When Music Network Ireland decided last year to bring together four musicians, two from Scotland, two from Ireland, for a short tour they showed incredible foresight. This was not lost on Celtic Connections Artistic Director Donald Shaw, when he asked the quartet to revive their acclaimed collaboration for this year’s Festival. Kathleen MacInnes’s relaxed, husky Hebridean vocals and her natural affinity with a live audience; Altan’s accordion virtuoso from Donegal, Dermot Byrne; Brian Finnegan, whose whistle and flute contributions to Flook and Kan’s repertoire are the stuff of legend; and innovative Nairn fiddler, guitarist, composer Mike Vass joined forces to create a live set that, in terms of both content and execution, showcases the very best in traditional and contemporary folk from both regions.
Kahtleen’s distinctive voice is as enchanting as ever. Whether she’s singing a lively puirt a beul, the band driving at the pace throughout, a Hebridean love song, or an old favourite like Oran a Cloiche she has the audience hanging on every word, every note, as always. At times the accompaniment to her songs consists of Brian Finnegan’s low whistle and Dermot Byrne’s accordion, exchanging melody and harmony in flawless accord. At others, with no other adornment but the lightest of harmonies from Mike Vass’ tenor guitar.
The tune sets are an absolute delight throughout the evening, with each band member contributing not only fine music, but a peerless performance to do it justice. If it’s pace you’re after though, Matt Molloy’s Independence Hornpipe leaves you wondering whether Brian needs to breathe at all. Dermot’s lead off for the hornpipe, though, is a digit twisting delight and in the accompanying Matt Peoples’ his fingers fair dance off the buttons. Or there are more sedate interludes – one of Kathleen’s songs accompanied by the haunting sound of a bow drawn across Mike’s guitar, leading to a gorgeous air on Dermot’s accordion, before a return to the song.
With an audience who are well used to the finest of voices, the most accomplished playing, it’s often the imagination and flair that’s been applied to these arrangements that impresses most. So when they’re treated to an arrangement of Mike’s Cold Iron that fits the instrumental trio so perfectly; or when Kathleen injects a hint of soft, silvery vocal during a waltz from Dermot, the audience are aware they’ve just enjoyed a rare musical treat, and respond accordingly.
And that sums up the whole performance really, a rare musical treat. This is probably why on a cold, wet Wednesday night in Glasgow, in the middle of January, with over 300 events on in the city during Celtic Connections, this event was still completely sold out. Four of Scotland and Ireland’s most accomplished musicians, each one with any number of other events to prepare for as part of Celtic Connections, delivered a live set with world-class skill and all the conviviality of a Sunday afternoon pub session. That’s what Celtic Connections is all about.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Venue: Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Strathclyde Suite