Archive for January, 2012

When the first thing you see upon entering a venue is “Warning risk of high noise levels,” you know you’re not going to some prissy sit-down concert.  It was standing room only at the Oran Mor for Tarras and Manran, and it was loud.  Very loud.  Did I mention it was loud?  As a wise teenager once told me: If it’s too loud, you’re too old.  I’m too old.

Once I got my earplugs settled, I squeezed into the main room to watch Tarras.  The band invoked the ghosts of a thousand bar bands with their rock set.  I could have been in any bar anywhere any time in the last thirty years.

But, I came to hear Manran play, and they did not disappoint me.  Something old, something new, and something borrowed, the gig had something for everyone.  They played most of the songs off their debut album, some from Bodega (the former band of lead vocalist Norrie MacIver), a little Runrig, and a bunch of new tunes. The audience seemed to love everything the band played, screaming approval after each song and clapping whenever accordionist Gary Innes demanded they work for their fun.  It really was fun, but I think the next time I see Manran it’ll be in a concert hall or at a festival, somewhere where earplugs aren’t a necessity.

–Catherine Keegan

Artists’ websites:
Tarras www.tarrasmusic.com/
Manran manran.co.uk
Gary Innes www.garyinnes.com/
Ross Saunders www.ross-saunders.com/

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Corquieu’s set started gloriously with a high energy song that churned into driving tunes and kept building  until Gema Garcia gave the audience a brief rest with another song, and then onto more burning fast tunes!  The wonderfully complex tunes were really a delight to the ear.  Daniel Álvarez’s flute-playing was spectacular.  Time and again, he’d capture your attention with the way he would underscore a measure or pump up the frenetic energy.  Roberto Suarez stood out as well; he played judiciously, using the power of the gaita (Asturian bagpipe) to support the arrangements rather than overwhelm them.  We loved hearing the old standard, “The Silver Spear,” played with an Asturian accent.   There were no slow tunes with this band, and while Garcia’s songs lowered the tempo, they never dipped toward melancholy.  Corquieu left the audience smiling and slightly exhausted.

Breabach’s half began with a lovely, sinuous piece of music, adding instruments one at a time as the band members came onstage.  Just when the crowd had settled in for something slow and complex, the pipes came in and slapped us upside the head as they powered into a set of reels.  Supporting their newest CD, Bann, the band presented its new line up (Megan Henderson (fiddle/vocals/stepdance), James Duncan Mackenzie (pipes/flute), Calum MacCrimmon (pipes/whistles), Ewan Robertson (guitar/vocals) and James Lindsay (double bass)).  They treated the audience with “Glasgow of the Big Shops” (the title comes from a Gaelic phrase, Glaschu mòr na bùithdean), following that with a dynamite set that ended with a waulking song from Newfoundland to show off Henderson’s vocals.  She took the lead again on ”M’eudail, M’eudail,” a song that had the audience singing along.  Callum MacCrimmon’s tune “Gig Face” was a standout; starting with skirling pipes and James Linday’s bass, the tune pounded out a fabulous beat, twisting into a lovely, almost symphonic bridge, then built up the energy again.  Here’s how good that tune is: the Angus Grant masterpiece “2:50 to Vigo” almost paled in comparison.  The entire performance was stellar, with an encore that brought the audience to its feet.  The second encore brought Corquieu back onto the stage for an incredible set, all 13 musicians playing together in a wild, exotic medley.

