SHOUTING ABOUT SPECIALIST MUSIC
A selection of Festival Highlights. Full track samples inside.
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The recession may have decimated a lot of festivals over the last year or so but not Celtic Connections, Glasgow’s annual gathering of the clans. Now in its 16th year, the festival is well established both as an exciting launchpad for the new musical year and as a colourful benchmark for the future. With a famously enterprising booking policy, it has boldly expanded its initially modest presentation of folk and traditional concerts at the Royal Concert Hall to encompass a gene pool of intriguingly varied roots and cultures involving over 300 acts performing all over the city. “I was really worried last year about the recession, but in the end it was all fine,” says Donald Shaw (he of Capercaillie), now in his fourth year as musical director. “In the 30s’ Great Depression in America people flocked to the cinema and in Glasgow at least the last thing they seem to stop buying is concert tickets. They need their musical fix!” Shaw certainly goes the extra mile to provide it for them. While the headline acts include big names like Ry Cooder and the Chieftains, Natalie Merchant and Bobby McFerrin, some of the best music is often found in after-hours sessions and the impromptu collaborations which are the essence of Celtic Connections’ appeal. “A lot of the initiatives come from the artists themselves,” says Shaw proudly. “They have a great sense of ambition about trying different things and a lot of the time these collaborations are put on a plate. They say ‘Can you facilitate this crazy idea?’ and usually we do! I enjoy the challenge of staging the unusual and people expect it now. I think audiences are almost disappointed if they go to see someone at Celtic Connections and they just play their normal set.” This year one of the must-see events features the great Scottish singer Dick Gaughan, a stalwart of the festival for the last 15 years. “I asked him what he wanted to do this year and he said ‘I wanna go reggae!’” laughs Shaw. Gaughan’s show is being tagged Dick Goes Dub, with Canadian reggae man Jason Wilson, Aswad’s Brinsley Forde, Jamaica’s Fab 5 and Dave Swarbrick all skanking along with him.
There’s also a strong Nordic tone to the 2010 event with plenty of showcases demonstrating the close links between Celtic and Norwegian music. Scots fiddler Duncan Chisholm plays with Norse duo Skaídi, Irish flautist Nuala Kennedy shares concert time with young Norwegian band Majorstuen, Scots fiddler Sarah-Jane Summers will play Norwegian Hardanger style and sax player Jan Garbarek also guests. In addition to joining the magnificent Diana Jones on stage, Karine Polwart will be performing a special concert called ‘A Scottish Songbook’ incorporating 100 years of Scottish song from traditional classics to more modern material, likely to encompass the likes of Blue Nile and the Associates. Martin Simpson, Tim O’Brien and Eddi Reader are among those joining legendary ex-Pentangle double bass player Danny Thompson celebrating his long career; and Thompson pops up again with Robyn Hitchcock, Green Gartside, Vashti Bunyan and various others in a celebration – 25 years after his death - of the work of Nick Drake. Then there’s the dizzying prospect of sensational Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu linking up with jazz sax man Jan Garbarek and Scotland’s own free-thinking forces of nature, Lau. “I can’t wait for that one,” says Shaw. “The collaborative things are so exciting, and these are incredibly diverse musicians. But Trilok Gurtu loves to experiment and really wants to engage with Scottish music. I mentioned it to Aidan O’Rourke (of Lau) and it turns out he’s a big fan of Trilok’s and can’t wait to play alongside him. “Scottish music has had a big roots revival in the last 20 years and there’s an incredible wealth of musicians emerging, partly as a result of traditional music courses. But they’re not just programmed to play tunes on the fiddle or whatever in a certain way, they’re aware of so many other cultures and the background to the music. They’re soaking it up and using the ideas to come up with some incredible stuff. The whole scene is very healthy as a result.” Colin Irwin
Among this year’s highlights…
An Tobar - Strathclyde Suite 19.1.10
Aidan O’Rourke is such a naturally dynamic musician, he must surely have been born with a fiddle attached to his arm. Primarily known now as one third of the extraordinary Lau – Best Group at the BBC Folk Awards for the last two years – the Oban man has played in a myriad of bands, in a myriad of styles, since he was first spotted as a 15-year-old playing at a party in Fort William. He was duly invited to spend his school holidays touring America with the Caledonia Ramblers. Since then he’s played on over 60 albums, been a key member of Blazin’ Fiddles and slotted in easily with the improvised jazz musicians encountered on the Edinburgh session scene. His Celtic Connections show – also featuring pianist Dave Milligan and multiinstrumentalist Colin MacIntyre (of the band Mull Historical Society) – is based on the typically trailblazing fusion of Gaelic folk traditions, jazz and poetry on his brilliant 2009 album An Tobar.
