Transatlantic Sessions, Royal Festival Hall (London, Feb. 6th 2015)
The hugely popular and successful Transatlantic Sessions returned to London for their 6th annual sold out show at the prestigious Royal Festival Hall. Originating many years ago as a series on BBC TV the collective fuses Celtic and North American musical influences with much imagination and creativity. The ‘house band’ under the joint musical directorship of Shetland fiddler Aly Bain and Nashville based dobro master Jerry Douglas, together with special guests, played two sets, lasting almost three hours and nary was a note out of place.
The opener, the Civil War tune ‘Waiting For The Federals’ ignited the audience and had them tapping their feet from the outset; I even heard some ‘whoops’ of approval from the crowd which only served to heighten the atmosphere so very early on in the show.
American Tim O’Brien, whose presence regularly graces the collective, kicked off the special guest slot; he jokingly referred to himself as “the bluegrass section” and his infectious style added so much to the proceedings. One of the evening’s particular highlights was his leading of a quartet comprising Patty Griffin, Rodney Crowell and Dirk Powell in the a capella Baptist hymn ‘Before This Time Another Year’.
Griffin was someone that Douglas had been trying to get for a very long time and she made it clear that the past week, performing and travelling with the group was “one of the silliest but enjoyable weeks of her life”. This native Mainer who is now firmly rooted in Texas paid homage to a Texan legend, Lefty Frizzell with a cover of ‘Mom and Dad’s Waltz’. She’s petite but such a powerful performer and her own songs ‘Cold As It Gets’, ‘Coming Home’ and ‘Truth #2’ were wonderfully received.
Crowell’s choice of songs took him back in time to some learned long ago, notably Johnny Cash’s (his former father-in-law) ‘I Still Miss Someone’ and Hank Williams’ ‘Honky Tonk Blues’. Bain remarked that that was the first time they had played the Cash song and it just demonstrated what a remarkable set of musicians were entertaining us tonight.
Fiddler Sara Watkins is used to playing large stages having been a member of Grammy Award winning Nickel Creek. Tonight she captivated the audience with her playing and singing – her voice has such depth and her solo career has gone from strength to strength. That said, she’s returning to the UK in April to tour with Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz – must get that in the diary!
Gaelic songstress Kathleen MacInnes delivered her chosen material in exquisite style – she is undoubtedly one of the leading ambassadors of Scottish Gaelic singing. I don’t normally comment on what a performer is wearing but teaming her turned up jeans with sparkly kitten heels made a fashion statement for sure!
Devonian John Smith completed the roster of guests – a new voice to me. For a ‘newbie’ he exuded charm and confidence in equal measure and was not afraid to joke with more established musicians. As well as showcasing his own material he provided backing vocals by joining Watkins when she sung ‘Be There’ – sublime.
The longest and loudest applause was garnered by the trio Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle – flutes, whistles, Uillean pipes, fiddles and guitars – what’s not to like? They are about to embark on a long tour – another one for the diary!
The intersection of an established group of world-class musicians with a changing roster of special guests keeps Transatlantic Sessions alive and relevant. Add into that mix, traditional jigs and reels, old time music, original music, folk, country, bluegrass and you have a formula that attracts rave reviews every time!
(Photo credit: Richard Webb)