Sharon Shannon Band and Special Guests, Celtic Connections, The Old Fruitmarket, February 3, 2017.

Sharon Shannon Band and Special Guests, Celtic Connections, The Old Fruitmarket, February 3, 2017.

Feb 10, 2017

From the start this was a gig not to be missed. Packed into the Old Fruitmarket, Sharon Shannon made sure a great night was had by all.

Her first tune, “Neckbelly” had us bouncing along as Sharon asked us to “go mental” and have loads of fun. The tunes came quick and fast with sets like, “Coridinio,” “Rathlin” and “Sandy” filling the set list.

Then there was a wonderful song by guitarist, Jack Maher called “Smile” and to follow, to rapturous applause, came the Shannon classic “Blackbird”. Then it was time for “Potholes” in a very smooth set unlike our potholed roads of today.

Sharon gave us a sneak preview of her forthcoming new album, “Sacred Earth” which is due out in March. From it she played “Rusheen,” accompanied by Justin Adam (guitar), Abass Doodoo (percussion) and Jodie Bremanson (bass). “Pull Out All The Stops” followed and these were sweet set of tunes with a rocky backdrop of bass and drums blending well with the fiddle.

“The Machine” was a beautifully powerful song before we headed to “Francies Reel,” featuring a stunning style of playing with strong tones. The show finished with “The Mouth of Tobique” topped by the wonderful mouth song of Sean Reagan and no gig would be complete without “The Galway Girl”. It was a night of enchanting music and thrilling drum beats complemented by wonderful fiddle and the stunning playing of the awesome Sharon Shannon.

Sandy Pratt

Gary Innes, Celtic Connections, Drygate, February 2, 2017.

Gary Innes, Celtic Connections, Drygate, February 2, 2017.

Feb 10, 2017

This was the night Gary Innes launched his long awaited second album, “Era” twelve years on from his first “How’s The Craic”.

It was worth the wait. Gary says “the album is about growing old and very much family orientated” and he thanked his family and friends for the support in making it.

The tune Yarra Wine Valley was first up and dedicated to the War Veteran charity. After a trip to Australia Gary wanted to do something for the Vets and the tune came out of that trip. “Road To Lochaber” was a fantastic tune with a video made with the help of STV weather man, Sean Batty with views of Lochaber made with a drone video.

The band was joined on stage by Alec Dalglish of Skerryvore for the song, “Grace and Pride “ which Gary had penned following the 2104 Independence Referendum in Scotland. He needed someone who could put a voice to the song to make it sound better so and Alec was his first choice – and it was a great song to listen to.

From his Box Club Band days, Gary has been helped along by his good friend on keyboard, Duncan Lyle and that is how “Easy Street” came about following a tour of Britanny where they came a cross a street of that name. “May Life Always Be Peachy” was a tune dedicated to family members: he wrote it as a wedding gift and this was a sweet tune that would grace any wedding as a first dance.

Gary keeps a lot of the family in his mind with this album and his niece, “Zara” even gets her own tune as he recalls looking down at the pretty innocent face and thought one to match would be ideal. Robert Robertson came on stage to sing a poem Gary had written about shinty, a sport he took part in for 20 years. “The Caman Man” summed up the sport in the way Gary had both seen and played it.

We got an insight to the quiet side of the giant of shinty, music and his love for Scotland but mostly the love of his family: “Era” the album brings you a tune for all and all seasons.

Sandy Pratt

Robyn Stapleton, Songs of Robert Burns, St Andrews in the Square, January 25, 2017.

What a great way to spend Burns Night with the silky smooth voice of Robyn Stapleton, the BBC Radio Scotland Young Trad Musician of the 2014, described by Sheena Wellington as a “very special singer indeed”.

Robyn wowed the Celtic Connections’ audience from her first song, “Coming Thru the Rye” and continued with the “Slaves Lament,” “Ca The Yowes Tae The Knowes” and the wonderful solo “John Anderson” which fair echoed round the hall.

For anyone wanting a fix of Burns this was the place to be – “A Parcel of Rogues” was as welcome as “Rattlin Roarin Willie” and even “Rantin, Rovin Robin” would have sat at the nappy on this most couthy celebration of the Bard’s songs and music.

Robyn was joined on stage by Patsy Reid, Aaron Jones, Alistair Paterson, Signy Jakobsdottir and Innes White and a wonderful string quartet who all brought the show to a close with “A Man’s A Man” and “Auld Lang Syne”.

The support act was the very talented west coast Canadian band, Brishen fronted by Quinn Bashand, a voice of excellence with his own gypsy jazz style.

I wonder what Burns would have made of the songs like “Georgia “ and his own version of “Cheyene” plus tunes from Poland and Mexico that were in the evening’s mix and on his album, Blue Verdun.

