Well it’s been almost 48 hours since I returned from Glasgow and the epic festival that is Celtic Connections, and although my head is still swimming and my body is suffering from too may late nights in the festival club, I thought it was time to share with you some of the highlights.
I feel that I should preface this blog by saying that I could fill a magazine with what I saw at Celtic. The wealth of talent on is simply astounding (2,100 musicians, 300 events, 20 venues over 18 days. Seriously) and the sheer quality of each and every act is just as impressive. I can say, hand on heart, that I didn’t witness a dud set. But perhaps I was just lucky (or make impeccable choices…).
My ‘gig’ based highlights included the Cecil Sharp Project, whose album I have adored since it landed here in the office. But this was my first experience of seeing them live and hearing the explanations – sometime hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking – behind each song really did bring them to life. Leonard Podolak was as crazy as I could have ever wished, donning a leather jacket and sunglasses and clucking his way around the stage during ‘Veggie in a Holler’ and although they all sounded wonderful, I was very much taken aback by the beauty of Jackie Oates’ voice. The image of the eight of them morris dancing at the end will stay with me a long, long time (round of applause for the brave Scot of the group, Patsy Reid).
Thursday night took me to the basement of Oran Mor – a converted church in the West End of Glasgow – to see CW Stoneking, who was supported by new alt country Canadian band, New Country Rehab. CW himself describes his music as “calypsonian blues, hokum and jungle music,” which says as much about his eclectic style as it does his unique stage persona. The crowd adored the slightly odd, straight-faced, Australian banjo player and joined in with gusto during the finale, ‘Lion Talkin’ Blues’.
Friday was a more sedate but equally as haunting experience at the city’s Mitchell Library where the beautiful – and heavily pregnant – Julie Fowlis was playing. During this special performance, Julie and her band performed her Bals 2011 commission, Heisgeir. The unique musical work consists of a documentary on the stunning Heisgeir (an island group west of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides) and was shown while Julie and her band played Gaelic songs from behind the screen.
Saturday saw the Sweetback Sisters rock the Arches with their country, Western swing and honky-tonk tunes [see a full review in You Should Have Been There section in the next issue of the mag, #83]. It was actually during their sound check (where I was hanging about waiting for an interview – keep your eyes peeled for this next week) that I discovered I Draw Slow, whose Irish fused Americana music I have been listening to ever since.
And then, before I knew it, it was Sunday. Which brought two more awesome musical discoveries. The first was a gorgeous lunch-time set by Laura Beth Salter, co-founder of all-female sextet The Shee, who was taking part in a New Voices session. Salter played a bluegrass-tinged set on the mandolin and sang, for the first time, her self-penned songs (accompanied by The Cecil Sharp Project’s Patsy Reid and a handful of other musicians).
And then that evening, right about the time I thought I was drained of all energy, I found myself back at Oran Mor to see a band who have been on my radar for a while – Manran.
These six young Scottish lads are doing for Scottish trad music what Mumford did for English folk by reinvigorating it and re-introducing it a younger audience –blending rock guitar and drums with fiddles, flutes, Irish and Scottish bagpipes (bagpipes!) and often Gaelic lyrics.
But to imply that Celtic Connections is just about these larger venue gigs is under-selling it massively and missing on some of the spectacular (and late night) aspects of the festival. But I have made the decision that this merits a blog of its own… Stay tuned as there’s more to come.