ANGELIQUE KIDJO... ÕŸÖ - Old Fruitmarket 22.1.10
Described by Peter Gabriel as “a fireball”, Angelique Kidjo will fill any stage with her towering voice, big personality and sheer charisma. She arrives in Glasgow with a spectacular new album Oyo, which she describes as “the story of my childhood”, back in Ouidah on the Atlantic coast of Benin. Her influences aren’t just African, however and the album includes guest appearances by jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, American soul/jazz singers John Legend (on Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up) and Dianne Reeves (duetting on Aretha Franklin’s Baby I Love You) in addition to Otis Redding’s I’ve Got Dreams To Remember, Bollywood song Dil Main Chuppa Ke Pyar Ka. There’s also a glorious version of Petite Fleur, composed in the 1940s by New Orleans clarinettist Sidney Bechet and a cover of James Brown’s Cold Sweat. One thing you can guarantee when Angelique Kidjo is in town is that it’ll be quite a show.
Doors & Windows - Oran Mor 24.1.10 Bluegrass music from Alaska? Now, there’s a curiosity, though Bearfoot will be the first to tell you they’re far from being a traditional bluegrass band. From Anchorage, Kate Hamre (acoustic bass), Mike Mickelson (guitar), Jason Norris (mandolin), Angela Oudean (fiddle) and Californian Odessa Jourgensen (lead vocals, fiddle) have created quite a stir with their informal, unrestrained sense of joy, spreading that joy even wider on their latest album Doors & Windows, which is both rooted in history, yet sounds thoroughly modern. Weaving close harmonies through lively string arrangements, they take on music as diverse as The Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down and John Hiatt’s Before I Go, alongside some yearning new material by Odessa Jourgensen. They’re not averse, either, to a saucy blues.
BELLEVUE RENDEZVOUS... Salamander - St. Andrews In The Square 28.1.10
One group who’ll be raising eyebrows at Celtic Connections are Bellevue Rendezvous, an inventive Scottish-based trio of Gavin Marwick (fiddle), Cameron Robson (guitar, bouzouki) and Ruth Morris (nyckelharpa) plundering Europe for strange and interesting tunes. And in case you were wondering, the nyckelharpa is a traditional Swedish instrument, like a cross between a fiddle and a hurdy gurdy. Coming together in 2006 with a collective CV that encompasses some of Scotland’s most fascinating outfits – including Unusual Suspects, Cantrip, Deaf Shepherd and Iron House – they draw on music and traditions as diverse as Serbia, Macedonia, Poland, Canada, France and Finland to create the quirkily alluring instrumental interplay that will surely make their Salamander CD one of the albums of the year.
BETH NIELSEN CHAPMAN...
Back To Love - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 25.1.10
Texan singer songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman has had several traumas in her life – not least the death of her husband from cancer in 1994 and her own battles with breast cancer – which may go some way to explaining the depth of emotion in her work. A deep thinker and a committed performer whose songs have been covered by the likes of Elton John, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Bette Midler, she’s never been afraid to take chances – her 2007 double album Prism was a mesmerising kaleidoscope of musical styles, cultures, spirituality and languages, from Welsh to Farsi. Her new album Back To Love finds her returning to the classy country-tinged songs that made her name in the first place.
Under The Counter - City Halls Recital Room 16.1.10 Assembled by musicians from some of the most remote areas of Scotland, Bodega have made a big impact at both of the last two Celtic Connections, confirming their growing reputation as one of Britain’s most exciting young bands. Merging the pipes/fiddle/whistle of Gillian Chambers from Aberdeenshire with Shetland fiddler Ross Couper, Oban guitarist and djembe player Tia Files, Skye clarsach player June Naylor and Isle of Lewis singer, guitarist and accordionist Norrie MacIver, Bodega first met as students at the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton, in the Highlands of Scotland. Completely uninhibited, their acclaimed album Under The Counter unselfconsciously mixes Gaelic song and strong traditional roots with influences ranging from jazz to funk.
