Following a fantastic first weekend, Celtic Connections 2016 hit full stride with a frantic full week of action.
Broadening scope to take in literature, dance and an increased world music presence, Glasgow’s world-leading winter festival continues to run from strength to strength. In this second report from amidst the festival fray, Joanna Royle and Sam Law bring you another handful of toe-tapping highlights…
Roaming Roots Revue 2016: Troubadours
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 23/01/2016
“You book a highwayman to headline,” grins Roddy Hart, with tongue in cheek, early-on tonight, “and you can’t afford seats any more!” The Lonesome Fire frontman looks every inch the cat who got the cream as he leads his band through a surging performance. Rightly so. Within four short years, this pet-project variety show has grown from a humble festival showcase for Transatlantic talent to Celtic Connections’ central Saturday night main event. Sold out and filling the gaping Royal Concert Hall to the point where the regular floor seating has been removed to free-up extra space, the Roaming Roots Revue’s rapid graduation may owe much to booking legendary headliner Kris Kristofferson, but there’s plenty more on offer.
From the gravelly soul of Richmond, VA’s hulking Matthew E White to the airy excellence of Anglo-French outfit This Is The Kit (who garner much goodwill and deafening applause despite a couple of stumbles through an ambitious rendition of Rabbie Burns’ Now Westlin’ Winds), there’s an impressive embrace of the Troubadour concept. Anderson East of Athens, Alabama delivers some exceptionally impressive vocal work; his poncho raising a few smirks but marked similarities to local favourite Paolo Nutini soon sees them widen into enthusiastic grins.
Canadian singer-songwriter Frazey Ford might’ve headlined her own show at the festival, but her brand of highbrow Americana seems to sit uneasily with the beery spirit and earthy appeal tonight. Ironically, Glasgow indie-rockers Honeyblood manage much more of a convincing connection; the crashing riffage of Love Is A Disease seeing Kristofferson visibly bouncing at the side of the stage before a rousing cover of David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel sees the whole hall hit full voice.
Iain Morrison of the Isle Of lewis brings some fascinating grit to his performance. A cover of Nick Cave’s latter-day classic Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! might leave some of the strict folk-aficionados scratching their heads but another of namesake Van Morrison’s Into The Mystic with Edinburgh songwriter Blue Rose Code in tow fully delights. Regaling the audience with accounts of attending an aunt’s funeral this morning that “allowed [him] to wear this suit twice”, the latter packs real slickness and a crowd-pleasing cover of troubadour-cut-short Amy Winehouse’s Rehab.
Of all the undercard acts, though, Del Amitri’s Justin Currie gets the biggest cheer. Mercilessly foul-mouthed and sharply good-humoured, the hometown boy boasts an easy rapport with his Glaswegian faithful but his rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s Brilliant Disguise manages to be as spine-tingling a musical high point as is reached tonight.
Regardless, the loudest applause is inevitably reserved for the night’s most legendary performer. At 79 years of age, Kris Kristofferson’s credentials as an icon of the stage and screen are beyond reproach. And his six-song set this evening – though showing the hairline cracks of old age – is a thing of timeless brilliance. Loving Her Was Easier and the brilliantly scuzzy Sunday Morning Coming Down rouse a broad spectrum of emotion but it’s up to all-hands-on deck, full-revue-cast run through of Bob Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door (written based on Dylan’s experiences with Kristofferson while filming Peckinpah classic Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid) to provide the night’s climactic moment. An encore blast of Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World and we’re released – fittingly – back out on the road, and already eagerly awaiting whatever this superb setup might deliver this time next year. (SL)
The Story of Katie Morag with Mairi Hedderwick
Strathclyde Suit Glasgow Concert Hall, 23/01/2016
Are you, or were you once, eight? Do or did you have an affinity for wellies and exploring rockpools? If so, I’m guessing you are already a bit in love with Katie Morag, the feisty lass from the imaginary Isle of Struay with a head full of ‘brilliant ideas’ that don’t always go as planned. Mairi Hedderwick’s exquisitely illustrated books – by her own admission a nostalgia trip through her younger days on Coll – have bewitched a couple of generations already, and their recent arrival on the small screen is capturing a new fanbase. Not that these new fans are all eight: as TV series writer Martin McCardie points out, the Sunday show has “become required viewing for people with hangovers as well as those with children”. Today’s conversation drew the family of people who made this possible around Mairi, and it is clear that she is delighted with the new life (including new plotlines) which has been breathed into her red-headed heroine. Unfazed, said TV heroine, Cherry Campbell, is genially taking all the excitement in her stride. Finding someone who could effortlessly capture the magic of Katie Morag was identified as breakthrough by casting director Orla O’Conner and producer Lindy Cameron, but it’s all in a day’s work for Cherry who charmingly forgot for a moment that her performance has secured her the youngest ever awarded BAFTA. As one from the grown-up hangover-crowd of Katie Morag-philites two things stood out in this fascinating hour. Firstly the impressive way that Move On Up productions have invested in the Highland and Island communities for whom Katie Morag is “a little ambassador”, bringing media training and opportunities for aspiring young people. Secondly, it has to be the bums. In the books Mairi loves drawing bums. And she loves telling the stories of the bums (and shoes) she draws. That so much estimable kindness and generosity is told in the tiny picture details perhaps explains how Katie Morag leaves adults as well as children with “a wee emotional tingle”. At the end there were stickers for the children – those who are eight and those who are, erm, thirty-eight…. (JR)
Celtic Connections 2016 continues until 31 January, get full event details and book now at Ticketmaster.co.uk.
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.
Words: Sam Law and Joanna Royle