You should have been there.
— Catherine Keegan

Artists’ Websites:
Breabach http://www.breabach.com/
Corquièu http://www.corquieu.com/Llar%20ingles.html

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Kim Robertson-I Vow to Thee my Country-Highland Heart-Gourd Music

Mairi Mac Innes-Fear a Bhata-This Feeling Inside-Green Trax

Franco Morone-Jig on Planxty Irwin-The Road to Lisdoonvarn-Acoustic Records


Cherish the Ladies-My Own Native Land-The Backdoor-Green Linnit

Duncan Chisholm-Farewell to Uist-Farrar

Cara Dillon-Blue Mountain River-Cara Dillon- Rough Trade

Jerry Holland-Andy Dejarlis-The Fiddlesticks Collection-Green Linnet


Jim Malcolm-Jimmy’s Gone to Flanders-Live in Glenfarg-Beltane

Sue Richards-The Celt-Mystic and the Muse-Dorian

Old Blind Dogs-Gaelic Song-Four on the Floor-Compass

Jeff Moore-Song of the Isles-Jackie Tar-The Dove’s Perch


John Doyle-My Parents Reared me Tenderly-Evening Comes Early

John Williams-Frather’s Jig/Paddy’s Resource-John Williams-Green Linnet

Kate Rusby-I am Stretched Out on your Grave-Hour Glass-Compass Records

Open House-The Miller of Drangan-Second Story-Green Linnet


Patrick’s Street-The Raheen Medley-Live from Patrick’s Street-Green Linnet

Jim Malcom-Lochanside-Live in Glenfarg-Beltane-

Solas-Paddy Taylors/McFadden’s Handsome Daughter-Scattered Showers-Shanachie

T with the Maggie’s-Wedding Dress-T with the Maggies-TWM


Jim Reid-Daft Donald-Yont the Tay-Green Trax

Lissa Schneckenburger-Aoife’s/Coleman’s March-Fiddle-Footprint

Whirligig-The Constant Lover’s-Spin-Prime


June Tabor-O my Love’s like a Red Red Rose-Rosa Mundi-Green Linnet

Teada-Tom O’Conners/Joy of My Life-Teada-Green Linnet

North Gregg-There was a Maid in her Father’s Garden-Summer at my Feet

Dougie MacLean-The Osprey-Fiddle-Dunkeld Recordings


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The warmth and bright colors of Africa swept through snowy Glasgow in a gust of beautiful music, delighting a standing-room-only crowd at the lovely St Andrews in the Square.  This Celtic Connections experiment with mingling musicians from different traditions was a magnificent success.

Combine the Pride of Manchester’s Michael McGoldrick, Capercaillie’s (and Celtic Connections’s artistic director) Donald Shaw on keyboards, Irishmen Gerry O’Connor on banjo and Tony Byrne on guitar, and Scotsman James Mackintosh on percussion and you have an instant powerhouse Celtic band, which opened their set with a set of driving reels and gave the crowd an excellent selection of trad and near-trad tunes.  And then, just when you settled into that groove, enter Fatoumata Diawara, a Malian musician currently living in France, and enjoy one of those Celtic Connection twists that makes you sit up and experience music with a new delight.

She changed the game, crowding the traditional sounds closer to R&B, teasing the audience with her brilliant smiles and knowing chuckles that punctuated the chorus of “Sowa.”  The band rose to meet her music’s challenges.  Who knew that O’Connor’s banjo could put out that kind of African/rock melody?   McGoldrick’s whistles twined beautifully into her vocals, and Shaw’s keyboards added a kind of African undercurrent.  But it was Diawara, smiling happiness at everyone, who captured the audience’s imagination.  They hung on her every note and gave her their hearts.

It can’t be easy coming on after such a fiery and crowd-pleasing set, but the trio of wisecracking ace fiddlers from Ireland, Fidil, were more than ready for the challenge.  Between jokes, they tore through a tune or three, showing off their innovative stylings, complete with string-plucking, violin-drumming, and full-on bowing.  That was lovely, but the audience needed more African sunshine, and dressed in warm yellows and rust, Senegalese kora master and griot singer Solo Cissokho obliged.

