Celtic Connections is now motoring along nicely and last Wednesday I caught up with Joy Dunlop and Donnie Munro at the Mitchell Theatre. A fine wee venue it is and its only now I have made the connection with the amazing Mitchell Library – just never been in! Ah well…. I have now and not only is it a grand wee music room indeed but I caught the George Wylie retrospective in the gallery as well.
However back to the plot.
Joy Dunlop is the larger than life delightful Gaelic chanteuse from just over the bridge in Connel. Now based in Glasgow and making a name for herself in the media, she has just completed a wee tour with her fine new album, Faileasan / Reflections.
The premise was to take the Gaelic songs of Argyll to a wider world which is an overdue task she told us and there are some great ones too! Celebrating life on the shores of Loch Etive and Balvicar – meeting lasses and greeting them in English is to be avoided according to one tale and the chances of marriage for tall girls is limited according to another which translates as If I marry at all it will not be a big girl – ah well, the irony is not lost on our Joy!
The audience loved it and the delightful accompaniment of hugely talented band members, Sorren MacLean on guitar and Lorne MacDougall on pipes and whistles and brother Andrew tinkling the ivories. Naturally the band is all from Argyll.
Donnie Munro needs no introduction and he arrived onstage to delight the capacity audience with a tour de force of the Runrig days and a few of his own solo successes.
Donnie is a great storyteller and each song gets a full introduction and background. Protect and survive got us off to a great start and old favourites like The Cutter and Heart of America did the trick sending us all home with a gladdened heart. But Mother Glasgow, in tribute to Michael Marra, was the poignant number and received a rapturous response from the Highland Glasgow audience.
Munro is a passionate guardian of all things Highland and that passion runs over when he regales the responsive audience with stories of emigration to the states and Australia too. Those stories form a great part of the inspiration for his songs but we loved Glasgow Joe – written for his brother in law while they nursed him in his final days at home on Skye.
The Joseph McGoff Foundation does good work worldwide in his memory.
Saturday night had us in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – a classy surrounding for a very special concert featuring Duncan Chisholm completing his Strathglass suite, Trilogy.
The Pride of New York – a four piece from the big apple as you will have guessed got us warmed up with the ebullient Cherish the Ladies, leader Joanie Madden taking the lead with this very solid quartet. They mixed Irish Scottish and American tunes with great aplomb indeed. It’s no mean feat for a sound engineer to get a decent sound in places like the Gallery but they did a superb job with all the echoes and spikes removed well before the main event got underway.
Chisholm brought Matheu Watson, Allan Henderson, Jarlath Henderson, Ross Hamilton, Martin O’Neill and a 20-piece orchestra, to play the suite which is hewn from his hugely acclaimed solo albums Farrar, Canaich and Affric. We were spellbound.
‘Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.’ – John Muir.
Strathglass is one of those places.
Over slow moving streams through the Glen to watch the birds of prey on the wing and then a reflective time of peace where a tear for the past might be shed – then a march that would take us away to the Games or a dance at the crossroads.
Though rains may thrash on us, the great mists blind us,
And lightning rend the pine-tree on the hill,
Yet we are strong, yet shall the morning find us
Children of tempest all unshaken still. – Neil Munro
Chisholm has the ability to evoke a memory, to transcend a vision of the Highlands that we all know and love with the stroke of his fiddle bow. With that skill he may be in a league of premier division players, few in number. Aly Bain and Chris Stout are the Shetland heroes, Aiden O’Rourke, Allan Henderson and Chisholm are the Highland boys who can do that for me.
The sell-out audience bayed for more as the artists left the stage and a standing ovation coaxed them back. A magical night in a spectacular venue.
Saturday 2nd February promised Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire; and Three Blind Wolves performing in the O2 ABC. I love Hart’s song writing and the new album is due in spring. At the weekend he launches an appetite-whetting EP ahead of the main release, showcasing his darkly compelling blend of classic Americana and Celtic soul….Kristofferson meets Van Morrison …bliss.
On Thursday night before Hart moves in to the O2 ABC Tiree’s finest, Skerryvore w ereerforming. They have come a long way from their island ceilidh-band beginnings on the Hawaii of the north, especially once their award-winning self-titled third album catapulted them Fair Square onto the worldwide circuit.
The festival closes today, Sunday, with the sold out Transatlantic sessions – and anyone in town at lunchtime has ahd the chance to catch Tobermory’s guitar ace and songwriter, Sorren MacLean, going solo in new voices at the Mitchell. Some might even have got a late ticket for the Battlefield band later tonight at the same venue.
But it’s been another cracker all told – same time same place next year? You bet.
Campbell Cameron, music editor