Halfway through their electrifying set at the Assembly Rooms, VAMM paused to tell us that their name is an old Shetlandic word meaning ‘to bewitch or entrance’. Sure enough, even by this point we had all been completely beguiled by this charming trio and their innovative brand of folk with a flourish.
VAMM is Patsy Reid (fiddle, viola), Catriona McDonald (fiddle) and Marit Fält (låtmandola), all established musicians and veterans of other groups who have come together to unite their diverse influences and styles, creating an intriguing and powerful sound. The trio play a mix of traditional and contemporary songs, including works by composers such as Jim Sutherland, from a range of different cultures, but have only one strict rule – it must be a good tune. Indeed there were plenty of these on show this evening.
VAMM, all three appropriately glam for the ballroom setting, began with ‘The Duchess’, a delicate yet intricate number that only hinted at the outstanding musicianship each would display over the course of the set. Next up was ‘Castle Grant’, introduced by a story about their recent trip to said castle, which they had found to be utterly dour but nevertheless inspired a decent tune. The often humorous storytelling was a welcome feature of the evening as each proved to be a gregarious presence, comfortably engaging with the audience in between songs. This was especially apparent before ‘The Ostrich’ when they enlightened us of the correct sound the bird makes before launching into a striking rendition of Sutherland’s reel.
The group’s Scandinavian inflections came to the fore on ‘Felgubben’ and ‘Lurkas’, allowing Fält to demonstrate the full range of her curious instrument, a type of mandola “with an added bass string and some extras” that provides the group’s grounding power. Both tunes were intriguing and deeply textured, though the latter waltz was somewhat ponderous, particulary after the wonderful, anthemic ‘Prospect Road’ that had preceded it.
The show had a fittingly barnstorming conclusion with three rousing jigs, the last of which, ‘The Winning Ticket’, was an apt description of the night as a whole. This trio blends their diverse influences seamlessly with a great deal of panache and impressive instrumental skills to create an enthralling and forceful sound.