Music review: Wee Solas Festival, Scone Palace

Suzanne Butler and Rachel Sermanni helped make the Wee Solas Festival a success in spite of the weather, writes David Pollock

Suzanne Butler

Wee Solas Festival, Scone Palace ****

The race to be Scotland’s first festival-in-a-field to return was won over the weekend by Perth’s Solas, which has downgraded this year to just 200 people per day in a corner of the grounds of Scone Palace. But it was more than enough to feel like the real thing, despite the return of festival rain as an accompaniment.

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On Saturday, performances included singer-songwriter Djana Gabrielle and a heartening show from the Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra, a nine-piece group led by Suleman “Chief” Chebe and Lene De Montaigu. Their sound is built around the jang-da, a traditional Ghanaian xylophone which went very well with the funk and Afrobeat influences in the group’s music.

The child-friendliness of Leith’s Think Circus was a welcome distraction for kids, with some main stage hula hoop-juggling and roaming stilt-walking later on, while poet Sean Wai Keung’s readings were a perfect accompaniment to dinner from the onsite bus selling Mexican food. Words from his collection Sikfan Glaschu took a form closer to spoken word micro-stories, joining the dots in poignant and insightful style between food and migration, taking inspiration from his own family’s move to the UK from Hong Kong and their livelihood in Chinese takeaways.

East Lothian singer and violinist Suzanne Butler showcased an extraordinarily clear and tender singing voice, playing songs from last year’s debut album Be Your Own Man. Highlights of her set included Grey Summer Garden, inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s poem Idyll, and Altered Book, about the physical connection between reading and trees. There was also a delicate and faithful cover of Judee Sill’s The Kiss.

Formed while they were at Glasgow Gaelic School, DLÚ (the name is a stylised take on the Scots Gaelic word dlúth, meaning “closely connected”) describe themselves as a trad-fusion band, which was perhaps fair warning that their enthusiastic and well-crafted Scottish folk compositions might be waylaid at any point by a car-chase jazz-funk interlude. In certain circumstances that might have come across as a wee bit musically self-indulgent, but given that it was chucking it down during their set, and accordionist Zach Ronan did a great job of keeping the “real troopers” who remained in the crowd upbeat, this promising young group could have been forgiven almost anything.

The relentless drizzle slimmed the crowd for Rachel Sermanni’s headline solo acoustic set. She started with Breathe Easy and dedicated the uncertain Maybe Not to her own feelings about gigging while no-one was able to. She sang songs asking whether she should become a nun, and about the experience of finding out she was pregnant in a toilet at Waverley Station, and stepped down amid the audience to lead them in a singalong of Dream A Little Dream Of Me. By now the skies had cleared, the air was cool and fresh, and the hardy souls who remained were rewarded with the alignment of music, weather and surrounding scenery in a way which couldn’t have been more beautiful had it been planned.

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