Shetland Folk Festival fans can now start getting into a listening frenzy and counting down the days till 2nd May and the 39th Festival as organisers launch this year’s visiting artists line-up.
The 39th Festival will feature visiting musicians from over ten countries and spanning various genres. As in previous years there will be a combination of new and upcoming acts as well as some familiar favourites and legendary guests from previous years.
Locals will be delighted to see the return of outrageously talented multi- instrumentalists, JP Cormier (CB, Canada) and Tim Edey (UK). Both have been recipients of great acclaim and countless awards in their careers, whether performing in other guises or solo. Cormier has legendary status in the isles and beyond through his three previous Shetland visits while Edey is also a firm Shetland favourite and picked up various Radio 2 Folk Awards since last playing here. Last year they released their first album together ‘Once’ (each track recorded in one take) and it has proved too much to resist for festival organisers not to have them back together after their storming guitar collaborations last time they were here in 2012. Both will also perform solo sets during the weekend too.
Other returning favourites from previous years include, Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra and Scottish indie-trad stars, Elephant Sessions who last appeared in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Since their last appearances at the festival, both these acts have scooped up various awards with The Tea Pads recognised as ‘UK Americana Band of the Year’ with their combination of western swing, gypsy jazz, hokum blues, ragtime, cajun and country roots and Elephant Sessions awarded ‘Best Live Act’ and ‘Album of the Year’ at the Scottish Trad Awards with their blistering and spret-inducing take on Highland folk music.
As in previous years, there will be the cream of Scottish trad talent making their festival debuts. Highlands and Islands supergroup, Blazin’ Fiddles (whose members include founding member, Bruce Macgregor, Shetland’s Jenna Reid and Orkney’s Kristan Harvey) celebrated their 20th anniversary last year and are regarded as one of the world’s best exponents of Scottish Fiddle. Regional airline Loganair are supporting the band’s first ever appearance at the Shetland Folk Festival, although act members are certainly no strangers to Shetland audiences.
Josie Duncan (Isle of Lewis) & Pablo Lafuente (Spain) picked up a Radio 2 Young Folk award in 2017 and are known for contemporary and traditional Scots and Gaelic songs. They will be taking an extended line-up with them for Shetland (including former Young Trad winner, Charlie Stewart on strings and acclaimed percussionist, Signy Jakobsdottir) while Glasgow based, Kinnaris Quintet are regarded as one of the most invigorating bands to come out of the Trad scene for many years with a dynamic sound flavoured by Celtic, Scandinavian, American and classical influences. Jenn Butterworth & Laura Beth Salter from the quintet will also perform as a duo with mandolin and guitar-led tunes and heart-rending songs and melodies.
It wouldn’t be the Shetland Folk Festival without a strong Transatlantic influence and North American acts are well represented in 2019 with Montreal’s Kaia Kater making her first trip here after stealing hearts at last year’s Cambridge Folk Festival and Celtic Connections. Her old-time banjo-picking skills, jazz-fuelled voice and deft song craft have landed her in the spotlight in North America and the UK with some people regarding her as a suitable heir to legendary Rhiannon Giddens. Another Canadian act, Juno award winning duo, Pharis and Jason Romero are also bound to have audiences moved with beautiful harmonies and old-time tunes. Hailing from British Columbia, their latest album release (their first made up entirely of original songs) earned Pharis the title of ‘Traditional Singer of the Year’ at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, and the duo the title of ‘Vocal Group of the Year’. Another act from across the Atlantic that will have people stomping their feet in appreciation are French-Canadian trio, Bon Débarras who are sure to entertain with their rollicking Quebecois tunes and songs with a twist.
American singer-songwriter, May Erlewine is also making her mark on the UK with upcoming appearances due at Celtic Connections later this month. Some locals will be familiar with her work if not her voice as she is also a bandmate of Lindsay Lou in the Sweet Water Warblers, who has also recorded some of her songs. Known as the ‘Michigan Songbird’ in her home, she is strongly influenced by country, folk roots, old time country swing, soul and rock and roll.
Northern Ireland’s Connla are another band to look out for with their own brand of contemporary and traditional tunes. Hailing from Armagh and Derry, the five members have been gaining admirers from both sides of the Atlantic. They were crowned ‘Best New Group’ in the Live Ireland Awards in 2016, and also carried off the trophy for Best Vocal/Instrumental Album of the Year too.
This year also features a strong presence from mainland Europe with legendary Galician piper Anxo Lorenzo bringing his trio to the Isles. Lorenzo is regarded as one of Europe’s virtuoso pipers and trades tunes and styles with a broad array of alternative music styles such as rock, pop, jazz, flamenco, chill-out and hip hop. French quartet, Les Fils Canouche are making their UK debut bringing their strong gypsy-jazz and swing influence to Shetland combining bass clarinet, soaring accordion, wild rhythmic guitar and double bass with more than a passing nod to the legendary Django Reinhardt.
World music fans will enjoy the eclectic genre spanning 5-piece, Kabantu, who feature members from across the UK and South Africa and with styles ranging from classical to samba (via celtic reels) while UK based Bluegrass trio, Jaywalkers, are guaranteed to go down well with powerhouse bass, flame-fingered mandolin, blistering fiddle and three-part harmonies.
Alongside the visiting artists, over a hundred local musicians and dozens of local acts will also perform over the festival weekend. The final programme (including local acts) will be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Festival Head of Programming, Mhari McLeman is confident this line-up will satisfy Shetland audience: “Every year, we try and bring an eclectic and diverse range of styles and musicians up here and we hope festival goers like what they hear. While we pride ourselves on breaking brand new bands to Shetland audiences, it’s also lovely to see returning faces and we also can’t wait to show off our local talent alongside these celebrated international acts.”
With the festival soon coming into its 5th decade and as popular as ever, the committee are confident of keeping up a quality lineup in future years despite continuing cuts in public funding and the uncertainty that Brexit is bringing to all festivals across the UK.
McLeman adds: “Like many other organisations who are working with international artists, we will need to keep an eye on the current political situation and what implications will be for movement of musicians and the strength of the pound – all of this has a bearing on what we can bring to Shetland. However, we are grateful to all our volunteers, sponsors and committee members who continue to work together to make the event what it is.”
The festival runs from 2nd – 5th May 2019 and early festival membership goes on sale on 1st February for that month only. Early members will be able to buy tickets from Monday 18th March, while everyone else must wait until general ticket release and memberships going back on sale the 1st April.
More information about the event and this year’s acts is available at www.shetlandfolkfestival.com