Review: The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc @ Kingskerswell Parish Church (Kingskerswell, South Devon, 24th April 2016)

It was with a great sense of anticipation that we stepped up the front path and entered a beautiful and ancient Devon church to listen to the Nordic Fiddlers Bloc – and what a fabulous evening’s entertainment they presented! The magical surroundings of the venue, perfect acoustics and the warm atmosphere of World Unlimited’s event (complete with bizarre projections and old-fashioned tea and cakes) made this a memorable evening for audience and musicians alike.

Kevin Henderson, demonstrating the notoriously buoyant Shetland fiddle style was the front man on this tour as the group set off to promote their new album Deliverance released on 1st April in the UK. On octave violin and hardanger (the national instrument of Norway) we had the rather taciturn Olav Luksengård Mjelva, and with some solid supporting work on viola and classic Swedish fiddling was the dependable Anders Hall from – yes, Sweden!

The show got off to a flying start as each fiddler took his turn to present a musical piece from his own tradition, uniquely arranged for the group. Although all three members of the band are (obviously) fiddlers, they couldn’t be more different both in personality and in musical style. The arrangements were a delight of constantly shifting textures. Polskas from obscure villages, Shetland jigs and reels and Norwegian springars and hallings poured from the bows of Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, with punchy chordal arrangements and sparkling string effects in abundance. Much of the material, (such as the achingly sonorous ‘Da Greenland Man’s Tune’) tells of the seafaring nature of their shared North-Atlantic cultures, while catchy tunes like ‘Sangenuten’ stuck in the head for days afterwards. Harmonics, underlying pizzicato passages, bassy drones and resonant atmospheres were woven around the tunes – the quality and variety of sounds was astonishing as the hardanger, octave violin and viola supplied every kind of stringy texture.

The link between the Vikings and Shetland is well known, with the Shetland dialect still containing many Norse words, and the connection between these players and their respective fiddling traditions came across as warm and genuine. The audience was entertained with the kind of dry banter you only get with touring musicians who have been in each other’s company for a long while. Musical references ranged through past conflicts between Norway and Sweden to bird-watching, and we were even treated to a demonstration of a traditional dance by two members of the group – banned because of its ‘intimate’ nature by the Swedish religious authorities.

After a show that showcased material from the Nordic Fiddlers Bloc’s new release and their 2011 album (Nordic Fiddlers Bloc) the band was enthusiastically called back for two encores, demonstrating the delight with which these three master-musicians were received. Credit for this hugely enjoyable event is also due to the promoters World Unlimited, and hopefully Nordic Fiddlers Bloc will be back in England in the not-too-distant future for some more top-notch traditional string playing from Northern Europe.