God Bless The Pretty Things - The Tron Theatre 23.1.10 You don’t often see him on TV or in the charts, but few singer-songwriters command more respect from their peers than Boo Hewerdine. Not only is he surely the tallest artist at Celtic Connections this year, he’s one of the most accomplished, seemingly writing beautifully crafted, tellingly intimate, immaculately delivered songs in his sleep – talents deeply appreciated by the many singers who have covered his material, notably Eddi Reader (including the hit single Patience of Angels), Natalie Imbruglia, kd Lang and Heidi Talbot. From Cambridge, he initially made his mark with The Great Divide, going on to front the excellent band The Bible before embarking on his solo career and cementing his reputation as one of the country’s most thoughtful songwriters.
The Chair... Huinka - O2 ABC 30.1.10
They may call themselves The Chair, but nobody will be sitting around once this much-loved Orkney band push their fiddles, banjos, accordions, guitars and drums up into full gear. Originally formed in 2004 as Lazy Boy Chair, they made their name filling dance floors with what has been widely termed (especially by them) “high energy stomp” - a full-blooded mix of Orcadian, Scottish, Irish and European tunes. They launched their Huinka album at Celtic Connections and, voted Band of the Year at the 2008 Scots Trad Music Awards, they’ve been celebrating ever since, becoming firm favourites throughout Britain and Europe as a result. Their outstanding line-up includes Fionn McArthur, Brian Cromarty, Bob Gibbon and Gavin Firth but, while they’re completely at home playing traditional tunes, they have no qualms about throwing in wild doses of rock, dub and the kitchen sink; as well as some entertaining puns in their titles – The Folky Gibbon and Rhythm Impossible among them.
The Hula Valley Songbook - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 25.1.10 There may still be a few people who imagine Charlie Dore’s finest hour started and ended with her 1979 radio hit Pilot of the Airwaves. They’d be WRONG. She’s done plenty of quality work since, not least the hits she penned for Tina Turner, Celine Dion and Sheena Easton; and her self-made albums Cuckoo Hill and Sleep All Day, full of affecting reflections on the dramas of life. Her latest album The Hula Valley Songbook, however, is special again – a loving homage to the 1920s/30s music of Jimmie Rodgers, western swing pioneer Milton Brown and Al Bowlly. Her late mother played piano and accordion with the Tetherdown Night Owls in the dance band era and Charlie is joyously at home with this stuff, while throwing in a rockabilly song of her own - Cleaning Out My House - into the mix for good measure. “I was born in the wrong era,” she laughs.
Better Times Will Come - City Halls 30.1.10 In an era of collaborations and band projects, Diana Jones is something of an anomaly – a completely solo acoustic singer/guitarist who manages to grip the attention of large audiences with the simple purity of her voice, quiet natural charm and the yearning honesty of her songs rooted in the country music of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. An adopted child raised in New York, she found her musical soul after a voyage of discovery in search of her natural family led her to meet her grandfather Robert Lee Maranville, a highly-rated old time singer. It triggered her move to Nashville and a new songwriting approach directly inspired by the old mountain music. It worked. Unassuming and charismatic, with a gorgeous album Better Times Will Come preceding her, she has become the darling of British audiences over the last year.
Gaughan Live At the Trades Club - O2 ABC 23.1.10 There are no two ways about it – Dick Gaughan is a Scottish music legend. After nearly four decades as a revered figure on the British folk scene he’s lost none of the trademark caustic vocals, intricate guitar patterns or principled dedication to challenging and provocative material which has gripped audiences for so long. He’s been involved in a couple of bands along the way – notably Boys of the Lough and the electric Five Hand Reel – as well as the odd left-field project (a fascinating improvised instrumental collaboration with jazz drummer Ken Hyder) and in 1981 made one of the great Brit folk albums, Handful Of Earth. But his core strength remains as a passionate solo interpreter of both traditional and modern songs, a simple but blistering style encompassed in the mix of humour and politics on his most recent album Live At The Trades Club.
