The capacity crowd at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall were looking forward to an evening of infectious toe-tapping with Lúnasa topping the bill and Session A9 providing a fiddle-filled warm-up.
The evening opened with a short set from Maru Tarang. Long-time collaborators Australian slide guitarist Jeff Lang and tabla player Bobby Singh joined forces with traditional Rajasthani musicians Asin Langa (sarangi, vocals) and Bhungar Manganivar( khartal). Lang and Singh have a varied repertoire, built around Australian roots music tinged with Classical Indian rhythms. When this is fused with the plaintive voice of Asin Langa’s sarangi, his Rajasthani qawali vocals and Bhungar Manganivar’s nimble percussion, the effect is mesmerizing. Lang’s slide guitar takes on a sound not unlike a sitar, with deft, precise and imaginative use of a slide; Bobby Singh’s tabla can be soothing or dramatic in equal measure.
Session A9 took to the stage one fiddle down due to the sudden death last week of Kevin Henderson’s father, Shetland Folk Festival stalwart Davie Henderson. Nevertheless, the band still managed to deliver a thrilling set. Session A9 love to get a crowd behind them and to let loose. With the combination of Brian MacAlpine on piano and David Robertson’s international percussion influences driving the rhythm they get there in no time at all. The set’s full of their famously irresistible dynamism but also peppered with more gentle sequences, such as when Marc Clement sings Jackson Brown’s These Days and a pair of fiddles transform into a string section. For a band used to raising the roof creating a quiet moment can be challenging, but this song’s more gentle pace, paired with Gordon Gunn’s beautiful and lightly symphonic The Birds Are Calling, provided an effective contrast to the fiery feast. Favourite sets like The Rizla and Sporting Paddy delivered at break neck speed are the ultimate crowd pleasers though; and after a being joined by Maru Tang for a final number Session A9 made way for Lunasa to the sound of thunderous applause.
A slip of the tongue introduced a new band to Celtic Connections – Lunacy. Luckily Kevin Crawford was able to put the record straight and assure us that Lúnasa weren’t suffering from an identity crisis. Never short of chat, Kevin Crawford’s tales for the evening included reminisces from their recent string of dates in Japan, the joys of being an independent musical entity, and the proud announcement that Cillian Vallely’s uilleann pipes will be make a guest appearance on Bruce Springsteen’s new album.
As expected, an evening of unsurpassable jigs, reels and marches ensued; Lúnasa playing with every ounce of the enthusiasm, flair and skill for which they’re so rightly renowned. Of specially interesting note was a three whistle rendition of Cillian Vallely’s The Raven’s Rock courtesy of Cillian himself, Kevin Crawford and fiddler Sean Smyth. There was also a gorgeous set of Breton dance tunes followed by a jaw-dropping, effects-laden double bass solo from Trevor Hutchinson.
As ever, Lúnasa’s stirring and imaginative arrangements, attention to detail and those unrelenting bass-driven grooves made for a simply stunning performance.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Although we’ve no live footage from Celtic Connections for these gigs here’s a taster of their music: