Category Archives: Festivals

Celtic Connections 2013 (2)

414We went to two more concerts this week – on Thursday we went to the Old Fruitmarket (way past my bedtime I might add!) and saw Irish band Hothouse Flowers. They were well-known over here in the late 80s/early 90s I’d say, and it has to be said that (with just a couple of exceptions) the audience was pretty much all ‘of a certain age’ (ie our age and older!). I loved their show, the lead singer Liam O Maonlai has incredible stage presence and the whole band were just brilliant. They played probably their best known song (at least over here) “Don’t Go” towards the end of the set, it was actually probably the song I liked least in the set (they did it in a style that reminded me of Paul Simon’s “Gracelands” album), but I was just so happy that they did a song from “Songs from the Rain”, which is my favourite album of theirs and one of my favourite CDs for driving. It was a cracking concert, well worth the late night, although I am very aware that going to bed at 2am on a work night isn’t something I should be doing too often at my age!

Yesterday we went to the Concert Hall and saw the wonderful Shetland band Fiddlers’ Bid (if you click on the link make sure your volume is turned up and you’ll get a taste of their music). We saw them several years ago, I think in 2007, and so I knew we were in for a good night and they did not disappoint. The support act, Emily Smith, was also very good I thought. They also had the brilliant King Creosote playing with them for a couple of tracks, along with a presenter from BBC Radio Shetland who read some poetry in the Shetland dialect which was just beautiful to hear (it’s one of those accents you really have to tune into, if you’re not paying attention it can sound like a different language!). It was a brilliant night and I really enjoyed it (I want to go back to Shetland now).

Celtic Connections 2013 (1)

Well it’s that time of year again, time again for the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. We always go to several gigs during the festival, I think this year we’re being quite restrained and only have/had tickets for 4 events! We’ve been to two already, with two coming up next week.

392First up, last weekend we went to the O2 ABC and saw Dublin band Kila, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. They were a new band to us though, they play a kind of fusion of Irish trad and world music, and were excellent (although to be honest by the end I did find them a bit trippy). The guy who plays the bodhran was like Animal from the Muppets, prowling all over the stage (at least when he wasn’t singing). I did think that they would go down an absolute storm at a festival like Womad. The support act was Scottish band Manran who I really liked (HD wasn’t so keen) – I hadn’t seen them before but had heard of them and heard good things so that’s why I took the risk in deciding on this being a gig to go to. They play traditional Scottish tunes, with a drum and bass added to give it a bit of extra oomph, I thought they were excellent. They didn’t have their singer/guitarist as he had norovirus, and at one point they were thinking they would have to cancel, but despite that I thought they did really well, including finding a guitarist with 2 hours’ notice!

Then on Thursday we went over to the Kelvingrove Museum and saw two more great acts. The headline act was Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, a very famous Bulgarian women’s choir (with a couple of blokes thrown in for good measure) who I thought were extraordinary. The vocal sounds they made as well as the amazing harmonies (including quarter tones I believe) and fiendish rhythms meant that it really was something to behold, and they made it sound so easy! It wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, and it’s not something I’d listen to day in day out, but as a show it really was sometihng else and I loved it. Supporting them was English folkie Martin Simpson and Pakistani singer and guitarist Arieb Azhar, who have been working on a collaboration supported by the British Council and the Sage, Gateshead (there’s a bit of blurb about the collaboration here). I loved their sound, Arieb Azhar’s voice was beautiful and really suited Martin Simpson’s guitar and banjo playing. Well worth catching if you can.

Greenbelt (the muddy one)

Like a number of other wibloggers I was at the Greenbelt Festival over the weekend. Here are some of my highlights (in no particular order):

