Wrest and Maz O’Connor, Celtic Connections review Fionnuala Boyle


Day two of Celtic Connections 2020 came to a close on Friday 17 January in The Blue Arrow which provided the perfect atmosphere for a night of musical talent. With the low lighting, hanging lampshades and cosy seating areas bringing definite jazz club vibes, a hubbub of laughter and conversation filled the room as Edinburgh indie band Wrest prepared for their first show of the year. “Our first gig of the year, actually our first gig of the decade, and it’s sold out… no pressure!” joked the band’s frontman as they took to the stage. But there was very little to be worried about as the night was an all-round success for lovers of indie and folk music alike.

Support – Maz O’Connor

maz o connor

The gig kicked off with English sing-songwriter Maz O’Connor as support. Her first time in Glasgow, having come up specifically for Celtic Connections, the folk singer did not seem phased by the Glasgow crowd who have earned themselves a reputation for their no-nonsense attitude. Armed with her acoustic guitar, O’Connor captivated the audience with story-like songs and soaring vocals comparable with Gabrielle Aplin. Introducing the song ‘San Francisco’, O’Connor revealed her own Celtic connection as she spoke about her great auntie Rhonda growing up in 1920s Waterford. Explaining how the death of Rhonda’s father prompted her and her five sisters to move to the north, O’Connor captured the emotion of her story of sacrifice and dedication with ease. Her flawless vocals, again, made it a treat for the ears.

Between performances of tracks such as ‘Cordelia’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Nicotine’ from her 2019 album Chosen Daughter, in keeping with the Celtic theme O’Connor also treated the audience to ‘The Grey Selkie’, a track from her 2014 album This Willowed Light. Inspired by the Scottish myth, the song follows the legend of the selkie, in this case a selkie man, who leaves his child and wife to return to the sea but promises to return one day to teach his son how to be a selkie himself. With breathy vocals and haunting reverb, it was in this song that the Celtic aspect of O’Connor’s voice really shone through. The song itself made me think of Declan O’Rourke’s ‘Marrying The Sea (Til Death Do Us Part)’; an equally beautiful tale-to-song of star-crossed lovers and the intensity of a life tied to the ocean.

O’Connor’s album which features strings and a full band, something that will undoubtedly elevate her charming sound to an even more charming level, is one I will definitely be adding to the Spotify playlist.  After her performance she headed to the Drygate Brewery for their Late Night Sessions as part of this year’s festival,


With the crowd now warmed up, it was time for the headliners. Full of energy and excitement, Wrest rocked the Blue Arrow basement from start to finish. Foot stomping tunes ‘Alive’ and ‘Through a Glass’, featuring fierce snare drum beats and soaring guitars that really amped up the sound, gave their set spirit and verve. Stewart Douglas’ Edinburgh twang provided each song with character, particularly in ‘Hope Springs’, the third track off their 2019 album Coward of Us All. ‘Adventurers’, Wrest’s first single, was a particular hit with the crowd who sang the lyrics back to the band on stage, enjoying the song which presumably introduced them to Wrest in the first place.

coward of us all wrest

Performing brand new track ‘Infidel’ exclusively for Celtic Connections, Wrest lent their hand to more of a rock vibe, giving the audience something different from their staple indie/folk sound. The song was received extremely well by the crowd and was followed by another unreleased track which was similar to Prides’ ‘Out of the Blue’, but with a mellower feel. The song’s refrain ‘in the salt of the earth, we belong’ rang out over the two hundred strong room, before ‘Breathe Out’ and the brilliant ‘Human’ brought the gig to a close.

Their sound is often compared to that of Frightened Rabbit and The National, but with their debut album BBC Radio Rapal Album of the Week and a number of sold-out shows to boast about after just a year together, Wrest are a Scottish band that are a force to be reckoned with, and not simply a band to be conflated with their predecessors. Judging from their loyal following and their performance at Celtic Connections alone, it will be exciting to see what Wrest will achieve in 2020. 

Fionnuala Boyle, 18 January, 2020 


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