Celtic Connections review: Shetland 550: Norn Voices, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

At this celebration of the 550th anniversary of Shetland becoming part of Scotland, things got a bit boisterous when the performers were joined on stage by 50 Vikings, writes Jim Gilchrist

Fiddler's Bid PIC: Kris Kesiak
Fiddler's Bid PIC: Kris Kesiak

Shetland 550: Norn Voices, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

“The auld eens are the best eens,” declared Christ Stout, of that fearsome stringed entity that is Fiddlers’ Bid, following a well received set of fast flying reels, as the Shetland octet and their guests celebrated next month’s 550th anniversary of Shetland becoming part of Scotland.

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In an often exuberant celebration, however, it wasn’t all take-no-prisoners playing and it wasn’t exclusively auld.

There was, for instance, harpist Catriona McKay’s Swan LK243, its gentle drift, inspired by a memorable voyage on a sailing vessel, aided by cellist Abby Hayward, while another renowned fiddler, Catriona MacDonald, joined the band, cross-tuned strings echoing the islands’ Scandinavian heritage, and leading the stately Michael’s Mazurka, fondly commemorating an early Bid member, Michael Ferrie.

There was Nordic country and western from Freda Leask, and a rockabilly accompaniment to singer-songwriter and pianist Jenny Napier Keldie’s Run Rabbit. Orcadian and honorary Shetlander Kris Drever delivered a hoary South Ronaldsay whaling song, partnered neatly on fiddle by Kevin Henderson.

The inventive Fair Isle composer and instrumentalist Inge Thomson played an atmospheric piece inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, using electronically looped flute, and chanted an eerie if incomprehensible song, Myrkabrod Mynta, in “the dead language ofNorn”.

There was also the richly textured Shetlandic of Isle Sang, a poem written for the occasion by Christie Williamson, followed by a limpid harp meditation, and a striking colloquy between old and new with Stout and McKay joining saxophonist Norman Willmore in the iconic air Da Day Dawn, sax calling fiercely over flurries of fiddle and harp.

Things became boisterous when they were joined by some 30 “Vikings” (and Vikingesses) who had been parading outside.

Cue much yelling, axe-waving and a mighty chorus of the Unst Boat Song, an island anthem from time out of mind.

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