As well as playing host to a wealth of musicians from around the world, Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival also commissions a wide range of new work, and in the past has been the catalyst for some ground breaking new music.
One of this year’s most significant and far reaching commissions, however, does a lot to explore the past as well as look to the future. The Atlantic Corridor is a project curated by Galician musician Carlos Núñez. Developed with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (the Gaelic college on Skye), the British Council and Wales Arts International, the concert is part of a wider British Council project called Celtic Corridor, which connects musicians and the music industry in Scotland, Wales and South America to develop new pathways for collaboration and exchange. Musicians from all these regions contributed to what was a fascinating, informative and, above all, enjoyable night’s music.
In a short, but spirited, opening set; Rura’s mix of highland pipes, whistle, flute, fiddle, bodhran, guitar, and occasional voice from Adam Holmes, went a long way towards preparing the audience for a lively night; playing tracks from their 2012 debut, Break It Up, and their forthcoming second release, Despite The Dark. Although Adam Holmes’ fine vocals and the true character of the music were somewhat inexplicably, and disappointingly, lost in a poor sound mix; Rura nonetheless proved themselves a class act. Most noteworthy from the new release we were treated to The Lasher – an impressive and driving set of Irish reels by Brendan Ring. Also, to mark the proximity to Burn’s Night, there was O Wert Thou In The Cauld Blast, written by Burns shortly before his death and thought to be his final work. Rura presented the song with a new melody by Adam Holmes that places it proudly beside any contemporary Scots song.
Following an introduction from Celtic Connections musical director Donald Shaw, the core band of long-time collaborator and superb multi-intrumentalist Pancho Álvarez, fiddler Tara Breen from County Clare, and brother Xurxo Núñez with his dynamic, driving percussion took to the stage along with Carlos Núñez for an opening number full of his signature Galician charm. In the Brazilian melody Nau Bretoa the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig connection was introduced with the addition of American-born, Skye-based piper Dr Decker Forrest. And so began an evening that highlighted the musical and cultural links along the Atlantic coastlines of Europe and the Americas.
With a range of guests as varied as the source material, Núñez & friends took the audience on a journey around Atlantic coastlines, north and south of the equator. Opening with the notion that the first European instrument introduced to the natives of Brazil was the bagpipe (a Portuguese variety probably similar to the Gaita), the western Atlantic theme was further explored with a gorgeous, lilting 16th Century Galician Christmas Carol composed in Mexico. From there we were introduced to Professor Hugh Cheape, a Senior Lecturer at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, who enthused about the probable European origins of the bagpipe, its links to the Americas and Carlos’ mastery of the instrument; before Angus MacDonald entered from the back of the hall, playing the pibroch The Battle Of GlenShiel.
The international flavour of the music continued with an enthralling demonstration of the pastoral pipes. The band rejoiced in bringing the 18th Century up to date, were joined by step dancer Sophie Stevenson and took an enthusiastic audience right along with them. The list of special guests continued to expand with the addition of Donald Shaw, Mischa MacPherson and Innes White in a song commemorating the Atlantic voyages undertaken by mariners, and a crowd-pleasing medley of Irish & Spanish tunes. There was a spine-tingling rendition of An Eala Bhán – “The White Swan”, courtesy of Karen Matheson and made all the more memorable with Carlos’ harmonies on recorder.
Pace was injected back into the proceedings as Carlos whooped and strutted his way through a stirring set of reels before the less obvious connections between Wales and Patagonia were explored. Angharad Jenkins (fiddle), Patrick Rimes (pipes) and Gwenan Gibbard (harp) joined in for some gentle welsh harp tunes, rounded off with a lively set from a reconstructed, and modernised, Welsh bagpipe.
Following the introduction of Chango Spasiuk, an Argentinian accordion player of the Chamamé tradition, the pace was kept lively with a classic Núñez polka – Dancing With Rosina. After this there was no alternative but a shift into full party mode with the audience joining in on and off stage and eventually all the evening’s participants, including Rura, contributing to a frenzied, joyful big finish.
The time Carlos spent on Skye has clearly fuelled his zeal for explorations of the Celtic Fringe/ Atlantic Corridor and, in particular, the journey’s made by music from and to the west coast of Scotland. He covered his subject with passion and enthusiasm, relishing the cultural and historical links along the Atlantic coastlines almost as much as he obviously relished the chance to share the stage with such a varied and accomplished selection of guests.
Review by: Neil McFadyen