As we’ve already reported on Folk Radio UK, The Shee have been preparing to celebrate their 10th anniversary with a unique set of collaborations. Their guest blog entries over the past few weeks (read all The Shee guest posts here) have highlighted each band member’s personal choice of musician to write a piece for their celebratory Continuum project. As part of Celtic Connections, on Friday at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, The Shee took to the stage to introduce their guests, and the band’s arrangements of the music they’ve composed.
By way of an introduction to their own music, The Shee opened with Trouble, from their 2010 album, Decadence. There was a sense of urgency among those strings and reeds, as if they couldn’t wait to get started on Continuum. And so their first guest, Kathryn Tickell, was introduced by fiddler Shona Mooney (read Shona’s guest post).
Not simply content with presenting the music specially created for Continuum, the audience were also treated to a duet between each band member and their chosen composer. Kathryn and Shona merged the regional influences of three fiddle tunes from either side of the border for their duet. Tam’s Old Love Song, the short and sweet Kielder Scottische and Duns Dings a’ provided a soft and carefully paced opening; but by the end of the set the hall was already full of hand claps, foot stomps and broad smiles.
For her new composition, Kathryn kept the cross-border influence with a pair of tunes for the band. O’er Late for The Lasses / The Shee Polska opened with gentle, evocative fiddles, you could almost feel the wreaths of mist, leading to a lively polska; the melody being traded between harp, flute and fiddles.
Mandolin player Laura-Beth Salter introduced Martin Simpson and the pair embarked on a version of Randy Newman’s Lament to New Orleans, Louisiana 1927 (read Laura-Beth’s guest post). A guitar / mandolin duet rich with strings and emotive vocals. Laura-Beth had been looking forward to singing an English song (to contrast with her predominantly American-inspired repertoire) and Martin didn’t disappoint with his contribution to the band’s birthday celebrations. Martin wasn’t able to finish Dance With Me until the beginning of January, and the short time The Shee have had to create and rehearse their own arrangement of this incredibly poignant song is testament to their skill, and their commitment to the Continuum project. The deeply personal song was inspired when Martin found among his mother’s few possessions, after her death, a pair of very expensive, and unused, dancing shoes. Opening with a short waltz in memory of the late Lancashire entertainer Jasper King, with Laura-Beth’s plaintive vocal the song rolls beautifully through Martin’s heartfelt poetry.
“It was all there on the table, we’d been through all the rest
not much to show for a lifetime, what’s here is all the best”
Enjoying Andy Cutting play live is all too rare a treat this far north, so his inclusion by accordionist Amy Thatcher was something for the audience to relish (read Amy’s guest post here). Andy and Amy revelled in a flawless, sublime and truly uplifting duet consisting of Andy’s tunes The History Man and Waiting for Janet. After an entertaining and enlightening insight into his composing process, Andy introduced his piece for The Shee, Lady Grey. The combination of Amy’s accordion, Laura Beth’s mandolin and gentle harmonies from Lillias Kinsman-Blake’s flute, resulted in a hall full of smiles. It was a beautifully warm and engaging arrangement. For someone who claims to create his tunes while walking the dogs or driving – Andy creates some incredible music.
Chris Wood was keen to compare the backstage atmosphere among the guest composers as something akin to being parents at a school nativity. Which was a neat way to warn us he was about to indulge his love of Christmas carols. In a truly memorable vocal duet with fiddle/viola player Olivia Ross (read Olivia’s guest post), their perfectly executed harmonies for When Shepheard Watched Their Flocks by Night reminded us what an incredible instrument the human voice can be. For his Continuum contribution, Chris took text from his friend Hugh Lupton’s nativity inspired Cradle Song. In a beautifully structured arrangement, Rachel Newton’s deep bass notes on the harp set the pace before the addition of Olivia’s rich vocals. The song builds with accordion, harmonies from Laura-Beth, then fiddle and finally flute.
It’s always a joy to hear Rachel Newton sing a well written song in Scots, but a duet with Karine Polwart is a rare and even more welcome treat (read Rachel’s guest post here). Karine introduced Mary Brooksbank’s famous Jute Mill Song and the audience enjoyed yet another reminder of the ability of the human voice. Rachel took the lead in an a Capella rendition, with Karine providing glorious harmonies. For Continuum, Karine has composed an incredibly powerful song, inspired by the life of Mary Brooksbank, which references the Jute Mill song in its closing chorus. There are echoes of Lau in an arrangement where Rachel’s vocal builds power, intensity and passion. The song’s opening verses evoke images of hardship and toil.
“On a windless evening in December
she was born into her father’s hands
she was the dock worker’s only daughter
All the boats were iced in at the harbour
there was no fee or the working man
it was sore and empty hands that caught her
She grew to be a braw wee mother
though she’d never bear a bairn herself
she’d raise her four beloved brothers
There was the whole world to look after
she could see the way the chances fell
and she dreamed of something better”
Unfortunately, flute player Brian Finnegan (Flook, Kan) couldn’t make it to Celtic Connections. When Lillias Kinsman-Blake contacted Brian about the project she asked for ‘something happy’ (read Lillias’ guest post here). And this is exactly what we got with Soaring Sea, a set of typical Finnegan melodies that provided more than enough scope for the whole group to shine. It was a stirring, joyful and incredibly impressive finish to over an hour and a half of the most enchanting and enjoyable music. With a full-company encore of a Shee classic – Long Lonesome Road, this is sure to go down as one of the most memorable performances of Celtic Connections 2016.
The Shee will take to the studio in February to refine and record the music that’s been written for Continuum. In this live show, though, the Celtic Connections audience experienced a unique premiere of some wonderful new music, and a host of unforgettable duets. Further proof of just how much this festival means to performers and audience alike, and its importance to the music scene in Scotland, and beyond.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
For those that missed the band at Celtic Connections they will be appearing in Leeds on Saturday 27 February (details of the Opera North event here) and there will be further appearances throughout the year. And, of course, look out for the album which will document the Continuum journey…
For an insight into the reasons behind their choices read their blog posts here: www.folkradio.co.uk/tag/the-shee-guest-blog/