Celtic Connections Reviews 2009

Photo: celtic connections. Pigeon Top and Lorcan Mac Mathuna - Review. C. Byrne.
Saint Andrew's in the Square Friday 23rd January

Lorcan Mac Mathuna seems born to sing in this traditional Irish style, the haunting style of the music evoking a heartfelt response in the audience. Although few of us understood the Gaelic words of the songs, no one failed to be moved to sadness as the plaintive notes filled the hall. He sang of struggle and loss, emigration and exile, heartbreak and death. The Uilleann pipes complemented some of the songs but even singing a cappella, the voice had a resonance that reached deep into the heart.

By contrast four-piece band Pigeon Top lifted the spirits with their mix of traditional and modern music. From tunes dating back to the Napoleonic war to 'Rambling Boy' in the Dylan style, their set had feet tapping and hands clapping.

Shane McAleer, all-Ireland fiddle champion leads the boys with Kevin Sweeney on vocals, Ryan O'Donnell on bouzouki and the very talented Darragh Murphy on pipes and whistles. The trademark of the band appears to be versatility, one time a Tom Waits number, another the traditional 'Errigall Braes.'

The band's odd name comes from a hill in their home county of Tyrone but don't let the name put you off. The boys are well worth the ticket price.

Photo: mareread green. New Voices: Mairearad Green Strathclyde Suite, Concert Hall, 1/02/09

Entitled 'Passing Places.' Mairearad Green's composition took us on a scenic trip around the countryside where she had been brought up. Magnus Graham's accompanying film explored the mountains and moorlands of Wester Ross, the moving images capturing the beat and undulations of the music. We left a little white cottage in bright sunshine, travelled through hamlets and misty mountains, passed tumbling streams and lochs and once or twice encountered a few curious sheep barring our way.

The music was tuneful and rhythmic, soaring to crescendo then subsiding to idyllic tranquillity. From plaintive melodies it suddenly speeds up, bursting out into lively foot-tapping reels - mood music to relax or dance to. Mairearad had a 'backing group' that included Anna Massie on guitar and mandolin, Hamish Napier on piano and fiddler Peter Tickell, with Donald Hay on percussion. She said she was delighted that as well as commissioning her to write the piece, Celtic Connections had allowed her to pick anyone she chose to accompany her. She also seemed surprised to see the almost capacity crowd in the hall, joking that she didn't think all her family would fit in there.

This young musician has the world ahead of her. Not only is her playing of accordion and pipes exceptionally brilliant, but her skill in composing is also excellent. As well as today's piece she writes and performs with the Anna Massie trio, and Box Club, an accordion quartet backed by drums, guitar and bass.

Millish with Box Club and the Catriona Watt Band Strathclyde Suite, Friday 30/01/09

Catriona Watt from Lewis was the winner of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional musician of the year in 2007 and has gone from strength to strength, releasing her debut album last year. Her band, consisting of a pianist, fiddler and whistle player and, of course, Catriona herself, enchanted the audience with a varied programme that ranged from waulking sings to sad lilts telling of homesickness and lost love.

American group Millish performed such a mix of sounds and rhythms all in the same pieces that I wondered exactly what their music was trying to tell me. Was it traditional, modern, world, rock? Who knows? Arrangements and treatments of even familiar songs had me baffled but unmoved, yet there was definitely massive support for them. Well, that's what Celtic Connections is all about, something for everyone.

Young, vibrant, good to look at and talented, Box Club carried away the audience with their enthusiastic mix of foot-tapping rhythms. Mairearad Green, Gary Innes, Angus Lyon and John Somerville provided the squeezebox special sounds backed by Duncan Lyall on double bass and Martin O'Neill on drums. And who could forget Mike Bryant, the dancing guitarist who seems to be popping up on more than a few stages during Celtic connections. The set included tunes as diverse as Cold Chips, The 62 Bus and one of Mairearad's own compositions, The First Rule of Box Club (no fiddles.)

By the end of the performance the audience were literally dancing in the aisles. Well done, guys.