GJERMUND LARSEN TRIO... Ankomst - Old Fruitmarket 31.1.10
Geographically and culturally there has always been a strong bond between Scotland and Scandinavia and the Celtic Connections appearance of the Gjermund Larsen Trio surely threatens to be one of the highlights. The 28-year-old Larsen has long established himself as a fiddle player with an unusually delicate and subtle touch, with a shed full of awards to underline the esteem in which he’s held back home in Norway. He brings to Glasgow not only a glorious range of tunes and influences, but his award-winning trio with Andreas Utnem playing harmonium and Sondre Meisfjord on double bass. Their 2008 album Check In won a Norwegian Grammy and their new one Ankomst may well seduce the wider world.
In Love & Light - Strathclyde Suite 20.1.10 From the village of Kill in Co. Kildare, Heidi Talbot was 18 when she flew to New York with her brother for a summer holiday. She ended up staying for five years, singing with an Irish bar band before joining the honourable list of singers and musicians who have graced the top-rated Irish-American band Cherish The Ladies. After lots of adventures she decided to leave at the end of 2007 to return to Ireland and launch her solo career. The result was the sumptuous Love & Light album, debuted at Celtic Connections in 2008, which has firmly established her as one of the scene’s most accomplished and varied singers. Now re-located to Edinburgh with her partner John McCusker, she has become an integral ingredient of the Scottish scene, and has worked with artists as varied as Eddi Reader and Radiohead’s Phil Selway.
HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN... Wishful Thinking - O2 ABC 16.1.10
Life is never dull when Hot Club Of Cowtown are around. As colourfully energetic as they’re distinctive and unusual, they were launched by singer/fiddle player Elana James, guitarist Whit Smith and upright bass player Bill Horton in Austin, Texas in 1997 as good-time jazz/western swing revivalists, mixing their own upbeat songs with classic Bob Wills and Pee Wee King material. There was a parting of the ways in 2005 – during which time Elana James toured with Bob Dylan and made a solo album – but intense demand for the Hot Club’s fast and furious frolics lured them back in 2008 with Jake Erwin in Horton’s old bass spot. They’ve broadened their original hot jazz style to encompass ballads and rock on their latest album Wishful Thinking.
The Imagined Village... Empire & Love - Old Fruitmarket 15.1.10
The name comes from a Georgina Boyes book, which Simon Emmerson of Afro Celt took as inspiration for an extraordinary project that has captured people’s imaginations in a way even he could never have envisaged. Several years in the making, the first Imagined Village album included Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, Sheila Chandra and Benjamin Zephaniah, using multi-cultural influences to reflect a modern view of English folk music far removed from the genteel imagery favoured by old folk song collectors. Few guessed, though, that it would develop such a rich life as a dramatic stage act, with a line-up built around Emmerson, Martin and Eliza Carthy, Chris Wood, Johnny Kalsi, Sheema Mukerjhee, Barney Morse Brown and Andy Gangadeen. They appear at Celtic Connections proudly launching a thrilling second album Empire & Love, further expanding the scope of Englishness. And you won’t believe your ears when you hear Martin Carthy’s version of Slade’s C’mon Feel The Noize…
JUSTIN ADAMS & JULDEH CAMARA...
Tell No Lies - Old Fruitmarket 21.1.10
Celtic Connections has always championed left-field experiments and multi-cultural fusions, so Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara should feel extremely at home. It’s an inspired alliance: Adams is one of Britain’s most visionary rock guitarists and producers, emerging from various punk bands and travels through the Middle East and North Africa to work with the likes of Robert Plant, Brian Eno, Jah Wobble and Saharan desert blues heroes Tinariwen. And Camara is a Gambian griot and master musician, regarded as the world’s greatest exponent of the ritti, a one-string spike fiddle. Their unlikely partnership began after Juldeh heard an Adams solo album and, recognising a kindred spirit, got in touch. They instantly found common ground, inspiring one another to create the gorgeous blend that has made their collaborative Tell No Lies album – roots and attitude, grit and beauty in equal measure - so refreshingly exhilarating.
Karan Casey & John Doyle...
