We 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).
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.
First 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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
Today the 2012 Celtic Connections festival lineup was announced – I am getting excited already! Hello overdraft …..
So, it’s the final day of Celtic Connections today, and we finished today with THE gig of the festival (and all the others we’ve been to were brilliant, but I’m just home from this one and am still buzzing). The Waterboys are a band I loved in the early 90s and always regretted that they split up before I got the chance to see them live. Well now they’re back (different line-up, but Mike Scott still the frontman), and this gig showcased 20 new songs based on the poetry of WB Yeats. The opening song was absolutely classic Waterboys, as were a few of the others; others of the songs I think will repay a few more listens but I liked them all. There was a mildly irritating drunk woman near us who kept yelling out that she wanted them to sing “When will we be married” (despite the fact that the concert was advertised as being of new songs) in the gaps after a number of the songs, but I guess it all adds to the atmosphere. For the encore they did do some of the old favourites – The Stolen Child, Don’t Bang the Drum, and The Whole of the Moon – and the place erupted.
It has to be said, Mike Scott really does still have ‘it’. What an AMAZING gig.
28th January 2011:
I had a stroll in Queens Park today (as I often do on my day off). It’s quite cold out, but at least it’s dry. This picture is taken from the flagpole at the top of the hill (for those who know the park) and is of the Queens Park allotments. Thanks to a series of comments just now on this photo on facebook I did a bit of googling and found out that there have been allotments here since 1917. There are 55 full allotments (some of which are divided into two smaller plots – I think any future ones that come free will be halved so more people can have a go at allotmenteering), and we came up to take a look at them in September last year for Doors Open Day. We met the allotment secretary then and put our names down on the waiting list, but given that allotments hardly ever come free and there are about 100 people in front of us on the list, I don’t think we’ll be growing our own any time soon, sadly.
27th January 2011:
This was our third Celtic Connections gig of the year, and our “pot luck” gig (we often try to see something where we’ve no idea what it’ll be like, for the adventure of seeing something new). We went with a couple of friends to Oran Mor to a concert of Gaelic song (supported by a Cornish band called Dalla – I liked them, though it took me a couple of songs to get the gist of them). This is the main act, the singer (on the right) is Eilidh MacKenzie, who as well as singing with her sisters (see website here) is also Gaelic Singer of the Year in her own right. The concert was of a work called Saoghal Sona (Gaelic for ‘wonderful world’) commissioned last year for the Blas festival, they were apparently discussing how there is very little new Gaelic song out there, just lots of reworkings of all the old songs, so they commissioned Eilidh MacKenzie to write a series of “happy Gaelic songs” (we laughed – Gaelic song isn’t exactly famous for being cheerful). The show was a number of songs inspired by stories and people and random news events from the Highlands and islands, and as well as the band featured two Highland newsreaders introducing the songs, one in English and the other in Gaelic. It really made me want to try and learn some Gaelic sometime, it’s such an inscrutable and beautiful language.
Last night saw me at the Old Fruitmarket (my favourite Glasgow venue) for my must-see Celtic Connections gig of this year, Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks (well in Romanian they’re Taraful Haiducilor, but I think their record company or promoters thought that non-Romanians wouldn’t be able to cope with that and Taraf de Haidouks would be easier). A friend from London had accidentally seen them at a concert years ago and raved about them, and I’ve wanted to see them ever since but this was my first opportunity. They were well worth the wait! Incredible musicians, across the generations, and they made it look so easy. Sadly from where I was standing the only person I couldn’t see was the clarinet player, but I can say that whatever he looked like, his playing was amazing and he was doing stuff that I’d certainly never be able to manage on the instrument-of-the-gods! Actually they all were just incredible at what they did – the cymbalom player reminded me of Animal from the Muppets, he was bashing away on it like there was no tomorrow, such incredible skill and speed. And I loved the older generation – the guy on the right in the photo had the most incredible voice, actually he reminded me of a Mafia don, a Godfather-type in his dignity and just standing there quietly taking it all in whilst surrounded by such frenzied music. I went on my own as although HD had a ticket, he wasn’t feeling well (self-inflicted, you can imagine how sympathetic (!) I’ve been), and I have to admit it probably wasn’t the most soothing music if you were feeling a bit fragile. But I’m buzzing that I’ve seen them at last. I miss Romania.
As with Wednesday’s gig, the support act were also brilliant. Mama Rosin are a 3 piece Cajun band from that well-known Cajun heartland of, er, Switzerland, and I loved their music and infectious energy – another band well worth checking out. It’s the first time I have seen rock’n’roll triangle (and there’s yet another sentence I never ever quite imagined writing on my blog!).