Notes from Celtic Connections 2020, part 1

Jan 18-19

Our second CC adventure began on Sat 18th, two days after the launch of this year’s festival. Having left Finland on a morning flight on Fri 17, we arrived in Glasgow on Friday afternoon but had no gigs to go to that day, as we had realized too late Duncan Chisholm was giving a recital at 5 pm and it was, of course, sold out by the time we tried to get tickets. But it was a very nice Friday evening anyway, with a local friend we hadn’t seen in a year.

Most of Saturday was spent in the awesome Coastal Connections minifest at the Royal Concert Hall. The lineup was a real blessing to us because it featured a bunch of big names we’d never seen live before: Capercaillie, Dàimh, Fowlis- Doorley-Conway-McIntyre, Mairearad & Anna (Anna Massie we’d seen several times on stage with a number of musicians but never in the excellent M&A duo) and some we were very happy to see and hear again, like FARA, one of our big faves!

So it was pretty much heaven and I want to pick out one particular star in the firmament. Gnoss gave a show in RCH Exhibition Hall that was just so brilliant and relaxed and had loads of spontaneous LOL moments – simply great stage banter from the guys. Their album from last year is super but can, in places, be even a bit perfectionist but on stage and live the songs really were on fire – and the guys themselves are just so great. Gnoss will be *huge* in this scene, also outside the UK, believe me. Go Orkney! ❤️

The Sat evening saw us sweating and bouncing along 2000 other music people in Barrowland. The GRIT Orchestra’s Martyn Bennet tribute concert was quite amazing, with a stellar cast of soloists. I was doubtful about converting Martyn’s electronic visions to a real orchestra but they had done a super job and the almost 2-hour extravaganza of music, stories and wise points about life, music and society, left us mentally charged and physically drained.

Sunday the 19th had us literally hurrying from one gig to another. Beinn Lee’s box player Pàdruig Morrison had a spot in this year’s New Voices series and I have to say I loved it. His compositions were right up my alley, hitting the sweet spot between artistic ambition and accessible melodic sensibility. As played by the super ensemble, with the magical Mischa MacPherson on Gaelic vocals, I enjoyed the music very much. And, as beginner level Duolingo Scottish Gaelic student, strongly supported the song cycle’s message of the importance of Gaelic in our world today.

The Highlander’s Revenge was a delicious one-hour recital by Bruce MacGregor. Fiddle tunes galore, accompanied by Anna Massie (but of course😊) and peppered with Bruce’s many colorful tales and anecdotes from Blazin’ Fiddles and his own ventures. In a solo context, the dexterity and beauty of his playing really got to shine – a most enjoyable hour!

The evening was spent in the Mitchell Library’s theater, a splendid place for excellent acoustics. That feature was important because both works performed, Sarah-Jane Summers’ Owerset and Hamish Napier’s The Woods featured a bigger band and, as compositions, required an excellent sound to really come fully across.

I have found the previous works of Sarah-Jane Summers a bit distant and cool to my subjective taste but I have admired the level of ambition on everything she’s done. Owerset was no exception in that regard but it was a bit more accessible to me; will check out how the recording hits my nerve. En excellent performance by a excellent and international group of musos.

The Woods, part 3 out of 5 in Hamish Napier’s Scottish pentalogy (River, Railway and Woods will be followed by The Hills and The Sky in the near future) was an organic piece in his puzzle. Not significantly different in style from parts 1 and 2 but oh so well composed, entertaining and performed by a truly stunning band with R Ainslie, I Watson, A Lyon, J Henderson…you get the point. It’s lovely and heartfelt music, with its door wide open even to the novice listener so as the album version of The Woods is soon out, go get your copy at his website, Bandcamp site or give it a heavy play-and-replay loop on Spotify or Apple Music.

*****

Your humble agent at Celtic Music’s service will return in “Notes from CC2020, part 2”

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