Fara & Genticorum – Celtic Connections – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – February 3, 2024.
Written by celtic music radio on February 8, 2024
It says much for Fara’s progress in the last few years that they topped the bill in the Main Auditorium at the RCH over 20-year-seasoned multiple-award-winners Genticorum, but it has to be said that their combination of skill, stagecraft, and the well-rehearsed integration of guests into their set (including a reappearance of Genticorum) made the final set of the evening a magnificent spectacle and great entertainment.
GENTICORUM delivered a warm and spirited opening to the night, displaying all the instrumental and vocal virtuosity that the band is famed for. Pascal Gemme was particularly outstanding for the sheer energy of his performance – handling fiddle and vocals while maintaining the famed québecois foot percussion all night can be no easy task. His participation in the relaxed humour that helped to engage band and audience was also notable – particularly when he generously set himself up as the butt of jokes about his command of English.
Nicholas Williams (accordion & flute) is the newest member of the band. He moved to Québec from New England in 2000 and made such an impact on the music scene there that he was the obvious successor to original member Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand. His feel for the band’s music is evident in the ease with which he weaves in and out of the extended melody lines and time signature variations characteristic of their playing. Indeed, the latter provided fertile ground for the band as a whole to demonstrate their rhythmic facility with threes regularly ganging up on twos in a pulsing criss-cross of beats.
Yann Falquet (guitar & vocals) provided a dynamic array of rhythmic chops and inventive inversions that owed as much to jazz as to traditional folk. One of the highlights of his performance was his jaw harp solo whose rhythmic twangs slowly mutated into a very recognisable version of Scotland the Brave – cue roars of appreciation from the crowd. Other high points of a most enjoyable performance were Belle Allouette au Champ (Beautiful Lark in the Field) – a nicely harmonised a capella number, a driving set of two tunes – La Cardeuse (The Wool Carder) & La Chance (Luck), and the final song Voici le Temps et la Saison (Note the Time and the Season) in which this observer noted the reel time slipping in and out of alternate 5/4 and 4/4 bars with consummate ease. As a post-script, may I also say that Pascal Gemme’s foot percussion was remarkable throughout their set for his ability to emphatically hit the changing signature emphases while maintaining essentially the same pattern throughout.
They’ll be at the Orkney Folk Festival in May, and I’d heartily recommend going to see them if you’re planning a visit.
We had an advance shot of Orkney when FARA came on after the break. Orcadian fiddlers and singers Jeana Leslie, Catriona Price and Kristan Harvey plus Highland pianist Rory Matheson took the stage, along with James Lindsay on bass and Stephen Henderson on drums, opening with a driving Port Polka. Much of their set was taken from their recent album Energy Islands, including their second number, and first song of the night, Fair Winds – their retelling of the story of Stromness witch Bessie Millie, who sold winds to sailors. It can’t be overlooked that part of the reason for the band’s success is that, in addition to their prodigious instrumental talents, they are no slouches when it comes to singing, and write some fine original vocal numbers.
This being a weekend bill-topper at the Main Auditorium, there was the traditional plethora of guests. Backing the main action was a young collective of very able string players Thirteen North (of whom I counted only 12, but a glance at the photos on their Facebook page seems to confirm Fara’s Catriona Price as a member). Those responsible for the arrangements to enable this large ensemble to so wonderfully augment Fara’s material deserve a medal (I understand Catriona played a part in this).
Outstanding is the only word to describe the talent and the reception given to sometime Béla Fleck collaborator Jonathan Scales, over from the USA to unveil his extraordinary abilities on the steelpan drums. Again I have to mention the arrangements that enabled Fara to swing in behind Scales’ lilting jazz piece Do Not Panic. Scales returned the favour by swinging folkily back into Fara’s own Excess Electric. I loved it – as did the Royal Concert Hall crowd who cheered mightily.
Les Amazones d’Afrique, fresh from a triumphant gig at St. Luke’s, stormed the stage with rhythm and song, kicking off with their current single Flaws and segueing into The Depliction from Fara’s 2018 release Times from Times Fall. Ms Price seemed to be enjoying herself as she hardly stopped dancing even while playing. Syrian-born Maya Youssef ably demonstrated her skills on the qanun zither, first on Fara’s Merry Dancers, then with her own haunting Promise of a Rainbow followed by a Syrian folktune, Ya Mal el-Sham – whose 8/8 signature opened up many rhythmic possibilities, before Auld Lang Syne brought another roar of recognition in the auditorium.
Genticorum were enthusiastically welcomed back to the stage to join Fara in another track from Energy Islands, Wind Dancers, before moving into Les Tisserands and Methé Métis in which the stage was once more augmented by Thirteen North. The emphasis swung back to Orkney with Fara’s final number, Solar. The audience were understandably unwilling to let them go, and the inevitable encore featured 23 people onstage, as the guest artists came back on to join in the evocative and lilting title track of the headliners’ album, Energy Islands. Compliments have to go once more to the arranger.
One of the best concerts of the festival.