Exiles Return - Strathclyde Suite 16.1.10
As founding members of the top Irish-American band Solas, the deeply emotive singer Karan Casey and intuitive guitarist John Doyle have long been held in the highest esteem by the folk cognoscenti. Yet it would be a grave mistake to assume their horizons are limited to folk song. The first songs Karan sang back home in Co. Waterford were those she heard by Ella Fitzgerald and she went on to study classical music and sing in a jazz band and it was only when she arrived in New York (to study jazz!) that she was re-acquainted with Irish traditional music and hooked up with Solas. Now living in Cork, she’s been solo for nearly a decade, drawing no distinctions between musical genres in her quest for a telling melody and a potent, often political, lyric. News Of Exiles Return, her collaboration with John Doyle has aroused great anticipation.
Kris Drever... Live - Old Fruitmarket 29.1.10
Few have achieved so much in such a relatively short time as Kris Drever. The son of Celtic folk-rock band Wolfstone’s former front man, Ivan Drever, Kris was brought up in Orkney where – he admits with a little too much glee – he was a big fan of heavy metal bands Pantera and Metallica. Luckily, a move to Edinburgh sucked him into the traditional session scene, emerging to add his intelligent guitar accompaniments and warm vocal style to Aidan O’Rourke’s fiddle and Martin Green’s magic squeeze box in the band Lau. Over the last couple of years Lau seem to have been the busiest band on the planet, yet the personable Mr Drever has still found time to launch another touring/recording project with John McCusker and Roddy Woomble and release a couple of solo albums, the acclaimed Blackwater and, now, his Live collection, which is launched at Celtic Connections.
Le Vent du Nord... La Part Du Feu - Strathclyde Suite 28.1.10
If there’s one thing guaranteed to get a party jumping it’s a hearty burst of rollicking good Quebecois music… and they don’t come more rollicking than the magnificent Le Vent Du Nord. Stomping feet, flying fiddle, dancing accordion, great songs and a thumping good-time feel both for band and their audience. That’s what you get from Le Vent Du Nord (it means Northern Wind), who first assembled in Vancouver in 2002 and currently feature Simon Beaudry (vocals, guitar, bouzouki), Réjean Brunet (vocals, accordion, bass), Nicolas Boulerice (vocals, hurdy gurdy, piano) and Olivier Demers (vocals, fiddle, foot-stomping!) Their latest album La Part du Feu is a particular cracker: a Montreal brass ensemble joins in the fun as the band delve deep into their French-Canadian roots – Montcalm was written in a tent by a soldier in 1758 as a victory epistle after the Battle of Carillon – to march confidently into the future.
The Greentrax Years - Strathclyde Suite 25.1.10 The McCalmans are probably of that age now where they can justifiably be referred to as legends. Formed in 1964, their closely knit harmonies and bold song choices provide a link with earlier times when folk music was less well served by festivals, media, venues or audiences and every artist had to fight their corner. A lot fell by the wayside in the process but, with professionalism, dedication and careful attention to the quality of their material and performance, the McCalmans mastered the tricky knack of appealing to both specialist folk and mainstream audiences. Edinburgh’s Ian McCalman is the one remaining original and, now flanked by Nick Keir and Stephen Quigg, even he’s threatening to retire at the end of 2010. In the meantime there’s a new double compilation album The Greentrax Years to remind us (and them) of what brought them here.
No Fool For Trying - City Halls Recital Rooms 31.1.10 They come from Canada, but Madison Violet’s Scottish heritage will ensure they receive a warm welcome in Glasgow. Lisa McIsaac is from Creignish, Nova Scotia and, like her famous extrovert brother Ashley McIsaac, a brilliant fiddle player steeped in Scottish culture. Her partner Brenley MacEachern from Kincardane, Ontario, is no slouch, either, on a variety of instruments. They discovered they were kindred spirits after winding up together in trip-hop band called Zoebliss and decided to embark on folkier adventures, originally as Madviolet but changing it to Madison Violet because everyone assumed they’d be a punk band. Their new album No Fool For Trying, their third, admirably showcases the thoughtful, sensitive songs and tender, melancholic vocals which get reviewers pulling their hair out wondering how to classify them, but which Lisa McIsaac describes as “rootsy Americana loaded with harmonies”.