At the start of the set, the lads of Fidil promised us music “from County Senegal and from County Donegal.”  They hadn’t let on that the mix was going to be so much fun.  As they pointed out, Solo taught them songs about “the woman,” and in exchange, they taught him tunes about sheep.  No matter the subject, each tune and song was a joy to experience.  Solo’s kora, a gourd-based stringed instrument, inserted a sense of mischief and fun into every plucked note; and his obvious joy pervaded the room.  Most of the audience spent this set dancing in their seats, except when a few couldn’t stand it any longer and danced in front of the stage, including Diawara.  To give us all a rest, Solo took a few moments to explain how one masters the kora in “seven paragraphs,” showing how a simple instrument can create complex tunes. They tried to end the set with “Glory Reel,” but the crowd refused to let them go that quickly, jumping to ther feet to demand an encore, wanting to hang onto the warmth of Solo’s smile and the fun that Fidil brought.

–Catherine Keegan

Artists’ websites:
Cissokho Solo www.leopardmannen.no/s/system.cissokho.asp
Fidil fidilmusic.com
Fatoumata Diawara www.myspace.com/fatoumatadiawara

Michael McGoldrick www.prideofmanchester.com/music/michaelmcgoldrick.htm
Gerry O’Connor www.gerryoconnor.com/”>www.gerryoconnor.com/
Tony Byrne
James Mackintosh www.shoogle.com/biogs.htm

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Pick how you want to celebrate Burns Night: eating haggis or listening to a trio of Gaelic singers from the Islands.  The full house at the Rennie MacIntosh-designed Glasgow Art Club didn’t seem to be missing their traditional Burns Suppers, when the first performer of the night, Lewis-born Norrie MacIver, stepped onto the stage.  Two songs into the set, he had the audience singing along to “Faili Faili” and nodding to the rhythm.  Next up was “An Eala Bhan,” a song he performs with Manran, but in this intimate setting, with only his guitar for accompaniment, the love song sounded sweeter than ever.  MacIver charmed us with his music and the tale of how he disappointed his granny.  He certainly didn’t disappoint the audience, many of whom joined their voices with his on the last song of the set, “A Ribhinn Og.”

Next up was Alasdair Whyte from Mull, one of the youngest Mod Gold recipients.  With a guitar and piano to back (and occasionally overwhelm) him, it took two songs before Whyte relaxed into his set and the full beauty of his voice could be appreciated on ”Mo Chaileag Shuaineartach.”  The last two songs in his set continued to show off his depth and range of his voice and a hint of his personal charm.

Gillebride MacIllemhaoil from South Uist was the last performer on stage, bringing with him a pianist, a guitarist and fiddler.  The grand piano may have been one instrument too many in the small confines of the Art Club, and while the fiddle was a sweet addition, it sometimes tended to cover rather than support the vocals.  Nevertheless, MacIllemhaoil’s beautiful voice and phrasing came through.  “An Teid Thu,” a very sad love song written during the Clearances, was especially fine, and there followed excellent renditions of “Air Forladh” and a Gaidhlig version of the trad favorite “Norland Wind” (aka “The Wild Geese”).  And while I enjoyed his set at the Art Club, it was by a fortunate accident at the House of Song where I had the great pleasure of hearing him sing unaccompanied and heard the real depth and emotion of his voice.  A very great talent, he needs no instruments save his voice and his presence to hold you rapt.

— Catherine Keegan

Artists’ Websites
Gillebride MacIllemhaoil www.myspace.com/gillebridemacmillan
Norrie MacIver www.myspace.com/norriemaciver
Alasdair Whyte

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This show featured two wildly different kinds of music, with no discernible connection, at the elegant Grand Hall.

First up was the new Irish supergroup At First Light, a six-piece band band that grew from the collaboration of John McSherry and Donal O’Connor.  Their initial album, Tripswitch, caught attention for its distinctly original arrangements and energetic playing; this new formation only amplifies both characteristics.  In addition to McSherry (Uileann pipes, whistles) and O’Connor (fiddle), the band now includes  Tony Byrne (guitar), Michael McCague (bouzouki), Francis MacIlduff (pipes, bodhran), and Ciara MacCrickard (fiddle, vocals).  The power and complexity of this expanded lineup was evident from the first set, which began with a spare, plaintive sound from Byrne, O’Connor, and McSherry (on low whistle).  McCrickard came in with fiddle while McSherry switched instruments, and then he and MacIlduff and McCague all came in at once; the sudden leap of intensity brought whoops and cheers from the audience as the band tore into the reels.

