It’s taken me a full day to absorb the spectacle that was Jewels of the Ocean, which was held in the wonderful Victorian (almost steampunk) splendor of the Old Fruit Market. Everything about this show was “more.” More musicians, more songs, more smoke machine, and way more BBC cameramen. The sheer enormity of talent was dazzling, though, and that will stay with me a lot longer than the still-fresh memories of sitting on a tiny plastic chair designed by a sadist, packed in so tightly I couldn’t sit back in my seat, all the while being menaced by the continually whizzing about BBC camera crane. The fellow next to me apparently came directly from some kind of physical work without any opportunity to wash up; he did take a “French shower” at one point, dousing himself with cologne – which did not help. And did I mention the sadistic chairs?
BBC Alba Radio nan Gàidheal served up a multi-course feast of Gaelic singers to kick off Bliadhna nan Oran: a Year of Song. From the opening number, with a dozen musicians singing in harmony, to the rather confusing finale with everyone on stage together, the night was packed. (as was the audience.) Introductions were all done in Gaelic, with (usually) a partial English version added after, and all the songs were in Gaelic. Many in the crowd were Gaelic speakers as well, joining in on the choruses and laughing when a presenter made some humorous remark.
It was an all-superstar night, including the emcee, Mary Ann Kennedy (heard on Oak & Thorn as part of the Gaelic group Cliar). Things got off to a powerful start with the big sound of Na Seòid, delivering a strong harmony (we need their CD!). Karen Matheson and Capercaillie opened the individual performances, with a soulful ballad and the anthem “Jewels of the Ocean.” Arthur Cormack (also of Cliar and Na Seòid) did double duty, both as a soloist and as a substitute for one of the most charming acts of the night, Na h-Oganaich. New to me, Hannah Beaton sang with depth and emotion. I hope to hear more of her. My favorite of the evening was Mairead Ni Mhaoinaigh of Altan fame. Her voice is as beautiful as she is. [Almost! -Tim] Watching her waltz with Seamus Begley during the odd finale was a sweet addition to the show. Begley is a sean-nos singer from Kerry who injected some welcome humour into the proceedings. Matheson joined him on one song, alternating verses. Matheson and ni Mhaonaigh also did an interesting bit where they sang the Scottish and Irish versions of the same song (each claiming theirs was best, of course!). Another new voice for us was Griogair Labhruaidh (pronounced “Lowery”) who did a couple of very fine songs, including one self-accompanied with Scottish smallpipes. Impressive voice and delivery; I hope he has a CD.
The music was amazing, but overall the event felt a bit overproduced. The format, with each group or singer doing a couple of songs before introducing the next act, kept us from developing any kind of rapport with the performers. Sound was terrific – no complaints there at all! The lighting effects were OK, but the smoke machine was way overdone. I hope the intrusive BBC took a lot of excellent footage with its annoying camera crane, second camera on the side, irritating camera that was moved back and forth in front of the stage and two camera ninjas on the stage. Too bad we Americans will probably never get to see it.