WOMEN of Song was a major theme at this year’s Celtic Connections, with the festival topped and tailed by musical legends. The first weekend featured Irish singer Mary McPartlan and writer-narrator Colin Irwin’s tribute to Irish force of nature Margaret Barry in She Moved Thru’ the Fair, a dramatised biography of the traveller musician from Cork.
Leaving home at 16 with a banjo and a bicycle, Barry became a street musician who learnt songs on the streets, from records and the radio.
She met, and was recorded by, legendary song collector Alan Lomax in Dundalk in the 1950s, went to London, toured the US and came back to Ireland to grow old disgracefully.
This extraordinary woman, with a talent that she never compromised, was brought to life by McPartlan, musicians John Carty, Gary O’Briain and Mary Shannon and actors Ruby Campbell — surely a future star in the making — and John Wheeler.
Siobhan Miller, still a young talent, celebrated her second solo album which is due to be released later this month. Strata sees her reworking some of the classics she has learnt growing up.
With a band including Kris Drever of Lau, Aaron Jones and Megan Henderson, she has created some beautiful and moving arrangements of songs you thought you knew — from Bob Dylan’s One Too Many Mornings, via The Banks of Newfoundland to Ed Pickford’s miners’ union song, The Pound a Week Rise.
The concert also included a couple of her own songs such as If I Had Known and this mix of traditional and the new worked well. She starts a tour later this month.
The Roaming Roots Review had women at it centre too. Typically, the concert allows guests two songs — one their own and one “on theme” — and this was interpreted widely.
Singers ranged from the Brazilian Roberta Sa to the likes of Roddy Hart of house band Lonesome Fire, who began the evening with Joni Mitchell’s Clouds.
The varied line-up is always stunning and this year was no exception.
Apart from Roberta Sa, Yola Carter from Bristol blew a packed Concert Hall away with Dolly Parton’s Jolene and later a blistering You Make me Feel (Like a Natural Woman).
California-born singer Jesca Hoop, alongside Field Music, gave us a stunning Eurhythmics’ Love Is a Stranger and the band later marked a less-recognised songwriter with Christine McVie’s Want to Be With You Everywhere.
It was a surprise that another legend, Shirley Collins, didn’t attract a bigger audience but perhaps that was as well. Collins is part of the ’50s and ’60s folk nobility — like Barry, she collaborated with Lomax —and hasn’t sung in public for nearly 40 years. The pure soprano of her prime has deepened but also sounds frailer and was better suited to a smaller audience.
The set list concentrated on Sussex and Appalachian traditions and included Morris dancer Glen Redman. It was right at the heart of Shirley’s collecting and revival career — not so much “new routes” as old traditions — and it’s good to be reminded of the darker sides of southern English folk history
Collins’s voice and experience are unique. It’s excellent she is back singing and launch for her new Lodestar album and tour had a sense of history about it.
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