The word for the Waters of Iona concert is “uneven.” From start to finish, the show kept going through rough patches only to turn out a polished set immediately after. It had the informal charm of a casual gathering of friends, rather than performance.
Goiridh Dòmhnallach meandered through the bilingual, Gaelic/English introduction before he finally began to sing. It took a bit of encouragement, but he convinced the crowd to sing the Gaelic chorus and overwhelm the strange hollow sound coming from his mic (which persisted the entire show). He invited harpist Ailie Robertson to accompany him on his next song, but, at least from where I was sitting, the harp kept overwhelming his voice.
For the next set, Robertson was joined by Fiona Black on accordion. Sound problems aside, their section was excellent, starting with Black’s accordion creating a moody musical cocoon for the first set. The second set was all light, featuring Robertson’s harp on “The Quaker Boy.” They ended with “The Favorite Dram,” which gave Robertson the chance to make the entire crowd envious of her newest musical commission: writing about the ties between music and whiskey, and about all the onerous research she has to do touring many, many, many Scottish whiskey distilleries.
Joanne MacIntyre had a rough start to her set. Clearly nervous, she repeatedly stumbled over her lyrics and turned to Dòmhnallach for prompts. She had her nerves under control for the second, where she turned out a wonderful performance with a song, title translated to “My Love Has Left,” that got better with each verse. By the time she got to the end of her set, she had regained her poise and, with Lewis MacKinnon and Dòmhnallach, turned out one of the highlights of the evening, a sailing song.
With such a fine finish to the first half, the beginning of the second was fated to start just a bit rough. MacKinnon sightread a song that he had translated from Irish into Gaelic, stumbling now and again. He found his rhythm again with the Gaelic anthem “Oran do Cheap Breatuinn.”
And then the evening took a little side trip, when Dòmhnallach tried something that was a bit too high concept. With Hector MacNeil acting as translator, Dòmhnallach told a story about Hugh of the Small Head and his dying vow to protect his family in death as he had in life. It was an interesting experiment in bilingual storytelling but the choppy back-and-forth between languages made it difficult to follow the story or to get a sense of the Gaelic rhythm.
Luckily, singing resumed and the energy level picked up. MacKinnon and Dòmhnallach powered their way through a waulking song, managing to remain serious for about three-quarters of the very long song before they gave into temptation and got a little silly checking watches, feigning skipping, and giving the audience their best one-legged balance.
Back on track, the evening was yet again diverted by MacIntyre, who when invited back on the stage, wanted to discuss her brother’s paintings, which were hung in the church. Eventually, the now-trio got around to singing the great Runrig song “Chi mi’n Geamhraidh,” starting out very rough until they hit the harmonies, which powered them to a great finish.
The last act, Carl MacKenzie and Patricia Chafe, brought everything back into balance with their classic Cape Breton fiddle and piano music. Fans leapt to their feet, applauding, at the end of their first set and after all the others, too. These two musicians are masters of their genre, effortlessly spinning out strathspey after strathspey, jigs, and reels. MacKenzie closed out their part with a jaw-dropping rendition of “Tulloch Gorum,” with many variations, each one receiving thunderous applause.
The evening wobbled to a close with the finale. Part one was vocals-only, with the instrumentalists playing silent bookends to a stirring delivery of “Taladh na Beinne Guirme” featuring Dòmhnallach (who co-wrote the song, with Brian OhEadhra) in his best voice of the night. The full-on finale with everyone singing and playing was awesome, leaving us with fond memories despite the roughness.
Reviewed by C. Keegan
Read Full Post »