Tripswitch, the title track from McSherry and O’Connor’s first release, started as a slow reel or march, and ended as a fast reel – the transition marked by another of those sudden jumps of energy, provoking more whoops and shouts of approval.   On a slow air, McSherry and MacIlduff doubled up on pipes and seemed to be tossing the melody back and forth between them; the effect was mesmerizing.  Especially notable was a tune from Brittany (learned from the band Pennou Skoulm) where the doubled instruments played call-and-response in the Breton tradition with a distinct Irish accent and another from Galicia (El Garrotin).

Singing in both Irish (Gaelic) and English, MacCrickard’s vocals provided a counterpoint to the powerful instrumentals, slowing the tempo and lowering the energy, but avoiding the breathy whispering style affected by many Irish vocalists in recent years.

And then all too soon, At First Light finished their set and left the stage.  After the break, something completely different:  Jaadu with Faiz Ali Faiz, a Pakistani qawwali singer performing Sufi poetry to the accompaniment of buzuq, tabla, handclaps, shruti boxes, frame drum, dumbek, cajon, accordion, and some kind of weird bass stringed instrument whose name I didn’t catch.  The music was powerfully rhythmic and complex, the vocals eerie and alien to my ears.  Titi Robin on buzuq and guitar led off each set with some marvelous playing, and each set built in complexity and intensity, rising and falling in mysterious (to me) cycles.  I don’t know what the Celtic connection is, but it was strong stuff.

– Reviewed by Tim

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Partiality alert!  This concert had several of my favorite Gaelic singers performing at my very favorite venue, St. Andrew’s in the Square, and a superstar Breton group.  If you want the short version of this review, it can be summed up in one word: GREAT!

Whoever came up with the idea of combining the talents of Rachel Walker, James Graham, Fiona Mackenzie and Brian O’hEadhra into a group was brilliant.  The group put on a smooth show for their debut performance.  And what a debut!  The harmonies these four manage are glorious.  Strong vocal performances from all four are supported by O’hEadhra on guitar or shruti box and Walker on accordion or piano.   They breathed new life into the waulking song “Fhalbh Oirre Ho,” sang a KZYX favorite “Tàladh na Beinne Guirme” (Lament of the Blue Mountain), and finished their set with “Fuigfidh Mise an Baile Seo,” a song about a woman who flees an arranged marriage, leaving the audience ready to take on the world.  We wanted more!

Four of the greatest Breton talents have come together in Empreintes.  Led by guitarist Gilles Le Bigot, Empreintes started  the second half of the show with two sets of jazzy marches and dances, showcasing the skills of master flautist Jean-Michel Veillon and saxophonist Bernard Le Dreau.  Then singer Marthe Vassallo took the stage and wowed the audience with her strong vocals.  The combination of mesmerizing Breton tunes and Vassallo’s powerhouse vocals produced an amazing performance that the audience did not want to end.  The band was kind and gave us a wonderful two-song encore, ending a magical night on just the right note.

— Catherine Keegan

Artists’ websites:
Gilles Le Bigot gilleslebigot.com
Jean-Michel Veillon www.jmveillon.net
Bernard Le Dréau www.skolvan.com/eng/ledreau.htm
Marthe Vassallo www.marthevassallo.com

Cruinn www.cruinn.net
James Graham www.jamesgraham.net
Fiona Mackenzie www.fionamackenzie.com/
Brian O’ hEadhra www.brianoheadhra.com
Rachel Walker www.myspace.com/rachelwalkergaelicsong

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