* catching up with friends from far and wide, including a few I wasn’t expecting to see at all and people I haven’t seen for years from various bits of my life.
* spending time with HD 🙂
* Tony Campolo on the Friday night. In the 90s I heard him speak a few times at madchurch, and he is just as engaging and wonderful as ever (and I totally can’t believe he’s now 78! He’s got far more energy than me!). He spoke about the difference between power and authority (taking as his examples the US evangelical movement as an example of those seeking to win through power, but by doing so lacking authority to demonstrate anything other than their own agenda; whilst people like Mother Teresa had an authority borne out of service). It made me think very much about parenting, both how I was parented and the many examples of parenting I have seen over the years of being a health visitor, and thought about how if we are ever blessed with being parents it is a lesson I want to put into practice – not imposing my rules because I’m the parent so what I say goes, but having the authority borne from love and sacrificial giving. Which I know is ever so idealistic, and I’m not putting it very well, but thinking about my own experiences I now know what I’m aiming for (even though this is an entirely hypothetical situation right now, before anyone asks!).
* The Proclaimers. Especially ending their set with ‘500 miles’ (how could they not?).
* Stanley Odd. The rain meant that they had hardly anyone at all seeing them on mainstage which was such a shame as they are great – I hope they can come back and get the audience they deserve another year.
* Transcendence. The one worship service I went to during the weekend. A good place to slow down, and think about why I was there.
* Tiny Tea Tent. Respite from the rain, warming brews and catching up with friends old and new. Perfect.
* Bellowhead. I loved them – where on earth do they get their energy from?
* Imagined Village. Always wonderful. Having lived in Scotland for 7 years now and felt a lot of challenges to my national identity (not anti-English, just difference and awareness of that) they are one thing that always makes me proud of my roots – their music resonates with me in a way that other English stuff doesn’t.
* The Rising with Martyn Joseph on Monday morning (with Abigail Washburn, Luke Sital-Singh and Karine Polwart). I think this was my absolute GB highlight this year. We’d seen Abigail Washburn before at Womad and got her CD, and seen Karine Polwart a few times at various things in Scotland, so knew it would be good, but both they and Luke Sital-Singh were extraordinary and sublime. And I was so happy that Karine Polwart sang ‘Cover Your Eyes’, the song she wrote after seeing the ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ documentary about Donald Trump’s shenanigans with the golf course in Aberdeenshire, and which now closes the film. I was actually moved to tears (just as when I saw the documentary) at what that vile man has done to that beautiful dune system and her quiet rage. There’s a review and interview with her about the new album here.

It was a shame about the terrible weather and the mudbath that the site became, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying it a lot and being so glad we went. I don’t know if we’ll make it next year (it *is* a long way, and there are other things we want to do – let’s see what WOMAD’s line-up is next year) but thanks Greenbelt 2012, it was a blast 🙂

Celtic Connections 2012 (4)

So that’s the festival over for another year. We saw two concerts this final weekend. On Saturday we were at the City Halls with Kingsfold to see Lau – the first half was a set by the band, and then the second half they were accompanied by the Northern Sinfonia in a large piece based on snippets of their music. Personally I loved the first half, and I think all of us were less convinced by the second half – I found myself getting frustrated that when the orchestra got loud I couldn’t hear Lau at all, and there were many points where I felt the orchestra detracted rather than added, to be honest. There were bits I loved – a movement in the middle where Kris Drever sang accompanied by the orchestra was wonderful, as was the last 5 minutes or so. But the piece as a whole felt a bit odd. I think I’ll stick to just seeing them on their own, without the distractions, they really are a cracking live band.

Then on Sunday, the final night of the festival, we were back at the O2 ABC for our “not really sure about this it sounds interesting but could go either way” choice, a bunch of seemingly random (but actually really well-suited) musicians coming together under the name Floating Palace and, as they put it, rehearsing in front of us. They were brought together by Robyn Hitchcock (who, it turns out, is a bit eccentric), as well as him it also featured Martin and Eliza Carthy, K.T.Tunstall, Howe Gelb and Krystal Warren. Originally Abigail Washburn was meant to be in it but had to pull out, she was actually the reason we had decided to get tickets as HD had really liked her at Womad last year, so when we discovered (on the day) that she wasn’t there I really wasn’t sure if there would be enough for us to enjoy. How wrong could I have been! Sometimes they all played together, most often it was various combinations of the six musicians, it was always excellent. I think my favourite was an a capella song written by K.T.Tunstall and sung by her, Martin and Eliza Carthy based on having just seen a whale in New Zealand, it was beautiful. And the last couple of songs (covers of The Jackson 5 and the Bee Gees!) were delightfully random. They’re touring round and about the place, well worth catching if you are able.

