Celtic Connections (Glasgow, UK – February 1 and 2, 2014)
This is my third time at Celtic Connections and I’ve never been disappointed yet. The first time I came I saw the fantastic Joy Kills Sorrow open for a brilliant performance of Anais Mitchell’s ‘Hadestown’ at the Old Fruitmarket. I also saw Crooked Still and Lau share the stage at the O2 ABC on Sauchiehall Street. Both bands were absolutely amazing, playing separate sets that were great and then performing together. Last year, I went and saw the brilliant Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer open for Karine Polwart at the City Halls. This year I decided to squeeze in as many shows as possible…
The journey was good, the trains on time, no one talking or playing music I could hear over the top of my own music. Unfortunately, the moment I stepped out of the train station was the exact moment I realised I left my waterproofs at home. I was determined that this would not dampen my spirits.
Walking from my hostel to the O2 ABC meant I was a little wet when I arrived but otherwise OK. I am not the biggest fan of O2 venues – I generally find the sound too loud and muddy, although it was excellent the last time I was here . Tonight was a performance by Bill Callahan, Cath and Phil Tyler and The Deep Dark Woods.
The Deep Dark Woods took the stage as the venue was filling up and performed their brand of classic, country rock well. I’d heard a few of their tunes through Daytrotter and HearYa and was looking forward to hearing them live.
They performed well and the audience generally kept quiet during their performance. I especially liked ‘Two Time Loser’ and ‘The Banks of the Leopold Canal’. Overall they were pretty good, and I look forward to the 2 albums I bought.
Towards the end of their set I began to be concerned a little by the sound – it was very loud and the mix was a little too muddy.
All the equipment was removed and 2 mics were moved to the front of the stage for Cath and Phil Tyler.
They performed some Sacred Harp tunes, an excellent banjo tune, a guitar tune and an a cappella tune together.
I really enjoyed the traditional, yet contemporary feel of their music. It’s a shame that so many people talked during their performance, with a constant susurration of chatter coming from the back half of the crowd…a shame.
Bill Callahan took the stage with his band and you could have heard a pin drop. I think a lot of people at the venue are acolytes of Bill, but I have always been more of a casual listener. Until now.
Bill and his band were fantastic, I really liked his lyrics and his delivery. The music and vocals are very singular – you will never hear anyone like this.
I recognised some of the songs – ‘Dress Sexy at My Wedding’, ‘Apocalypse’, ‘Javelin Unlanding’, ‘Jim Cain’, ‘America’, ‘Spring’ – and all were excellent. Occasionally the vocals were affected by the lead guitar being a little too loud, but otherwise the sound was much improved.
Overall, the gig was great, and the money spent at the merch table means I will not be such a casual listener again.
Today is part military operation with 3 shows in 1 day.
First off was a performance by Rachel Newton and other of her traditional, chamber-folk piece ‘Changeling’ at The Mitchell Library Theatre. I was unsure what to expect, other than there would be harps, but it was a tremendous show. The venue was excellent, the music and songs were too, as were the performances from Rachel and her band, Corrina Hewat – electroharp and vocals, Su-a Lee – cello and musical saw, Lauren MacColl – fiddle, and Mattie Foulds – percussion, and Adam Holmes on vocals for one track. It was traditional, yet somehow modern. There was lots of great musical moments, including some spine-tingling musical saw and inventive percussion. I will definitely get the album when it’s released later in the year.
Next, a quick walk around the corner back to the O2 ABC for Samantha Crain, Blue Rose Code, Stanley Odd and Fake Major (I couldn’t stay for the final act). Everyone got about 30 minutes stage time and the transition from one to another was very quick. The sound was excellent, especially when compared to the problems yesterday in the same venue.
Samantha Crain was on first. I only saw her 2 days before, but was still excited to see her again. She played well with only a handful of songs and engaged with the crowd well.
Blue Rose Code was next up. I saw Ross last year and ‘North Ten’ was probably my favourite album of 2013. He performed with great energy and confidence and did great versions of ‘Ghosts of Leith’ and ‘Julie’, but ‘Acquainted With The Night/Silent Drums’ that did it for me. Awesome.
Stanley Odd were next up. A live, hip hop act from Edinburgh, I did not know any of their stuff before I saw them play. And I admit I was a little apprehensive as there are few rap/hip hop bands or artists I like. But Stanley Odd were great. Terrifically entertaining with great crowd interaction and socially conscientious lyrics. And remember, “hip hop is like folk music with caps instead of cardigans”.
Fake Major performed as a two-piece. I saw them supporting Cattle and Cane at Preston Hall Museum last year as a four-piece and enjoyed their set, and their EP. As a two-piece the songs are a little slower and less bouncy, but are still good. Great dual vocal harmonies and their songs are nicely anthemic. Indie-folk?
Over to the other side of the city to the beautiful St Andrew’s in the Square for The Milk Carton Kids, Gavin James and Genesee. I have to admit I was beginning to flag and couldn’t help but wish I’d had time for a nap after not sleeping particularly well. That disappeared when Genesee took the stage to perform her “doom-folk”.
Opening with an a cappella song showed a lot of courage and all her songs were good, but it her vocals were absolutely beautiful. She was charming too, I’ll be keeping an eye out for her album.
Gavin James was on next and I enjoyed his set of soulful songs with his soaring vocals.
Gavin talked a lot between songs and came across friendly, energetic and enthusiastic. He played one song off mic in the aisle of the church that was amazing too. Worth checking him out.
The Milk Carton Kids were fantastic. I’d heard maybe 10 of their songs beforehand and saw their great Tiny Desk Concert, and was really looking forward to them based on that. There were brilliant harmony vocals between Joey and Kenneth, fabulous between track banter (mainly from Joey) and some scintillating guitar playing. I read something online that compared them to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and Simon and Garfunkel, and Kenneth’s guitar playing reminded me of David Rawlings’.
The songs I particularly liked were ‘Honey, Honey’, ‘Snake Eyes’, ‘The Ash and Clay’ and ‘Michigan’, which Genesee was on-stage for too. A great night, a great festival. See you next year.