Notes from Celtic Connections 2020, part 2

Tue 21

The Big Fling aka Scottish Dance Band Extravaganza: hugely entertaining evening, expertly hosted by Gary Innes himself. At some points felt like in a time machine with the music evoking mental images of dance halls and cèilidhs long gone. Tom Orr’s Mega Cèilidh Dance Band, put together for this event and with a brass section was in the show’s final part actually very good and brought even a taste of Celtic soul music to the proceedings.

Wed 22

Maggie Macinnes gave a wonderful performance of Gaelic songs, throwing herself into it full force, with all her stories, radiant personality and humor and wit – plenty of LOL moments between songs to lighten the usually sad tales in the songs. And it was moving to hear many in the audience singing along in the language that was once entirely forbidden and very recently in the UNESCO list of languages in threat of extinction.

Thu 23

The 20th anniversary celebration of the BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year Award was what you’d expect: a string of excellent musicians giving a gala performance that was not necessarily surprising but top notch in every way.

Bruce MacGregor did a fab job as host but the evening’s real star was that omnipresent Celtic Connections spirit: Anna Massie, who not only led the house band but had coordinated the concert and gave her own performance – this on top of everything else she does during the festival! My biggest applause in the entire CC2020 goes to her, not just because of the crushing amount of work she does with different artists during CC but because the quality of her playing never falters. Stunning.

Of the individual performances in the concert, the ones I enjoyed most – they were all great, if course – were Charlie Stewart’s mindblowing fiddle piece (what nuances! what musicianship!), the ladies’ a cappella segment (Emily Smith, Hannah Rarity, Claire Hastings, Robyn Stapleton) and the totally crazed and virtuoso duo act with Mohsen Amini (of Talisk) and Benedict Morris.

Fri 24

The evening’s menu was quite something: Band of Burns, perhaps the biggest newcomer of 2019, supporting none other than Mànran, now appearing in their new lineup.

I have to say I feel two ways about Band of Burns. The concept is lovely but 12 acoustic players and singers would require a level of sound quality the Barrowland Ballroom and the tech used simply could not provide. The trad bits led by the fiddle section worked best but otherwise the eclectic mix of instruments and musical styles felt even a bit counterproductive in this environment, with many in the audience talking quite loudly during the quieter pieces. Ouch.

Mànran also suffered a bit for the not-the-best-possible sound, with the pipes+flutes, acoustic gtr and Kim Carnie’s vocals clearly undermixed. Even Gary Innes’ accordion was swamped at times, leaving the aural center stage to drs and bass and fiddle.

Thankfully, the band itself was in top form and the crowd was celebrating the band’s first decade joyously, so it was great fun despite my hi-fi nerd’s bleating 😉

The new guy on guitar, Aidan Moodie (of Gnoss; he must be very busy now) was very good, and I think Kim Carnie did well, adding a new colour to the palette, and I just wish her singing would have been better mixed at the board. She was also warmly cheered by the crowd, so here’s wishing all the best to the new and exciting Mànran!

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