Celtic Connections 2012 (3)

I’ve got a bit behind so have a couple of concerts to catch up on from the last week, and then we’re going to our final two tonight and tomorrow. First up, last Sunday we headed over to the O2 ABC to catch Skye band The Peatbog Faeries, supported by Scottish hiphop band Stanley Odd (those of us who were at the final night of the first Solas festival a couple of years ago will remember them as the last two, absolutely storming, acts of the festival, so we were really excited about seeing them both again and weren’t disappointed. I was quite amused that a lot of the people there looked, let’s say, quite a bit older than us (and we’re not exactly in the prime of our youth), and were obviously there for the Peatbog Faeries, I’d absolutely love to know what they made of Stanley Odd! I enjoyed both bands very much, my own highlight was a song by Stanley Odd called (I think) Sundance which the lead guy said was about a girl he went to school with whom he bumped into recently and found out she is now a prostitute – it was really moving and profound. Hiphop is not music which I feel that comfortable with, but Stanley Odd are really something else. The Peatbog Faeries were also brilliant, they did a great set and we went away absolutely buzzing. Sadly no photos as they confiscated my camera (apparently the venue only allow little point-n-shoot and phone cameras), oh well I’ll know for next time.

On Thursday we went for a completely different experience, at the completely random Glasgow Art Club on Bath Street. We were sat at tables with candles in not that big a room, to see Belfast-born singer-songwriter Andy White. HD is a bit of an AW-fanboy, having inherited a load of cassettes from his brother and sister donkeys years ago, has seen him several times over the years and I think has most of his stuff now. The evening was acoustic, just him and his guitar, with his sister doing some vocals and a bass player for a few songs at the end, and was a selection of songs and readings from his book and album 21st century troubadour. I was sad not to have my camera with me as he was all of about 6 feet away from us, but we bought (and got signed) everything on the merch desk and had a chat with the man himself at the end so that will have to do us. A very good evening indeed (and I have to say the GAC has possibly the most reasonably priced bar in Glasgow!).

Celtic Connections 2012 (2)

On Tuesday we headed to the Old Fruitmarket for our third concert of the festival – this time the Unthanks, supported by Scottish singing trio the Bevvy Sisters. We’d seen the Bevvy Sisters last year as they supported Eliza Carthy, I enjoyed their set and can think of a couple of people who might like to discover their music, so I might try and find some CDs to give as presents.

I thought the Unthanks were brilliant. I saw them at Greenbelt last year, and although I really liked them I didn’t get as into them as I thought I would (I think I was in a bit of a funny mood by then). I do though remember thinking to myself that I’d love to see them in an indoor venue with fewer distractions. This concert wasn’t (as I was expecting) of their trad stuff but the first part was covers of Antony Hegarty songs (the singer from Antony and the Johnsons) and the second part was covers of songs by Robert Wyatt. Their sound worked so well with both and I absolutely loved it. Brilliant musicians, beautiful voices – it was really magical.

Celtic Connections 2012 (1)

It’s that time of year again – mid-January through to the beginning of February Glasgow hosts the fantastic Celtic Connections music festival, with amazing musicians from Scotland and way way beyond. We are due to go to 7 concerts, 2 of them we have seen already. First up on Friday night was Cuairt nan Eilann (Gaelic for ‘a tour round the islands’), featuring 3 Gaelic singers plus a couple of fiddles, flute/whistle and guitar. The musicians were all fantastic and Gaelic is such a beautiful language, it was a brilliant night. I think I preferred the more lively stuff, but it was all wonderful.

Then last night we were at the Concert Hall for the 10th anniversary party/concert for Quebecois band Le Vent du Nord. We’d seen them twice before at the festival and so knew we were in for a great night, and they didn’t disappoint. They were on stage throughout, and had 3 other groups in various combinations join them for particular songs. Two of them we’d also seen before (Breabach from Scotland and Vasen from Sweden – or at least we’d seen the nykkelharpa guy from Vasen there before), the other band was Dervish from Ireland. It was all just fantastic, what an excellent night.

Celtic Connections isn’t great for the bank balance, but is so worth the money. It’s one of the highlights of the year – we’ve been to loads of CC gigs over the past few years, and not been to a single dud yet.

