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Review: Julie Murphy & Diane Cannon, The Piping Centre, Saturday 17 January

Ah!! My first show of Celtic Connections 2015 was a tricky affair to get to. The temperature had dropped and the snow had turned to ice with not a sign of any of the pavements being salted. Twice or three, I near came a cropper but stayed vertical all the way to the top of Hope Street to the fabulous Piping Centre on MacPhater Street, Cowcaddens on Saturday night, 17 January.

First on stage was Diane Cannon, a native of Meenlaragh at the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht, now setting roots in Belfast where she forges two musical paths between Traditional and Country music.

She opens the show with a fine interpretation of Pierce Turner’s “Among the Wicklow Hills” which is given the slightest country tinge to the Christy Moore version she learned the song from.

It is a taster for a wonderful set mixing contemporary folk songs with her fine traditional Gaelic “Sean-nos” (old style) singing. Accompanied by two fine young musicians on fiddle and guitar/bouzouki she graciously gives them a spot though time is limited to enthral the audience with a couple of fine jigs.  Diane informs the small but very appreciative audience that she is suffering a bit but on her first visit to CC, but her voice is crystal clear and oh so expressive.

Julie Murphy (pictured), London born Essex raised and now resident in Wales, gets described as an unsung hero of the British folk scene but having recently collaborated with such luminaries as John Cale, Afro Celt Sound System and Robert Plant, as well as being heralded by Whispering Bob Harris and the late great John Peel, who described her 1999 debut solo album ‘Black Mountain Revisited’ as “truly, truly beautiful”?

Tonight’s show promises to be just that on the strength of her 2012 solo album The Quite Room her first in 10 years. It promises to be an intimate affair featuring just Murphy on piano and Ceri Owen Jones on harp and trombone.

She opens with the achingly beautiful ‘Essex Song’ a tribute to her origins. It is based around ‘the Bushes and the Briars’ an inspiration for composer Vaughn Williams.

Up next she explains the source of ‘Convoy’ , my favourite track from The Quite Room, having discovered Cornish poet Charles Causley’s poetry through friend folk singer Jim Causley she then set his humble words to music. It is made even more powerful by the inclusion of excerpts from a diary her father kept in 1945 as a 20 year old on-board convoys in the merchant navy.

Quite stunning, as is the rest of the evening where she draws from her magnificent catalogue performing some stunning solo Welsh language songs reminding us of her other musical outlet, folk innovators Fernhill. The only cover of the evening is her interpretation of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Kathleen’, which she heard via social media and knew she had to record and is probably the finest version I have heard, accompanied only by Ceri’s sublime bittersweet harp.

I have attended and worked at Celtic Connection since it beginning and this show is one I will not forget for a long time. Can you tell I’m now a huge fan?

Tom Hamilton

Presenter, Celtic Music Radio 95FM

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