For Celtic Connections 2017, renowned Highland fiddler Duncan Chisholm revived his popular and successful 2015 live project The Gathering. After an exciting, colourful opening set from Brazilian Renata Rosa, Duncan took to the stage alongside Megan Henderson, on piano, for a gentle, mellow opening; with the fine acoustics of The City Halls proved the perfect performance space for his unique fiddle tones.
The Gathering brings together a range of musical styles and a wealth of experience to perform some of Duncan personal favourites. After the opening duet he was joined by singer/piper/whistle player Jarlath Henderson and piper/guitarist Ali Hutton for Angus R. Grant‘s glorious slow reel, 250 to Vigo. Duncan’s selection of contributors allows ample scope for each to add their own voice to the music, evidenced on the numerous occasions Jarltah’s whistle harmonies prove a perfect match for Duncan’s fiddle.
The Gathering also features a stellar string section, with fiddle from Greg Lawson and Megan Henderson, and cellist Su-a Lee. Together this trio was able to provide everything from mellow string support to driving, infectious rhythms and the most intricate, mesmerising arrangements; such as when Donald Shaw joined the company for a set featuring his music from the stunning BBC natural history series, The Hebrides – Islands On The Edge.
The pace for the jigs and reels where Jartlath’s uillean pipes accompany Duncan’s fiddle was also expertly managed by world-class bodhrán player Martin O’Neill, such as in the sheer exuberance of the joyful Isaac’s Welcome to the World. There’s no shortage of scope for innovation either in Duncan’s music. Another family favourite, Big Archie, featured Davie Dunsmuir and Ross Hamilton on electric lead and bass guitars, adding an extra vibrancy. In the arrangements developed by Duncan and his friends, these are given space to play to their strengths, rather than try to limit their sound for a folk setting.
Other highlights of a set that lasted well over 90 minutes included the beautiful poetry of Seamus Heaney and an appearance by Duncan’s long-time collaborator Julie Fowlis, to sing the beautiful Cumha Do dh’Uilleam Siosal (Lament for Willie Chisholm). The evening ended on a marvellously mellow note, with Greg Lawson joining Duncan for a truly wonderful duet, Phil Cunningham‘s The Gentle Light That Wakes Me.
The very nature of Celtic Connections means there are a wealth of exciting collaborations, formed without much time for rehearsal, and they can be all the more exciting for it. However, when something as carefully planned, and as perfectly executed, as Duncan Chisholm‘s The Gathering takes place the results are captivating and memorable.