Greenbelt 2011

And so to Greenbelt, which although only a weekend ago feels like ages! This was my first GB for a couple of years, and I went by myself as HD didn’t have enough leave; this time I was also working for the first time since my first GB in 2003 when I was a venue steward.

There were loads of positives. Of course, catching up with lots of lovely people, from the wibsite, from Ship of Fools, from my old London church, from York, even from my (very first) university (embarrassingly H recognised me but I only recognised her when she told me 😮 ) is always the biggest highlight, and what I love about GB (and what is very different from Womad – we have on occasion bumped into a friend or two there, and last time a couple of years ago we camped with HD’s brother and sister and brother-in-law and their kids, but mostly it’s just us and the music). I camped with York friends (one of the things I was working on was the Visions service, and the other bit of it was working in the Soul Space venue, which was also headed up by someone from Visions), so got to spend quite a lot of time with them, and then I had a very happy couple of hours after the Visions service going to the Shipmeet at the fab Tiny Tea Tent, where it was wonderful to catch up with folk again. And then on the last day, once I’d got my tent down, I spent the late afternoon and evening with ship and wibsite friends (including Pants, Auntie Doris and Cal amongst several others. I also managed to bump briefly into Tractor Girl but sadly didn’t manage to get the chance to grab a cuppa with her (that was one of the highlights of a previous GB for me 🙂 ).

Because I was working I didn’t get to loads of things – I caught about the first 15 minutes of Billy Bragg’s set before having to go off to Soul Space to work, and the main other things I caught music-wise were Kate Rusby and the Unthanks. So I guess it’s fair to say I really wasn’t very adventurous this year, just went with tried and tested favourites (having said that I’d not seen the Unthanks live before, I’d definitely like to see them again though). Talks-wise I started off at Abide (a tiny venue populated by the meditative/storytelling-types) to see a really promising-sounding talk on allotments and atonement, but which turned out to be quite dull so I gave up after 10 minutes, and tried (and failed) to get in to see Richard Wilkinson talk about inequality (the queue was too long so the venue closed before I could get in – I did buy the talk though to listen to on the journey back and am sorry to have missed it, and I have also bought the book The Spirit Level). I did though get to see the whole of Mark Thomas’ 2 hour set (which I think he has already toured, or at least started to, as he made reference to a bit of it not going down so well in Glasgow) detailing his walk along the length of the Israel-West Bank wall. He was absolutely brilliant, and I’m definitely going to get his book – he was funny, absolutely hilarious, but also heartbreaking – polemical, angry, funny, it was leftie comedy at its absolute best. I loved his story about the British Consul in East Jerusalem, and some of his one-liners were unexpected but quite brilliant (particularly the “Luton should be illegal” one – I can laugh at that as that is where HD is from – and his reason for coming to GB, despite being an atheist – “missionary work”). The Big Top was absolutely packed, and deservedly so. I laughed and cried, it was quite quite brilliant.

The other comedy (er, I mean anointed ministry time) I caught was Reverend Gerald Ambulance. It is always such a blessing to receive ministry from Lewisham, and the good reverend was on fine form.

In Soul Space (which is the mellow area for prayer, reflection and generally chilling out) I was basically a glorified bouncer, and didn’t really get the chance to be too involved in anything actually going on as I was too busy doing the (whispered) crowd control thing. Having said that though, I thought what I heard of the nChant service and especially Orthodox Vespers sounded absolutely beautiful, and I’ll have to try and check out some more of that if I go back. I learnt that after 3 hours of whispering to people (directions, requesting they turn their phone off, taking appointments for spiritual direction, that sort of thing) my throat absolutely killed me in the morning, it felt like I’d been yelling football songs at top volume on 10 pints. Which was a bit ironic!

Another highlight for me was the Visions all-age service on Saturday afternoon that I was participating in. Thanks to my madchurch experience, all-age worship is something I am somewhat allergic to, and I must confess to not being entirely convinced it would work, but on the day it all went beautifully, it was fantastic to see so many children and adults really engaging with the various aspects of the service, and to get such good feedback afterwards. I didn’t go to the main communion service on the Sunday (as it invariably annoys me – as it was I could hear bits of it from my tent and thought it sounded a bit shouty, so I’m glad I gave it a miss), so Visions was probably my main God-bit really. It would be so lovely to find something similar up here. Ho hum.

