Guitarist/button accordionist Tim Edey is a disconcerting kind of showman.
There's no questioning his virtuosity on both instruments: his fingers fly about with flare and formidable precision, lacing classic riffs with bouts of blithe chromaticism and always keeping his tone super-sweet. With guitarist Pete Gazey providing sturdy, stylish backing, Edey's easy-on-the-ear self-penned tunes and traditional numbers from France, Shetland, Ireland and England made for a smooth and upbeat set. What bothered me were the musical gimmicks – a joke ending here, a cheeky minor/major shift there – that cheapened the real substance of his musicality. The dexterity was always dazzling, but the constant musical wisecracking wore thin. Most striking were the few slow and simple numbers, including a beautiful rendition of the Irish air Easter Snow.
The evening opened with equal levels of virtuosity from the long-standing duo of Shetland fiddler Chris Stout and Glasgow piper Finlay MacDonald. Their acoustic set (the Art Club is easily intimate enough, so why do so many performers here use amplification?) was a knock-out. Robust, fiercely driven, exquisitely honed, this was playing that distilled all its rugged energy and lyricism to thrilling essentials.
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The sound of the duo is unique: Stout's full-armed, heavy bow strokes produce a hearty timbre from the bottom of his fiddle, while MacDonald spurs him on with muscular, piercing finger work. With tunes of the calibre of Stout's Dull and Boring – named after the twin towns and anything but – and MacDonald's foot-stomping Mr and Mrs McNabb of Tarbert, this set felt all too short.