Celtic Connections 2023: Duncan Chisholm, with Kim Carnie

The evening of Thursday, Feb 2, saw a magnificent concert in the Royal Concert Hall. I usually find big scale concerts predictable and a bit distant, even as they may be most enjoyable otherwise. This was not the case last night when the performers and their music filled the hall and reached out to everyone in the audience.

Kim Carnie, backed by yet another A-lineup of Scottish trad masters, gave a winning performance, especially with her Gaelic tunes whose pulse and drive connected well with the audience. She is a natural performer who has the ability to use her breathy and even fragile voice to her advantage, and this was evident throughout her gig. She brought her natural light and great songs into the RCH and, with the sold out hall singing “we’ll gather around you”, her performance left the hall in the perfect mood for the headline show.

Mighty fine musicians, and it’s only the opening act! Megan Henderson, Kim Carnie, James Lindsay and Innes White, with the string section’s Alice Allen and her cello in the background. Pic by me.

As I had heard Duncan’ Black Cuillin album before this concert, I was prepared to hear something awesome. Unlike his previous recordings, Black Cuillin is a cinematic, big-scale work, inspired by the nature and landscape of the Isle of Skye – a truly magical place I wish to revisit some time.

Also, not all of the music on the album was written by master Chisholm alone; Hamish Napier and Ross Ainslie both were very much partners in this crime.

So I was perhaps a bit wary before the concert: how will it sound live? So many musicians appeare on the album, who will be playing here? Will it be a fine but faintly distant performance of tightly composed music?

Let’s just say, I need not to have worried. From the first majestic theme to the last fading note, the entire arena was enthralled by the music and by Duncan’s supremely warm – and also funny – presence. The story concerning his first ever CC gig and a certain Glasgow hair salon, all of 30 years ago, was not only totally hilarious, it also reflected the way he didn’t care about the size and the scale of the show – he was there to communicate through music and his personality. And that made the music ever so much more impressive.

The Black Cuillin tunes are heartstoppingly great by themselves, but sequenced into an aural journey across Skye, the effect is nearly stupefying. The music may be cinematic but it needs no movie; you create the images, launched by the powerful music. I am also grateful to lighting designer of this show, as we were spared a dazzling lights spectacle; instead, the lights supported the mood of each piece perfectly.

Of course I need to mention the absolutely wonderful musicians who made Black Cuillin a reality last night: Hamish Napier, Ross Ainslie, Jarlath Henderson, Ross Hamilton, Innes Watson, and the strong string section led by Greg Lawson. The drummer was super as well but his name escaped me, sorry!

For once, a music event of epic scale with heart, humanity and magic. I remain in these people’s debt forever.

Hamish and Duncan, playing one of Duncan’s heartbreaking airs. Pic by me.

4 thoughts on “Celtic Connections 2023: Duncan Chisholm, with Kim Carnie

    1. Just seen a fan’s photo of the band’s curtain call and yes it was Donald Hay (know those braces anywhere). Of Old Blind Dogs, and many many other bands.

      Liked by 1 person

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