One thing I did find was that it was a real old slog driving down all the way to Cheltenham. I was lucky to stay with my in-laws to break up the journey both ways, but even with that it was a bit of a hike. I think realistically my days of going to Greenbelt every year are probably over, although I am also sure that this won’t be my last festival. It was certainly fantastic to catch up with people – here are some selected highlights:

Home sweet home Performance Cafe ceiling

Bookshop ceiling Billy Bragg

Campsite Ominous

Blue sky Mark Thomas

Kate Rusby IMG_6560

Fairy princess :) The Unthanks

Rev Gerald Ambulance

WOMAD 2011

It has taken me forever to upload more than one photo a day, so I haven’t yet written about Womad and Greenbelt. I’ve been procrastinating this afternoon though, and so now all the photos are up 🙂

This is to just briefly record some of my highlights from Womad this year. Womad is really all about the music, and it was a great lineup this year. Highlights for me were Mahala Rai Banda from Romania (who I saw before a few years ago at Celtic Connections), Majorstuen from Norway (whose latest CD I am playing to death in the car), Afrocubism who are (as the name suggests) a collaboration between artists from Cuba (led by Eliades Ochoa, who I saw at Womad a couple of years ago in his own right, and who plays with Buena Vista Social Club) and Africa (led by Malian legend Touamane Diabate), and Lau (who are 2/3 from Scotland and 1/3 from England and who were brilliant). We saw a number of other groups and artists too – Baaba Maal was amazing, but we were miles away from the stage so couldn’t really appreciate him so much, likewise Gogol Bordello (and, to show my age, there I was, whilst all around me were moshing to their ‘gypsy punk’, sitting in my camping chair like Lady Muck). Rodrigo y Gabriela also sounded great, they are Mexican guitarists but they were so popular we had to sit outside the Siam tent so could only really hear the loud bits. I’d love to see them again somewhere more intimate. I also liked 9Bach from Wales and the beautiful Portuguese fado singer Ana Moura. Booker T Jones was brilliant (especially the Test Match Special theme which really got the crowd going). Random choice of the festival was Las Balkanieras, three girls from Croatia, Bosnia and Russia who basically were Womad meets Eurovision. The programme said something along the lines of “they won’t be troubling the stuffy musicologists, but they’ll be having too good a time to care”, and that pretty much summed them up.

Any of these would be worth checking out, but as I say it’s Majorstuen who are currently being played to death in the car. They are a 5 piece group who all play violin (one of them also plays the cello sometimes, not simultaneously obviously) and their sound is really interesting. The programme reckoned that a group of Norwegian violinists sounded very like a group of Irish violinists, but I don’t agree with that. Actually the more I listen to them the more I think they sound like the Swedish nyckelharpa – it’s a very jangly, chordal sound which I think sounds very very Scandinavian – evocative of the vast empty spaces and the creativity of the population. And that is about as Pseud’s Corner as I’m going to get. If you can’t be doing with that, listen to Las Balkanieras 🙂

Non-musical highlight was Lah-di-da loos which was such a brilliant idea – basically ultra-posh portaloos. They were oversubscribed, did break down on occasions, but oh the relief at standing in a queue and being able to breathe and it not be pongy! And to sit on porcelain! And to be able to put your bag down on the floor and not worry about what it was soaking up! It was £8 for unlimited festival use (bargain) or £2 an individual go (not a bargain), they were open 9-9 during the day, and whilst the queue first thing in the morning was long (and a few people were a bit arsey about that) I think it was brilliant. They also had tables with mirrors and free face and hair products, I didn’t really bother with all that but plenty of people did, it was very popular. It is a new business, and their first time at Womad, and they hadn’t anticipated the demand, so I hope for next time they have more loos and perhaps even introduce a limit to the number of tickets sold (though I realise they have to make their money somehow). Definitely a great idea though.

Here’s a selection of photos I took at the festival:

Directions Taraf de Haidouks

Womad letters Afrocubism

Man with flags Mahala Rai Banda

Festival vibe Chilling out

9Bach Ana Moura

Las Balkanieras Oi Va Voi

Evening flags Lau

La-di-da Loos Majorstuen

Yellow flags, blue sky Womad flags

Booker T Jones Siam ceiling