Martin Simpson... True Stories - Oran Mor 29.1.10
Martin Simpson’s star just gets brighter and brighter. He’s long been acclaimed as one of Britain’s most inspirational guitarists and banjo players, equally at home and adept playing and singing a dramatic traditional ballad as he is getting down and dirty with a stomping blues. Yet since his return to the UK after a long sojourn living in the States, he seems to have upped his game several notches and is currently making the best music of his life. Having added expert songwriting to his already considerable armoury, his Prodigal Son album cleaned up at the 2008 BBC Folk Awards and people openly said he could never hope to match it. Simpson’s response? True Stories, a blistering mix of traditional folk, blues and his own material, including contributions from BJ Cole, Andy Cutting, Jon Boden and Phil Selway of Radiohead, which was nominated for a record six gongs at the 2010 Awards.
Peatbog Faeries... Live - Old Fruitmarket 31.1.10
Astonishingly they’ve been at it for over two decades now, but with each outing Peatbog Faeries feel like the bold new band on the block, constantly steamrollering musical barriers with their intuitive and occasionally eccentric fusions, mixing electronica and programmed effects with virtuoso playing in a traditional style. Originally formed in the Isle of Skye in 1994, they make genres irrelevant, incorporating jazz, rock, blues, African music and folk in a line-up that includes the brilliant bagpipe playing of Peter Morrison, the flying fiddles of Adam Sutherland and Peter Tickell, founder Innes Hutton on bass and percussion and a healthy dose of brass (provided by the Wayward Boys) to boot. They seem to be nominated every year as best live act at the Scottish Traditional Music Awards and for several clues why, try out their Live album, including the amazing 18-minute Dancing Feet Set.
Karine Polwart... This Earthly Spell - City Halls 30.1.10
The blessed Karine Polwart leads A Scottish Songbook, one of the key Royal Concert Hall events at this year’s festival, dedicated to Scotland’s great song heritage. As one of the finest songwriters of the last decade, Karine is ideally placed to assemble some of the most striking Scottish songs…and deliver them in her own enriching, highly distinctive manner. “She’s so passionate about song and there’s a real sense of her own songs being ‘in the tradition’,” says Donald Shaw. Formerly a member of Malinky, she’s proved many times she’s a brilliant interpreter of traditional song and took a big gamble when she left the band to concentrate on her own material. Numerous awards from both sides of the border confirm the wisdom of that decision, as does a listen to her outstanding current album This Earthly Spell, which mixes potent political comment with the tender observations of a new mother.
Yellow Like Sunshine - St. Andrews In The Square 17.1.10 Unbelievably it’s almost two decades since harpists Mary Macmaster and Patsy Seddon – then performing as the duo Sileas – first launched The Poozies with guitarist/singer Sally Barker and piano accordion queen Karen Tweed. Some big names have been through their ranks since, including Kate Rusby, and they remain a formidably beguiling outfit with piper/accordionist Mairearad Green, fiddle singer Eilidh Shaw now alongside Macmaster, Seddon and Barker, who rejoined after a period out of the band. Their thoughtful arrangements, gorgeous harmonies and quality material blends Gaelic traditions with Americana and intricately arranged tunes has resulted in their new album Yellow Like Sunshine – it’s got a bright yellow sleeve, you can’t miss it! – receiving widespread acclaim.
Goodnight Oslo - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 20.1.10 Always determinedly individual (some might say eccentric), Robyn Hitchcock has never troubled the best-seller lists or been featured on the cover of a glossy magazine, but is still something of a cult institution. He emerged in the late 1970s as front man with the Soft Boys, before embarking on an entertainingly unpredictable solo career built around the oddball maverick songs populated by strange characters and bizarre events that have won him comparisons with everyone from John Lennon to Syd Barrett. He once named an EP Sex, Food, Death And Tarantulas, in recognition of the primary subjects of his songs. His latest opus Goodnight Oslo finds him blending his surreal narratives with some lovely jingly-jangly pop in the rarefied company of Peter Buck, Bill Rieflin and Scott McCaughey – a handy helping of R.E.M right there – operating for this project as the Venus 3.
