You know you’re in for a good night when a hall the size of Barrowlands is almost full as the support acts take to the stage. As Skipinnish prepared to bring their ever more popular blend of traditional, contemporary and undeniably authentic West Highland sounds on an outing to the Glasgow, the capacity crowd were treated to two fine supporting sets.
West Highland fiddler Archie McAllister and Gaelic singer/songwriter Rachel Walker (Cruinn) provided an opening set that reflected the strong musical pedigree both bring to their live sets. Rachel earned the Gaelic Singer of the Year Award at the Scottish Trad Awards in December 2013 and has released three spell-binding albums of Gaelic song. Archie is renowned for the fluency of his fiddle playing, rooted firmly in the West Coast style; and is one of the most sought-after fiddlers in the country. As well as performing regularly as a duet, Rachel and Archie are frequent contributors to the Skipinnish sound both live and in the studio, so their short opening set was the perfect way to begin the evening.
Saw Doctors spin-off Leo Moran and Anthony Thistlethwaite were treated to a warm reception – not surprising, knowing the reputation The Saw Doctors have for raising the roof at Barrowlands. Working through a set full of Saw Doctors favourites like Red Cortina, Galway and Mayo, and Tommy K (complete with Village People style moves); Leo & Anto, as they prefer to be known, charmed the audience time and again with wit, warmth and a flowing performance. Villains was expertly enlivened by some Snoop Dogg inspired audience participation, while Clare Island provided a nod to visitors from the west coast. Anto’s standing as a founding member of The Waterboys was celebrated with a spirited Fisherman’s Blues before the pair left the stage to tumultuous applause.
A slick turn-around by the Barrowlands crew soon brought us to the main event as Skipinnish opened with a small Schottische (from 2003’s Sgurr Mòr to Skerryvore ) by the trio of co-founders Angus MacPhail and Andrew Stevenson (accordion/small pipes) with Archie McAllister‘s fiddle. Openings don’t get much more high-energy than the dance set that followed as the rest of the band took to the stage, and new boy Norrie MacIver opened the singing with Land Below The Waves; immediately proving what a great asset he’s been to the band since joining last year – as well as evoking a sea of raised hands from the audience. As Archie lead off on another set of jigs, it was soon clear that the spirit of the band’s enthusiastically received festival performances can be just as effective indoors.
Rachel Walker returned for December, a song the band re-visited on their recent album, The Seventh Wave (reviewed here). A wonderful song with the unforgettable lyric “I’ll leave the last drop in my glass to remember/ the eyes of my highland queen” and heart-wrenching pipes for the closing chorus. Despite the buoyant atmosphere Skipinnish seem to instinctively know just the right measure of mellow moments. The poignant story of the sinking of HMY Iolaire in the Minch at the end of the Great War was told to a spell-bound audience, complete with Rachel’s stellar performance of the haunting Eilean Fraoich.
When your audience are in a party mood, though, it’s wise to take them along with you – and Skipinnish are masters at reading their audience. A guest appearance by Runrig guitarist Malcolm Jones provided a healthy dose of rock guitar before Ocean Of The Free saw Norrie and Rachel’s voices perfectly matched, and its irresistible singalong chorus turn the already enthusiastic Barrowlands audience into a festival audience. Malcolm remained on stage as The Island gently danced towards the anticipated injection of pace, and even more enthusiastic singing from the crowd. As another stirring pipe set enjoyed added potency from pipers Seonaidh MacIntyre and Duncan Nicholson, a quartet of highland dancers on stage, and some puirt à beul from Norrie. Barrowlands shifted into full party mode.
Other highlights included a virtuosic guitar contribution from Davie Dunsmuir for Harvest of the Homeland; Home on the Sea, a song in praise of iconic islands ferry services from Cal-mac and used by the company in a promotional video that sounded, thanks to Skipinnish, as beautiful as it looked; and The Gauger, a tune set with a more than a hint of rock and roll
The opening track from The Seventh Wave, Alive, enjoyed a UK download chart entry earlier this year – no small feat for a West coast dance band. Alive had Norrie and the audience in full voice again for a live Facebook broadcast and the news that the concert will enjoy an airing on BBC Alba before a DVD release later in the year. Runrig’s jubilant, anthemic and infectious Alba kept the audience on the move, and the dancers returned to the sound of Blair Douglas‘ equally jubilant Nelson Mandela’s Welcome to Glasgow.
The Glasgow welcome that Skipinnish received on Friday night was beyond exuberant. The audience was in a euphoric mood throughout, and it’s heart-warming to see a band whose core audience is in the north-west of Scotland enjoy such an enthusiastic welcome in the heart of Glasgow. The Seventh Wave referred to in the band’s album title is said to have the power to heal and rejuvenate – as Skipinnish ride the crest of that wave and bring their music to ever wider audiences, conquering not only Scotland’s central belt, but also leaving an impressive mark on the English festival scene; their music itself seems to bear the same legendary power.