This is my review of the new download-only EP by top Shetland trio Kollifirbolli. if you like fiddle music. you'll love this. Available on iTunes for just £3.95:
Kollifirbolli: The Loveliest New Version of a Favourite Style.
Croft Records – digital download only. Available on iTunes
Topsy-turvy. Upside down and round the wrong way. In a state of pleasantly chaotic discombobulation. That's roughly what 'Kollifirbolli' means. And one might accuse the three lasses who make up the band of that name to have gotten things a little mixed up:
I mean, first of all this is an EP (stands for 'Extended Play' by the way; used to refer to quaint things called 'singles' which had two sides and were pressed on black plastic; there was this vibrating needle thing that...oh, never mind). Who issues EPs these days? Answer: all the seriously cool folks who understand that introducing yourself by way of a long, long CD or 'album' (took its name from sheet music, but that's another story) is too time-consuming in this digitised age.
Speaking of digital, what's going on? The Loveliest New Version of a Favourite Style (great title, wonderful cover concept; knitting is the new Playstation – no hacking) is only available as a digital download via iTunes, streamed on Myspace, or maybe on Spotify sometime soon. If you don't know what any of these things are, ask someone wearing a hoodie. Not a hi-viz one.
There's a good reason for all this. The whole auditory escapade is a final year project for commercial music student Karlyn Grains, and it's a fascinating experiment which should give some very interesting indicators for the marketing of specialist music in the digital environment. Is there a local market for music you can only listen to on your phone, computer, iPad or iPod? Of course you could burn it to a CD. But that would be illegal; at least after the first 100 or so...
My own feeling is that issuing this on CD would open up the - fairly conservative, small 'c' - local market and that digital downloads have to be linked to attractive real-world 'souvenirs' – limited edition vinyl pressings, hand-painted covers, bits of Fair Isle knitting, you name it. But all of that is assuming the music is worth listening to in the first place.
Ah yes, the music. Kollifirbolli – Astryd Jamieson (piano, concertina) Kaela Jamieson and Mary Rutherford (fiddles) are young stars of the local scene, and have been for some time. They are, individually, brilliant players. Together though, they possess a carefree magic that has both the casual, intuitive swing and fastidious attention to detail that hallmarks the best of Shetland music. Astryd's piano playing is both rhythmically rock solid and melodically inventive, while the two fiddles intertwine, soar and whisper in ways that can move both your feet and your soul.
The occasional bass and guitar of John o' da Burns add weight and colour, but apparent simplicity is the key to production, if not arrangements. The girls dig deep into the tunes to find some novel approaches and unexpected twists. Above all, the sprightliness, insight and energy cannot be contained. The final three tunes – Joe the Jigger, Snookered and Mary Rutherford's own Mavis's Farewell to Gletness are classy and powerful, but it's the harnessing of technique to emotion, the telling of tuneful stories that really impresses.
Ronnie Jamieson's classic air Aald Noost is wonderfully interpreted. Kaela and Astryd's dad must be proud. As must their mum, Debbie Scott, when Ronnie's Da Day Dawn – tackled with an intensity of purpose and focus which fair takes the breath away – segues into Debbie's own Medoc.
And suddenly I'm back in the pre-digital days, recording a blue-haired Debbie in Kenny Johnson's old shop in Harrison Square, hearing Medoc for the first time as we tried again and again to get a decent sound on a cheap Tascam Portastudio, recording what would be part of the Shetland Calling cassette compilation (The New Sound of Young Shetland). 1988. Twenty-three years ago. Cassettes? Oh, they were...terrible things that kept breaking.
Back to today, or tomorrow. Kollifirbolli's The Loveliest New Version...was recorded by Marvin Smith using state of the art digital thingummybobs, and is now available for you to pluck pristine from the ether, digitally, using the internet equivalent of money. I heartily commend it to you, because no matter how you hear it – on an iPhone or a phonograph, great music is great music. And that's what this is.
Shetland Times, 6 May 2011