Celtic Connections 2016: Part three

In the third of their reports from Glasgow’s Celtic Connections 2016, Joanna Royle and Sam Law delve into some of the festival’s stranger and more diverse acts. Maybe this is folk, guys, but not quite as you know it…


Strathspey and Surreal Society

Glasgow Concert Hall, 23/01/2016

One of the great joys of Celtic Connections it that it offers something for all possible audiences. If our CC profile has already covered the folk-rock crowd, the Highlands and Islands trad community, and the hipster scene, Strathspey and Surreal Society offers something to the more conventional Concert Hall patron. In Blazin’ Fiddles, Lau, and myriad other collaborations Aiden O’Rourke has long-established himself as one of the linchpins of the Scottish folk revival. Debuting this experimental alliance with Simon Thoumire, today he is giving the premise of local Strathspey and Reel societies a comprehensive overhaul. 21 fiddles (and an occasional concertina) is a mighty sound, suited to four mighty compositional pieces. Underlying each piece is a tune you thought you knew inside out (at least, you do if you ever ventured onto a Scottish Country Dance floor where Deil Amang the Tailors is a favourite), but these are not those tunes. These pieces go to places that folk usually does not: sometimes via dramatic glissando. And when the six-year old laddie behind you is giggling along to this sort of musical joke you know they’re doing something right. (JR)

Eddi Reader

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Eddi Reader, with Grainne Holland

Glasgow Concert Hall, 25/01/2016

That Eddi Reader is a national treasure is a cliché: like most clichés it is true. And what better night to listen to her than the 257th birthday of that other national treasure, Rabbie Burns? Not that Eddi, who swept onto the stage in a wondrous technicolor dream-frock, is one to rest on the laurels of her much-loved status. Of late she has been touring Alba: Songs of Scotland alongside the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, giving a whole different texture to the Bard’s famous repertoire. This is Burns as you’ve never heard him before. If you loved Eddi’s 2003 album, then it’s all still there – still there and then some. Founded and directed by virtuoso saxophonist Tommy Smith (frae Wester Hailes, as he reminds us) the SNJO are renowned for providing a platform of new music and collaborations alongside their repertory programme. But this isn’t some awkward jazz-folk fusion: instead, it’s a reading of the classic tunes that is completely fresh and utterly magnificent. It follows on the heels of the particularly beautiful voice of Grainne Holland. New on the trad scene, Grainne and her band are bringing ancient Gaelic songs from Antrim to a new audience with upbeat folk-rock renditions which honour their debt to generations of singers. If Grainne’s songs came with the tales of their musical prosopography, Eddi’s banter was a bit more ribald. Do you know what Brose and Butter is about? Well apparently you’d best ask your Granny because it’s not for polite company. And who knew it was possibly to make the traditional Jacobite Charlie is my Darling even more prurient with a Jazz arrangement? Nevertheless, for me it is always Eddi’s renditions of the sweet ballads – John Anderson My Jo, Ae Fond Kiss, and Wild Mountainside – which bring a shiver to the spine and hang sepia-tinged in the air. I think I have a wee speck of sand caught in my eye. (JR)

Piaf! The Show

Piaf! The Show

Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 27/01/2016

Quite what the Celtic connection is for an almost-all-French stage musical celebrating the 100th birthday and chronicling the life of one of France’s most iconic vocalists isn’t immediately obvious. Regardless, for the more cultured and discerning of the festival faithful, Piaf! The Show provides a more than welcome change of pace. Celebrating the centenary of the inimitable Edith Piaf’s birth and owing more than a little to 2007 Oscar-favourite La Vie En Rose, Anne Carrere’s relatively Spartan embodiment of the icon proves both heart-wrenchingly authentic and thrillingly evocative of the Parisian charms of the early 20th Century. From the street lamps of Monmartre through the grubby nightspots of Pigalle to the transatlantic triumph of Carnegie Hall, it’s a startlingly transportive production that uses little more than a four-piece band, a scattering of vintage-photo projections and the imperishable power of iconic tunes like Little Sparrow, L’Hymne à L’Amour and the show-stopping Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien to shift an adoring audience into a thoroughly Gallic state of embrace. As one of the festival’s least-likely favourites, the captivating Carrerre delivers a personal performance and show-running panache that can be described as nothing short of world class. Turns great storytelling and some of Europe’s best ever songs are all the connection you need… (SL)

Words: Sam Law and Joanna Royle

Check back for the next instalment of our Celtic Connections review next week, and let us know if you’ve attended any of the shows via @TicketmasterUK.

Related links:

Celtic Connections 2016: Part two

Celtic Connections 2016: Part one