This year’s Celtic Connection boasts “2100 Musicians/300 Events/20 Venues/1 Festival.” Trying to decide upon one or two shows a night is enough to make a music lover mad with frustration and anticipation, especially when you are sleep-deprived and jet-lagged. Choosing Cuairt nan Eilean for Friday’s show was an excellent decision.
Cuairt nan Eilean (A Tour Around the Islands) features Gaelic singers Jenna Cumming, Darren Maclean, and Linda Macleod backed by fiddlers Patsy Reid (Breabach) and Fiona MacAskill, piper/flautist James Mackenzie (Breabach), and multi-instrumentalist Matheu Watson. Described by Darren as a “ceildh concert,” this was a formal performance with an informal charm and talented musicians. The vocals filled the nave of St. Andrews in the Square to the gilded ribs of its roof, growing stronger with each song, alternating with brilliantly arranged instrumental sets.
Trading leads and sharing choruses, as they did with Runrig’s “An Dealachadh” or the second half’s “Mi le m”uillinin,” the singers brought the audience into the songs while demonstrating their own mastery on the solo leads. The instrumental sets, especially the “retreats” set in the first half and the fiddle set in the second half, were pure genius, providing a different kind of energy to complement the beauty of the Gaelic songs.
More subtle, but perhaps more impressive, was the way the ensemble blended instrumental support with the vocal performances throughout the concert. These are musicians confident not only in their own abilities, but in each other’s as well, and it was fun to watch.