CHRIS BARTTER hears a musical fusion between Scottish and North American music at Celtic Connections in tune with a momentous period in US history
CROSSING borders is particularly the case when it comes to Scotland and the US at Celtic Connections, where Transatlantic Sessions is the title of the last concert of the festival’s programme each year.
Recent events in the US threw the international appeal of such music into sharp focus.
As Appalachian roots musician Dirk Powell said during his set: “You give them the benefit of the doubt, until its too late.”
He took it a step further, playing Roscoe Holcomb’s Motherless Children about the refugee crisis “in defiance of fascism and hatred.”
In collaboration with Scottish Booker prize-winning author James Kelman, this Dirt Road concert, borrowing it’s title from Kelman’s novel of the same name, voyaged down Highway 51 through the heartlands of US roots music.
From Powell’s own Appalachian music, via country blues and to the zydeco music of the Louisiana Creole, the concert successfully explored the links with Scotland via Stirling accordionist Neil Sutcliffe, legendary zydeco musician Preston Frank and a galaxy of other roots musicians.
Kelman himself fronted an event the previous day which brought into focus how his book took us into unfamiliar parts of the US that we might be uncomfortable with politically but with which we need to connect and not abandon to the right wing.
Another aspect of Celtic Connections is the high standard of “support” bands, with concerts often coming across more like double-headers and this year, a number of lesser-known US musicians have shone in support billing.
In the Dirt Road concert this included Louisiana-based trio Jon Cleary, Cornell Williams and AJ Hall, who served up some New Orleans funk and R&B in the Allen Toussaint, Dr John mould. Not bad — in Cleary’s case — for a lad from Kent.
Similarly the “support” band for Siobhan Miller’s concert — Ben Hunter and Joe Seamans, with an exceptional contribution from harmonica player Phil Wiggins — treated us to an evening of north-west US roots music, leavened with early blues, ragtime and jazz.
Hunter himself is an epitome of border crossing, having been born in Lesotho and lived in Zimbabwe and Arizona before moving to Seattle.
Less travelled are Southern Tenant Folk Union, who played a great wee gig in The Hug and Pint, one of Glasgow’s music bars. STFU are an overtly political five-piece, who write much of their own material.
Despite, or maybe because of, the cosiness of the venue, they married rollicking folk and softer lyricism, while not missing the mark with songs like Lying Politicians or To the War.
They start a national tour in the Hebden Bridge Trades Club on February 8 and are not to be missed.