Celtic Connection 202: Beerjacket review Fionnuala Boyle
Beerjacket kicked off the last weekend of this year’s Celtic Connections on 31st January, 2020 with the Cairn String Quartet and support from Keeley Forsyth. A packed out CCA played host to the singer-songwriter and the immensely talented musicians whose presence added that wee bit extra to what was already sure to be an enchanting night of music and song.
Keeley Forsyth’s opening slot was an interesting one. Sombre and moody but oddly therapeutic, Forsyth’s music channelled an unknown energy and spat it back out into song. The audience were left with no other choice than to confront the ominous, intriguing sound that she produced along with a modest band who played banjo, cello and violin at her side. Twisting her arms this way and that way, all the while concealing her face with a thin black sweater, it was almost impossible to attribute just one, all-encompassing descriptor to Forsyth’s music. The performance was multi-faceted, multi-layered and not like anything I have seen or heard before.
It is perhaps too easy to snigger at certain genres of music when it’s not to your taste, particularly when the way it is expressed is exceedingly avant-garde and ‘out there’. But it’s always important to respect an individual’s interpretation of art, sound and movement. Irrespective of personal taste, there is no denying that Forsyth was totally entrancing.
A short time later, Beerjacket took to the stage. Joined by Julia Doogan on harmonies, Beerjacket went straight into ‘Nervous’ from his 2018 album Silver Cords. He explained how he and Julia had formed a creative partnership to develop the album’s artwork, the result being twelve wonderfully crafted short stories which accompany each track. The partnership was evidently a successful one as two years on from the album’s release, the duo carry the same ingenuity, passion and sincerity both in voice and demeanour. Indeed Beerjacket, real name Peter Kelly, revealed how “dangerously happy” he was to be taking part in this year’s festival. He was especially forthcoming about how honoured he was to be sharing the stage with the Cairn String Quartet.
After performing new song ‘Muscle’, the crowd tentatively joined in with Beerjacket’s 2011 gem Poor Captain of the Soul. With just him, his ukulele and a wry smile on his face as the gig-goers attempted the song’s higher notes, it was a really lovely three minutes to have shared with the room; a room that grew in spirit and joviality the more the night went on.
Beerjacket’s set included his well-known “all year round Christmas song” ‘Antlers’ followed by ‘Two Travel’; an ode to his 2014 album Darling Darkness. As the audience’s feet began to stamp harder, requests for ‘Men’ and ‘Buttons’ were bellowed from the back of the room. Beerjacket and Julia compromised with an impromptu rendition of ‘Jack Chasing Jill’ and ‘Egg Shells’, the latter of which was completely unrehearsed but completely flawless with Julia’s soft, honeyed tones carrying it through beautifully.
Although Beerjacket has been a prominent and deserved feature of Glasgow’s music scene for well over a decade, he has an ability to disarm his audience, letting the music take centre stage and allowing everyone to be part of his musical explorations. The Cairn String Quarter complemented Beerjacket’s music so much so that even by his own admission, it will be a real shame not to have them perform with him at every gig from now on.
At one point between songs, Beerjacket said that sometimes it’s not the notes you play, but the notes you don’t play, and it’s not the words you say, but the words you don’t say. With Beerjacket’s ability to create both intimacy and openness with his home crowd, it seems there was nothing left unsaid between the celebrated musician and his fans as they piled out onto Sauchiehall Street with Fresh Legs and an undeniable Glow from a fantastic evening at Celtic Connections 2020.
Fionnuala Boyle, 2 February, 2020
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