Rupa & The April Fishes... Este Mundo - Old Fruitmarket 23.1.10
Try to pin Rupa & the April Fishes down to a specific musical style or genre and you’re likely to be waving that pin around for a very long time. Fronted by the charismatic Rupa Marya, they burst on stage in a blaze of French café music…or a flurry of frantic Latin rhythms…or a big, bold burst of cabaret…or…some sensual, smoky jazz…. or anything else that Rupa and the Fishes may have collected on their eventful route to Glasgow. Their colourful eclectism reflects the diverse cultures absorbed by Rupa in a childhood raised alternatively in San Francisco, India and Southern France by Indian parents. Music was also a big part of it, as is thrillingly evident in the multitude of styles and languages she employs to express the evocative songs and social messages on current album Este Mundo. And when she’s not playing guitar, she’s a fully qualified, practising doctor.
The Life Of Lilly - Classic Grand 16.1.10 These are golden days for the British folk scene with a plethora of outstanding young musicians seemingly emerging from all corners of the country on a regular basis. But even by the high standards we’ve come to anticipate, Ruth Notman’s emergence is particularly exciting. Her pure, arresting voice is her calling card but for a teenager to use it to deliver traditional ballads, cover versions and her own songs with such control, assurance and emotion is something to write home about. Then again, she started gigging in her home town of Nottingham at 13, was a finalist in the BBC Young Folk Awards in 2006 and her debut album Threads in 2008 won a barrage of ecstatic reviews. Her new album The Life Of Lilly is no less ambitious, with some top-notch support from the likes of Saul Rose, Hannah Edmonds, Julian Sutton, Peter Tickell, Brian Finnegan and Bella Hardy.
Cotton - O2 ABC 21.1.10
Sam Baker is like nobody else on the Celtic Connections bill this year. Or any other year. He has a growly drawl of a voice, using it to potent, bluesy effect, painting dark, charged images, delivering lyrics in bursts. A 50-something year-old from Austin, Texas, his songs reflect a life soaked by incredible experiences – not least the terrorist bomb on a train in Peru that left him permanently scarred, suffering from brain damage and tinnitus. The blast particularly affected the language centre hence his careful, halting delivery. Sam has also had to relearn the guitar left handed, his right being too mangled to do more than hold a pick. For all that, there’s beauty and redemption too in his songs and there’s plenty of light and shade on his new album Cotton, that will surely mean it comes to be recognised in time as the masterpiece it surely is.
Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away - O2 ABC 21.1.10 The onset of CDs and now downloads have all but eradicated the trusty old sleeve note. It says something about Slaid Cleeves, master song craftsman from Washington DC, that not only has he revived the honourable art of sleeve notes on his Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away… album, he’s had them written by the guru of horror novels, Stephen King. “My life would have been poorer without Slaid Cleaves…not all the good guys wear hats,” writes King, cryptically. Then again, there’s something of the novelist in Cleaves’ gritty, but majestically crafted songs with their vivid narratives and keen attention to detail. Murder, prostitution, war, religion…all human life is here.
Kalashnik Love - Old Fruitmarket 21.1.10 Glorious frenetic and trailblazingly original and daring, Speed Caravan perfectly represent Celtic Connection’s free-thinking, multi-cultural, multi-genre ideals. Mehdi Haddab plays the oud – a fretless lute that plays a big role in traditional Arabic music – but nobody’s played it like him before. Formerly with electro trio Ekova and the much-acclaimed experimental DuOud, Haddab plays an electric oud at full velocity in his latest incarnation Speed Caravan, with bassist Pascal Teillet and electronica musician Hermione Frank, taking their influences more from rock and techno-dance than conventional world music reference points. Featuring Rachid Taha, Wattie Delay, Q-Tip and various members of Asian Dub Foundation, the flamboyant album Kalashnik Love includes covers of The Cure’s Killing An Arab and the Chemical Brothers’ Galvanize. You won’t sleep while this is around…
Lightbox - Old Fruitmarket 26.1.10 Spiro have been one of the big stories of the last year with their enticingly maverick take on English tunes. Their brilliant Lightbox album, produced by Simon Emmerson of Afro Celts and Imagined Village, seemed to come from nowhere to feature heavily in 2009’s Best Of Year parades, including a nomination as fRoots mag’s critics poll for album of the year. They’ve not previously had much publicity, yet Spiro have quietly been developing their distinctive string-driven sound on the Bristol session scene. The line-up features guitarist Jon Hunt, fiddler Jane Harbour, Alex Vann on mandolin and Jason Sparkes on accordion, who arrive at their variations on traditional themes from a mixture of backgrounds in classical, jazz, punk and dance music and were formerly known as the Famous Five. Subtly creating colourful landscapes and rich textures, they are bringing something refreshingly new and intelligent to the English folk tune table.