Sandy Pratt

Phil Cunningham, Celtic Connections, Highlands and Island Suite 20th Anniversary, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall January 22, 2017.

The 20th Anniversary Concert at the Royal Concert Hall of Phil Cunningham’s
Highlands & Islands Suite was performed for the first time since 1997.

Working with composer/arranger, John Ashton Thomas, a brand new ensemble composition was unveiled, inspired by their shared love for the island of Iona. This made up one half of the concert and musicians from all departments of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland helped to further develop the original orchestration.

Under conductor John Logan some 70 musicians produced a wonderful fusion of folk and classical music. A 40-strong choir, great solo vocalist and unforgettable young pipers (who nearly brought the house down) made sure it was a truly unforgettable night.

Phil, the Artistic Director of the Traditional Music Degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, should be proud of all the talented young students we heard.

Sandy Pratt

Inverary and District Pipe Band with Bagad Kemper, Celtic Connections, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, January 28, 2017.

Inverary and District Pipe Band with Bagad Kemper,  Celtic Connections, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, January 28, 2017.

Feb 9, 2017

When the mid Saturday of the Celtic Connections festival comes it can only mean one thing: the fantastically, talented turn of the pipe bands to entertain the masses – and Inverary and District and Bagad Kemper lived up to all expectations.

Bagad Kemper from Britanny took to the stage first with pieces from their latest work, Melezour (the Mirror). They play in a strong Cape Breton style with Bagpipes Bombard (a double wind instrument and member of the Oboe family, Bombard meaning buzzing or pumping sound), snare drum and percussion plus bass guitar of Erwant Volant and guitar of Tibo Noibe.

The Band were also joined on vocals by Marthe Vassallo and Sylvian Girault and the smooth sax of Bernard Le Dreau with tracks such as a Ben Dilhun (march), Gavotte Bigoudenne, La Haut sur la Montagne and Ar Charlezenn. Both singers brought strong voices and pipe playing to a toe-tapping audience: a great way to warm us up for the main show led by Musical Director Steven Bodenes.

Inverarary and District marched in to wow us with the 4/4 Marches, “The 51st Highland Division” and “McPhail of Bunessan”. The playing of the Haunting Melody and slow air of “She Moves Through The Fair” was complemented by John Morrison of Assynthouse and Alick C McGregor. What a thrill it was to blend those two together, part of the band’s freestyle set at The Worlds in Glasgow in 2016.

The audience was invited to a Canadian Barn Dance with the tunes of “Carradale Bay”, “Father John McMillan of Barra”. The broad styling of pipe music left you wanting more and more.

There was a delightful ending with a set of jigs: “The Masons Apron” (Trad Arr. Alasdair Gillies and Stuart Liddelland) and “Skye” (Fred Morrison. Arr IDPB). If you love Pipe Band music this was the place to be.

Sandy Pratt
Photograph courtesy of © the Piping Times/College of Piping

Shovels and Rope, Celtic Connections, St Lukes, Glasgow, February 4, 2017.

Shovels and Rope, Celtic Connections, St Lukes, Glasgow, February 4, 2017.

Feb 5, 2017

Shovels and Rope admirably represent folk singers with crazy distortion on their guitars, not forgetting pounding drums, warming keyboards, even warmer harmonies, while baby sleeps outside on the tour bus.

Michael Trent and Carey Ann Hearst triumphed at this Celtic Connections date with a blistering and scintillating performance. It wasn’t all punky exuberance and high energy though, thankfully, we got plenty of that.

But, they can ditch the barbed-wire edge to deliver heartwarming harmonies huddled lovingly over one mic – and it’s hugely dramatic. From their O Be Joyful album, Lay Low was sublime: “If it gets too lonely / I will follow you ’round in this tune” was the lament and you wanted to huddle closer, a song we didn’t want to end.

Their music is celebratory however you may wish to describe it. They share instruments, microphones: they blasted uproariously through some tracks such as I Know, the glorious opener on current album, Little Seeds, then dipped effortlessly into a Garth Hudson tribute, The Last Hawk, from the same record that flows comfortingly along a new country route we found to be hugely welcome.

The Devil Is All Around (Swimmin’ Time, 2014) is all gospel rock swigged down with buckets of bourbon and teeming plates of barbecued steak while Birmingham never sounded better as the duo declared: “making something out of nothing with a scratcher and a hope / with two old guitars like a shovel and a rope.” I bet they could play music with a shovel and a rope and come up with something gripping.

This duo is genuine, engaging, and blessed with a range of vital and memorable songs that they wholeheartedly shared with us –for which we were truly grateful. Just wonderful.


Image: credit: Carol Clugston, Carol Graham Photography

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