Transatlantic Sessions – Royal Festival Hall (London, UK 2/6/12)
Having long been a highlight of the annual Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow and of BBC4’s music programming schedule, in 2010 Transatlantic Sessions took to the road and found a warm and welcoming London home at the Royal Festival Hall. Under the expert direction of Scottish fiddle player Aly Bain and American dobro master, Jerry Douglas, the ensemble, featuring a mix of folk singers, country singers and instrumentalists have proceeded to taken audiences by storm wherever they play. Tonight was no exception.
Combining house-band regulars with special guests, the formula mixes the familiar with the new and ensures that there is always something special to look forward to. Over two and a half hours we were treated to jigs and reels, laughter and sorrow, songs and anthems, as the musicians came together in a spirit of co-operation and camaraderie.
Special guests from ‘across the pond’ Tim O’Brien, Raul Malo and Ruth Moody as well as those closer to home, Irishman Declan O’Rourke, Scottish favourites Eddi Reader and Karen Matheson each took their turn at lead vocals delving into catalogues both modern and traditional.
Discovery of the night for me was O’Rourke – he enthused with joy at playing with such a stellar cast. Confident in such august company he drew much admiration both on and off stage for his rich vocal style not to mention his Irish dancing, side stage, as the evening drew to a close.
Roots musician O’Brien had to miss last year’s London show due to a family emergency but tonight he was on sparkling form and paid tribute to dust bowl troubadour Woody Guthrie in this, Guthrie’s centenary year, by closing the first set with ‘This Land Is Your Land’ often referred to as America’s alternative national anthem.
Moody, on hiatus from The Wailin’ Jennys, captivated the audience with her tenderness especially when singing the title track The Garden from her critically acclaimed 2010 solo debut.
Reader was in a lively mischievous mood throughout – she channelled poet Robert Burns with Green Grow The Rashes, O she encouraged the audience to sing along with her, she introduced O’Rourke as ‘someone she found in an Irish bar’ and was the first one up on her feet dancing when not involved in singing! Some explanation might be called for here – all sixteen musicians are on stage together throughout the show. There is a seating area behind the band where those not immediately involved sit and sip champagne (according to Malo!) but jump up and join in if they feel like singing backing vocals at any time.
Matheson, the remarkable voice of Celtic band Capercaillie, interpreted Si Khan’s Aragon Mill beautifully. She has such a pure and clear voice that is a joy to listen to whether she sings in English (as she did tonight) or in Gaelic (as she often does).
Malo, with his Latin heritage, might not have been everyone’s idea of a natural fit with Transatlantic Sessions but any doubts anyone had on that score were soon dispelled. His powerful vocals just filled the concert hall and he led the encore with Hank Williams’ Hey, Good Lookin’ during which he had the audience eating out of his hand. His band The Mavericks has recently announced a reunion tour and I’ll bet that many at tonight’s show will be in the queue for tickets to that gig if it reaches these shores.
So many highlights, it’s impossible to capture them all. The evening left me with the impression of a fine cast of performers revelling in each other’s company and truly enjoying as O’Brien succinctly put it ‘the best time of the day for us musicians’ – I wouldn’t argue with that.