Photo: sly and robbie celtic connections. Jamaican Style Burns Night (25th January)

Sly and Robbie plus guests.

Seeing Sly and Robbie at The Old Fruitmarket was something that I never thought I would experience - not in my wildest dreams. Absolutely sensational! The dulcet toned Bitty McLean added further magic.

A spot from Edwyn Collins at this Jamaican Style Burns Celebration was also heartwarming. What a guy, what songs and what a voice.

In fact the whole night was pretty good with representatives from BMX Bandits, (Duglus Tiger Stewart and Rachel Allison), Teenage Fanclub, and former Bandit, Norman Blake, plus Karine Polwart, contributing to the entertainment. Duglus obviously enjoyed 'Green Grow the Rashes O'" - and so did we.

Edward 2's fusion of Scottish tunes and Reggae beats got the night off to a great start. Getting us started with songs like 'Will Ye Go Lassie?'

It's got to be really good to get me standing for nearly 5 hours and joining in 'Auld Lang Syne' with Sly and Robbie is something not to be forgotten. Sushil K. Dade, the curator, did a grand job.
see a few more photographs Pat Byrne

BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year City Halls, 1/02/09

The six finalist for 2009 were Adam Holmes, Daniel Thorpe, Ruairidh Macmillan, Kenneth Nicolson, Jack Smedley and Lorne MacDougall. First on stage was Jack Smedley, a young fiddler from Buckie whose repertoire included some well-kent traditional music that included strathspeys, jigs and marches. He finished off with a set of reels that set feet tapping and hands clapping.

The second musician was Edinburgh born guitarist, Adam Holmes singing one of his own compositions then later performing 'Careless Love,' made famous by Pete Seger. Despite the warmth, enthusiasm and encouragement of the audience, Adam seemed to be almost paralysed with nerves and failed to do justice to his set. I also felt that his choice of songs did not suit his excellent voice. He was followed by Daniel Thorpe of Inverurie. Daniel is a most accomplished performer who immediately established an engaging rapport with the listeners. He is obviously at ease on stage and it shows in his playing. His final piece was the 'Fiddler's Welcome to Shetland.'

Gaelic singer, Kenneth Nicolson was next up. Although I reckon a large proportion of the audience did not have the language, he explained what each song was about and the meaning came over in his singing. His range of songs went from one dating from 1685 to the amusing 'Bachelor's Song.' The fifth musician was Lorne MacDougall, a young piper from Carradale in Argyle. He played 'The Isle of Jura' plus a mad jig and hornpipe. Joking that he would like to play a pibroch but it would take too long, he put a 'fast' pibroch in the final set that also included Burns' 'My Love She's but a Lassie Yet.' Last on stage was fiddler Ruairidh Macmillan from Nairn. In addition to the usual strathspeys and jolly jigs, he played a tune he had learned from his grandmother, a sweet and haunting lullaby that almost made the fiddle sing. A set of reels brought the performances to and end, leaving the judges to their unenviable task of picking one winner from the highly talented group. Whilst they were making their difficult decision, last year's winner of the title, Ewan Robertson, then took centre stage with his band to entertain us for a half hour or so.

Finally it was revealed that young Ruairidh Macmillan had come top of the judge's list and was presented with the Traditional Music and Song Association Quaich. Among his other prizes are a recording session and membership of the Musicians' Union.

Photo: jim byrne celtic connections open stage. Danny Kyle Open Stage

we fairly enjoyed ourselves at the Danny Kyle Open Stage yesterday. Jim(Byrne) had a great time playing to an enthusiastic full house - despite having a sore throat.

It was really brilliant seeing all the talented youngsters perform and hear some lovely Orcadians play their fiddles and bodhr?ns.

A great wee father and son due from Carlisle and large band Yuptue - skilled and quirky - complete with pals enthusing in the audience.

Lots of talent, great atmosphere, reels, airs, original songs and fabulously dedicated sound engineers and whole thing live on Celtic Music Radio.

And all free!
Extracted from our discussion forum. celtic connections - where have you been? - what hve you seen?