Campbell Cameron: Overdrive at Celtic Connections

I did wonder last night if I would get away with the continued motoring analogy overload in the headlines of this column. The younger readers will be perplexed.

Overdrive is of course that wee button atop the gear lever that used to allow us a fifth gear when four gears were all you got in a Triumph Dolomite and the like.

It meant that the engine relaxed a bit. The revs lowered and the car cruised along sweetly. Overdrive, however has come to mean of late -Turbo charged, full acceleration.

Well tonight [1th January], both applied.

It was the Manran and Kila gig at the ABC in Sauchiehall street.

Manran – the Highland Celtic rockers were in disarray. Their iconic front man, Norrie MacIver had what Gary Innes described as ‘Norrie Virus’.

At five o’clock tonight they had a decision to make – gig or no gig? No question – the show must go on they decided. Ewen Robertson was deputed.

Gary and Ewan are good mates and this was a fine idea as they have previously played and recorded together. At 5.30pm another question – who will sing the Gaelic song?

Kathleen MacInnes was called and fresh from her latest and long awaited album “Cille Bhride” is making great waves. She filled the spot beautifully.

The band played on – well, all but Gary …his accordion was silenced in the first track – aaargh! A quick mic change and the boys were back in their stride again.

So hardly smooth and not quite the turbo version we are used to either, as the boys missed the talisman out front. But the crowd had come far and wide to honour the band and they were in fine form for the openers for tonight’s main event Kila – for once, Manran were not the headliners.

Donald Shaw, Celtic Connections’ Festival Director is a big fan, he says: ‘Mànran are an exceptionally talented bunch of young guys that are taking the music world by storm with their high energy, stomping tunes and phenomenal Gaelic/English songs’

Soon they will be topping many bills.

Headliners tonight, Kila, have been operating well under the radar as far as far as I am concerned – they are 25 years old this year – and not only had I never heard them – I had never heard of them. They are some find. Eight strong its a big musical noise indeed. So who are they?

With two sets of brothers, Kíla (I learn from their website) consists of; Rónán Ó Snodaigh on bodhrán, djembe, congas, bongos, guitar and vocals; Rossa Ó Snodaigh on tin whistle, low whistle, clarinet, bazouki, mandolin, bones and vocals; Colm Ó Snodaigh on flute, tin whistle, guitar, saxophone, percussion and vocals; Lance Hogan on guitar, drums, and vocals; Brian Hogan on bass, double bass and vocals; Dee Armstrong on fiddle, viola, hammered dulcimer, accordion and bodhrán. Eoin Dillon on uileann pipes, tin whistle, low whistle, shakers and vocals.

Ronan is amazing. A bundle of energy that never stood still for the entire near two hour show – he bounces around making the bodhrán work for its money. Its a ‘Bowran’ if you’re Irish – rhyming with the front of a boat, whereas its a Bowran over here, rhyming with the bit of kit Robin Hood fires arrows with.

However it is that you pronounce a bit of kit made of goat skin stretched over a circle of wood – this guy is the master. He gets all sorts of sounds and rhythms from it and his energy turbo charges the band who operate at terrific speed, and stamina.  Then he produces a space bodhrán and it steps up another gear. This item is electronic. Now you must adjust again….

Think of a cross between the Peatbog Fairies and the Afro Celtic sound system and your well on your way. The tracks are very high energy, somewhat hypnotic and how they are played with style. Drummer and guitarist are as hardworking at the back as the fiddle and pipes are up front as they try to stay with the bodhrán man. Get a chance to see them anytime soon – don’t miss them.

No festival club tonight for the author as he headed west – through the light fluttering snow – homeward bound to Benderloch. Last night was special though and tonight might surpass it if the Manran and Kila gang make it to Walkabout, where the festival club begins when the gigs end.

Last night I mentioned The Once, a Canadian Band who headlined tonight at St Andrews in the Square. The trio were all delighted to be here and to be allowed into Celtic Connections. Gabrielle tells me she had fulfilled her ambition to get to Scotland after reading of Loch Ness and its famous inhabitant when she was given a novel as a child and resolved to travel. Phil, Geraldine and Andrew were not only a delight on stage but when I caught up with them backstage after were great company.

‘Row Upon Row of the People They Know’ is their new album and they treated us to some fine tunes from it in rumbustious style – more on the Wednesday Drivetime on Oban FM next week, as we get a night off this week while the transmitter output in Oban is upgraded back to full strength. This frees a night for Donnie Munro and Joy Dunlop – more of that late on Wednesday night. Every cloud has a silver lining indeed.

Finally Tim Edey and Ross Ainslie played a blinder at the club before discretion and valour took me away home to bed – it’s been a grand festival so far.

All they can do now is inject nitrous oxide like the dragsters do… make it go faster. Not sure I could stand the pace. Well maybe….

Campbell Cameron, music editor

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