The smoking hot pace of instrumental trio Talisk can be a hard act to follow, but as ever at Celtic Connections, there’s no shortage of fine music, or fine musicians to provide it. After an opening set from Talisk in the 18th Century splendour of St. Andrew’s In The Square, it was time for The Gathering Stream. A project originally hosted last year by Mike Vass at the Nairn Arts Festival, The Gathering Stream brings together six leading traditional musicians with roots either side of the Moray Firth, in a shared exploration of the region’s music. Angus Binnie (pipes/whistles), Anna Massie (guitar), Hamish Napier (vocals/piano/flute), Jack Smedley (fiddle), Shona Donaldson (vocals/fiddle) and Mike Vass (fiddle/tenor guitar) brought the show to Celtic Connections, and one of Glasgow’s oldest churches.
The set was opened by Hamish Napier with a gentle flute melody, Cairngorm, joined by the fiddles of Mike Vass, Shona Donaldson and Jack Smedley. Angus Binnie picked up the pace on small pipes with The Road To Banff and the evening’s warm-up was completed by the joyous sound of three fiddles, guitar and smallpipes.
Angus Binnie’s ability to carry a set all the way to its conclusion on his smallpipes was never more clearly in evidence than in a set that opened with the famous and ponderous Black Isle. With Angus’s flawless piping throughout, leading three fiddles, guitar and piano towards a storming pair of reels that thoroughly delighted the audience and came to a perfectly synchronised stop.
The full house at St Andrew’s In The Square were also given ample opportunity to relax and enjoy a slow air or two. Jack Smedley’s outstanding rendition of a gorgeous Hamish Napier melody was one of the most soothing moments of the whole festival – unfortunately I didn’t catch the name! Shona Donaldson plays a fine fiddle too, of course, but she also has a treasury of song to share; and the voice to do it justice. It’s a treat to hear Shona sing in her broad, colourful Doric (the dialect of Aberdeenshire and its surroundings) whether it’s taking the audience on a singalong, leading the full company on a soft, warming a Capella Bonny Glenshee, or a similarly unaccompanied solo of The Burning of Auchendoun. The haunting tragedy of the song was given added pathos as a nearby clock struck nine on the final verse:
Crawing, crawing, for a’ your crouse crawin’
Ye burnt yer crop an tint your wings an oor before the dawnin
Anna and Mike explained about the joys of writing commemorative tunes for friends and family, heralding a set featuring them both on guitar. Starting with one of Mike’s instantly recognisable Tenor guitar treats, complete with loops and subtle, sundry effects; and followed by a rousing slip jig from Anna. The pace was kept lively for Cawdor Fair/Munlochy Bridge (for reasons best known to the audience and Anna Massie, henceforth to be known as The Munlcohy Turn-Off). Despite Mike Vass’ Black Isle geography letting him down it was a fine set with Hamish and Angus pairing up on whistles and three stirring fiddles coming alongside for the conclusion.
The closing set was a foot stomping set of reels fit to bring the house down. Hills of Cromdale featured soaring fiddles, pipes, whistles – all driven along by Anna Massie’s guitar towards a glorious finish.
It’s yet another example of the outstanding collaborations that Celtic Connections brings to its audience. Six of highland Scotland’s finest musicians join forces to provide an evening of song, music and, of course, the usual banter. Yet again, Celtic Connections notches up another sell-out performance and the audience departs, satisfied that they’ve been treated to an evening of the very best.
Review by: Neil McFadyen