I wouldn’t miss breakfast.

Day Two: The Day I Tried to Spang

Despite not getting much sleep and being hungover, I still felt refreshed since I had actually gotten some sleep. Such was not the case for many of my festival compatriots. After picking up my rental car and driving through stunning scenery, I returned to the festival club in the afternoon. At the bar in the real ale hall, I learned that the place was flooded with people last night after the formal shows. Who knows, maybe I was there last night too. The neat thing about the festival club, other than being a reliably entertaining joint at any time of day, is that the musicians come there after their sets and generally hang out and drink. As one of the festival volunteers put it, “there’s no backstage at the Shetland Folk Festival.”

“There’s no backstage at the Shetland Folk Festival.”

That night I had a ticket to the Spangin’ Spree, billed as a wild and energetic night of music from The Revellers and Beltaine. Mhari informed me that “spanging” in Shetland dialect means to jump around a place. Sounded like the opposite end of the spectrum from the night before. I grabbed some well-greased fish and chips down by the harbor and started wandering the streets of Lerwick in a vain attempt to find the show’s venue, the T.A. Centre. Sign after sign would point me in the right direction and then…nothing, as if I should suddenly know where I was going. After pestering several pedestrians I found the place: a large hall inside the historic ruin of Fort Charlotte.

The interior of the T.A. Centre looked like a gymnasium set up for a rock show. A handy bar in the back provided lubricant for the night’s festivities. Shetland’s own The Revellers, ostensibly a Levellers cover band, took the stage first. They were on home turf and it showed. The seven-piece outfit rocked through covers with two guitars, bass, drums, banjo, electric mandolin, and electric fiddle and some jigs by the band members. They even had the crowd spangin’ around the floor. The singer, Magnus Bradley, has a definite Kurt Cobain vibe.

Also a seven-piece band, Poland’s Beltaine followed on The Revellers heels with a more worldly sound (remember the Mexican Celtic discotheque?). They used more percussion and woodwind instruments than I can name. For me, their music was interesting from an intellectual standpoint but after two Tennent’s tallboys what I really wanted to hear was more Revellers.

The inside of the T.A. Centre was surging when I pushed through the entrance into the pleasantly chill Shetland night air. I hoofed it back to the festival club where my memories of the night grew ragged as the night grew thin.

Day Three: Folk is Legion

When I know a big Scottish breakfast is included with the cost of a room, I can’t allow myself to miss it. This insistence cost me tens of hours of sleep over the course of the folk festival, and Saturday, day three, was no different. After more rambling around Shetland’s northern mainland I returned to Lerwick to prepare for a third night of festivities (fourth if you include the ferry). First I ate the Chernobyl version of chicken Vindaloo at the Gurkha House and literally had to stop eating first for fear that I might have an aneurysm and second for fear of reprisal…yeah.

Then it was on to the Lerwick British Legion, just up the street. I had bought tickets to shows in Lerwick because at the time I wasn’t sure if I’d have a car. As I mentioned in part one, there are shows happening concurrently at locations all over Shetland. It’s an incredible feat of planning.

Sheerlin Perform

The show kicked off with The Shee, all females appropriately, taking the stage and playing some beautiful Celtic songs in addition to a cover or two. Sheerlin came on next and the duo played some gorgeous acoustic tunes, including the oldie Hard Times by Stephen Foster. L’Angelus followed with some Louisiana swamp pop. This four-piece brothers-and-sisters group was a real stunner – every one of them had a golden voice. The band that I was really excited to see, Breabach, closed out the show. These guys are modern Scottish minstrels with dueling bagpipes on a couple songs.

After a fantastic show, I crossed the short distance to the festival club and started beering up. I noticed “bouncers” preventing people from going upstairs because it was too crowded and they were worried about the structural integrity of the building. It was crowded – a sea of what must have been thousands, from teenagers to grannies, milled about and chattered. All of Lerwick maybe?

It was only day three and the festival club was totally folked up. Would it survive the festival?

Continue reading part 3!

Traveling TedNo Gravatar May 13, 2011 at 10:46 AM

Awesome reporting. Looks like a great festival.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 15, 2011 at 2:17 PM

Thanks Ted – it’s a really, really good time.

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