A wonderful evening of Gaelic songs and rousing instrumentals at a great site with expertly crafted sound.
Of all the Celtic Connections venues, St. Andrews in the Square is my favorite. This Rococo gem sits in the midst of a bleak concrete wasteland, surrounded on all sides by tall buildings. With a neighborhood like that, you’d expect something less wonderful, and you’d be just as pleasantly surprised as we are.
St. Andrews in the Square is not only a fabulous concert space, with its own bar and expert sound man, it has a restaurant that’s worth the journey through the lower end of the Merchant City’s gritty streets.
But enough of that. The music is the thing, and Skye Night provided plenty of that.
The emcee for the evening was Arthur Cormack, one of three Mòd Gold Medalists spanning five decades, and heard on Oak & Thorn as the male vocalist for the group Cliar. Cormack instantly charmed and confused me, as he held forth in Gaelic (followed by a condensed translation for us non-speakers…the few Gaelic non-speakers in the audience), but then this was to be an evening of Gaelic singing. Cormack has a gorgeous, expressive voice, which held the audience in thrall for too few songs. As a bonus, Blair Douglas (one of the founding members of Runrig) backed Cormack both on piano and accordion.
Up next was Kenna Campbell, another winner of the Mòd Gold medal, though from longer ago… With her sweet, clear style, she sang three songs. Cliar’s version of “Gaol nam fear dubh” has been stuck in my head for months, and her trad version was quite different but every bit as wonderful.
Our third Mòd winner, Darren MacLean, was the star of the the first half. With his deep, strong voice, he carried off “Chi mi’n geamhradh” with amazing depth… amazing because so many people have performed this modern classic (Runrig, Cathie-Anne McPhee, etc.) and his version is now stuck in my head, alternating with Donnie Munro’s original. When MacLean issues a CD, I want one. What a voice!
The house band for this show was Cherry in Cream (a name chosen after “too many fresh-squeezed orange juices” in a pub). The trio (fiddler, piper and guitarist) rocked the house. Their version of “Cleveland Park” (a Wolfstone signature tune) was fantastic. The only down side: they don’t have a CD…yet.
The grand finale, as is customary at Celtic Connections, included all of the musicians performing at once, in this case an extended set of Gaelic songs – which many in the audience were familiar with, and joined in on the choruses! It was quite marvelous. Ended up with a nice long set of blazing instrumentals by Arthur, Blair, and the Cherry boys.
After the show ended, Tim cornered Arthur Cormack for a brief interview on the subject of Gaelic cultural progress. The Fèis and the Mòd explained for Oak & Thorn listeners! Had a fascinating conversation with Blair as well, but unfortunately didn’t have a chance to sit down for an interview with him. Really interesting guy, funny and serious at once, and totally BS-free.