Chameleon - St. Andrews In The Square 27.1.10 From West Virginia, Tim O’Brien wears many hats. He’s closely associated with bluegrass music and has a wedge of awards from his days with the band Hot Rize as proof of the regard and affection with which he’s held in that field. But no genre is big enough to contain the personality of this multi-instrumentalist – stick any instrument in front of him and he’ll play it – and in Glasgow he’s on familiar ground having been involved in various Celtic music projects. His newest album Chameleon lovingly reflects his diversity, incorporating his broad sweep of influences – gospel, country, blues, old-timey music and all - into a completely solo singer-songwriter record with a difference. It’s tender and sensitive one minute and a boisterous romp the next; both funny and provocative. Listen to Get Out There And Dance and try not to start bobbing around with a stupid smile on your face. Just try…
Blood & Candle Smoke - Tron Theatre 20.1.10 He’s got 25 records under his belt, his songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, kd Lang and Nanci Griffith and he’s made a series of compelling, thematic albums on subjects as diverse as Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski (Hotwalker), family ancestry (The Man From God Knows Where) and the joy and agony of relationships (Love and Fear). Indeed, some have said that Tom Russell is America’s greatest living songwriter and poet, keeping the spirit of Woody Guthrie alive with his vivid insights into the heart of Americana. Originally from Los Angeles but now firmly ensconced in El Paso, close to the Mexican border, a location that has in part inspired his latest opus, Blood And Candle Smoke, another ambitious project which includes inspired collaborations with Gretchen Peters and Arizona roots rockers Calexico.
Valkyrien Allstars... To Maner - O2 ABC 30.1.10
One of the highlights of the impressive Norwegian presence at Celtic Connections this year is undoubtedly Valkyrien Allstars. The trio of Tuva Livsdatter Syvertsen, Ola Hilmen and Erik Sollid arrive in a delicious blaze of Hardanger fiddles, mesmerising you with the disquieting urgency of a music that skips elusively between the crevices of folk, blues, jazz, rock and many points beyond and ends up sounding like nothing you’ve heard before. They’ve made great strides since starting out in 2002, being nominated for a Norwegian Grammy as Newcomers Of The Year in 2006. Much of their music is rooted in old folk melodies but with bass, harmonium and drums thrown into the mix behind that startling fiddle sound and Tuva Livsdatter Syvertsen’s dramatic vocals, they can’t be ignored. “The music isn’t meant to be nice and pretty, but give you a kick deep inside,” they say. Their stirring second album To Måner certainly does that.
Broken Bell Land - Strathclyde Suite 27.1.10 Western swing…a beat-boxer…1920s-style country blues…circus music…these are a few of things the extraordinary Wiyos bring to the table on their current album Broken Land Bell. Having recently completed a long tour with Bob Dylan, the Brooklyn band have come a long way since playing their first gig together as an acoustic trio in a bar in Manhattan’s Lower Eastside. Naming themselves after a local street gang, they always stood out from the crowd. Few New York bands raised on punk, hip-hop and street music would, after all, dream of diving into jazz, blues and Americana, paying particular homage to the music of the early 1900s. Then again, wilful individuality is the essence of the Wiyos. Broken Land Bell, their self-written fourth album, breaks new ground, even by their standards, with its maverick blend of modern technology and music defiantly rooted in American history.
This is just a selection of the 100s of artists who are performing, jamming and contributing workshops and otherwise getting into the spirit at this years. For full listings and further information check out the festivals website at www.celticconnections.com
For more information about these artists and many more visit the Proper Blog at www.properganderblog.co.uk follow the links and sign up for our regular newsletter.
SHOUTING ABOUT SPECIALIST MUSIC
ISSUE 15 JAN/FEB 2010
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