CHRIS BARTTER and STEPHEN WRIGHT round up some outstanding moments from this year’s Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow
Blood and Roses, the concert celebrating the 100th birth anniversary of Ewan MacColl, was very much a family affair.
Sons Alum and Neill brought together his grandsons, friends and those influenced by their legendary father — a Marxist, actor, singer, songwriter, playwright, folk revivalist and documentary producer.
Other family connections were provided by another folk dynasty, with Eliza Carthy joined by her father and mother Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson to powerfully harmonise on the Moving On Song and 30-foot Trailer, along with an excellent Shift Boys, Shift.
They were joined by Jarvis Cocker and many other luminaries to demonstrate the breadth and depth of MacColl’s talent in using use peoples’ own testimony to document their working and travelling lives — exemplified by Chaim Tannenbaum on Shoals of Herring — through to socialist and campaigning songs such as Go Down You Murderers — the talented Tannenbaum again — and the irrepressible Dick Gaughan with the Spanish civil war song Jamie Foyers.
MacColl’s talent for writing deeply personal yet universal love songs were shown off to stunning effect in Calum MacColl and Karine Polwart’s duet on Nobody Knew She Was There, MacColl’s song for his mother Betsy Miller. The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan delivered a deeply felt and poignant version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, a number covered by so many that they were described by MacColl and his wife Peggy as their “chamber of horrors.” Another deeply personal touch came with sons and grandsons gathering to sing the shanties that MacColl belted out around the house.
A tremendous concert — where else would Jarvis Cocker and Norma Waterson duet on Dirty Old Town? — and a fitting tribute to an outstanding socialist talent.
Celtic Connections is often criticised for including acts who seem to have little connection to Celtic music yet Canzionere Grecanico Salentino from Puglia in Italy showed that’s not necessarily always the case.
Given their origin, influences from Greece and north Africa are evident, but so is the Celtic connection with their use of bagpipe-type instruments and tambourines akin to large bodhrans. Salento is home to the tarantella dance and Silvia Perrone provided a classic performance to music which had the rhythm and intricateness of a ceilidh band.
Maria Mazzotta’s accompanying vocals came from Greece via north Africa and the Iberian peninsula — think flamenco song meets fado — and the audience were on their feet early in the set, with many dancing throughout.
Support Complete are a South African a cappella group in the Isicathamiya style, and they mixed songs from their home country with lesser-known African standards such as Paul McCartney’s Yesterday and even My Yiddishe Mamma, along with a great version of Joseph Shabalala’s Homeless.
Some 23 years since their last Celtic Connections appearance, the concert by Frances Black and Kieran Goss was billed as a reunion and the duo lost no time in covering their 1992 album, with some Goss songs and a few others thrown in for good measure.
Goss’s guitar playing was sublime throughout and Black’s vocals as powerful as ever, especially on her unaccompanied version of Ewan McColl’s song about injustice Legal Illegal.
Other numbers like Reasons to Leave touched on Irish economic emigration, the 1916 rising — Why Do I Have To Be Lonely — and a raft of love and heartbreak songs like Wall of Tears and the encore Sonny’s Dream.
Closing the set with a version of (Reach Out) I’ll Be There by the Four Tops produced a deserved standing ovation for a reunion with a happy ending.
Another five-star show was provided by Craig Armstrong and the Orchestra of Scottish Opera. Armstrong is probably not a household name and he certainly gives the impression of being uncomfortable in the limelight. But you’ve almost certainly heard his music in films such as Love Actually, Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet, The Quiet American and Far from the Madding Crowd.
Yet he’s markedly enthusiastic about his work with fellow Glaswegian Peter Mullan, having written the music for his The Magdalene Sisters and Orphans, with the theme tune from the latter given a fine rendition.
His own albums, with particular emphasis on his new release It’s Nearly Tomorrow got a hearing too.
Armstrong has a huge talent for making an emotional impact and he was well served in this massive concert by a galaxy of fine musicians, with James Grant and Katie O’Halloran delivering particularly fine versions of Nature Boy and One Day I’ll Fly Away respectively.
Former Scottish Ensemble leader Clio Gould and cellist Alison Lawrence also featured but the standout was young singer Lucia Fontaine whose voice on Crash outshone the version on record.