You need a class act to support a band with a reputation like The Punch Brothers, and at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Friday, Siobhan Miller was just the right person for the job. That’s the great thing about Celtic Connections – there are so many gifted music makers that for every gig you attend, you’re virtually guaranteed at least two memorable performances.
Siobhan Miller is a truly gifted singer. Singing in public since she was 13, Siobhan has recorded two albums in a duo with Orcadian musician Jeana Leslie; formed Salt House with Lauren MacColl, Ewan MacPherson and Euan Burton, whose 2014 debut Lay Your Dark Low was truly exceptional. As well as winning the 2008 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, Siobhan has twice (yes, twice) been voted Scots Singer of the Year in the Scots Trad Music Awards.
In November last year Siobhan released her first solo album, Flight of Time, and with James Grant, former Love & Money frontman, in the producer’s chair; a combination of self-written songs and old favourites; and a short step back from the trad influences that have shaped her career – Siobhan has expanded her outlook and proven her versatility.
The quality of the material was impressive from the outset, with the band delivering the upbeat opening, If I Had Known, with effortless precision and Siobhan’s vocals filling the large auditorium with ease. Other examples of Siobhan’s own material present an equally upbeat, but gentle, approach. Drowning Out The Sorrows heralded an audience sing-along and the New York inspired Secrets And Lies introduced subtle jazz notes from Tom Gibbs’s piano, while James Grant’s Sunset Steeples was more soft and contemplative.
Siobhan’s also keen to collect songs from other sources – Breaking The Law is a tribute to Johnny Cash co-written by James Grant and Donald Shaw and there was a particularly impressive interpretation of Davey Steele’s Long Hellos And Short Goodbyes. The song highlighted not only Siobhan’s vocal versatility but the very capable, and dependable, harmonies provided by bouzouki player Aaron Jones and soulful guitar from James Grant. Not turning her back on the trad influences entirely, Siobhan and the band provided an excellent arrangement of Dave Goulder’s January Man with atmospheric violin from Megan Henderson. A musical rendition of Edwin Muir’s poem Scotland’s Winter closed the performance on a strong note. It was both evocative and soul-stirring but, most significantly, showcased Siobhan’s vocal talents to the max.
Siobhan Miller’s slight deviation from the trad path her career has been taking is positive and refreshing. With strong, imaginative song writing, and song selection; a band that provide dependable and polished support, and production that translates seamlessly from the studio to a live setting, Flight of Time is sure to boost her profile. In concert, you’re left with the distinct impression that she can confidently and successfully take her career in any direction she chooses. This has nothing to do with stepping out of comfort zones. Siobhan Miller is perfectly at home with her new material, and no wonder, it’s simply excellent.
Review by: Neil McFadyen