PERHAPS appropriately for an event celebrating 50 years of the Traditional Music and Song Association, which has always encouraged the unadulterated solo voice, some of the most memorable moments in the Carrying Stream concert that opened Celtic Connections came from unaccompanied or minimally accompanied singers tapping deep into musical bedrock.
Celtic Connections Opening Concert: The Carrying Stream | Rating: **** | Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Not to disparage an excellent house band, including such sterling musicians as pianist Tom Gibbs, bassist Euan Burton and fiddler Megan Henderson, or the brisk opening set from the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland, but among those who really stilled the concert hall were North-east singer Shona Donaldson with Edom o’ Gordon, a tragic tale of internecine feuding, and Irish traveller Thomas McCarthy, who transfixed us with his strangely querulous sean-nós delivery of the ballad Lady Margaret.
Also in fine form was the concert’s musical director, Siobhan Miller, a child of TMSA festivals, with False, False, learned from the late Sheila Stewart, one of numerous departed friends and inspirations cited during the evening. Not least among these was Andy M Stewart, who died last month and whose former Silly Wizard band-mate, accordionist Phil Cunningham, joined Miller for a suitably swaggering account of Stewart’s Ramblin’ Rover.
From south of the Border, Sam Lee paid tribute to his traveller mentor, Stanley Robertson, with The Moon Shone on My Bed, although his singing and John Whitten’s hammer dulcimer accompaniment seemed a little at odds with each other. From further afield, North Carolina singer-fiddler Rayna Gellert put a western holler into the murder ballad The Cruel Mother, the band providing a suitably ominous backdrop. The trio Shepheard, Spiers and Watson gave rousing voice to the Kintyre emigration song Callieburn, while multi-hit singer and actress Barbara Dickson revisited her folk roots with I Once Loved a Lad and a surprisingly nominal Gaelic contribution was Mischa MacPherson’s Coisich a Rùin.
The evening’s succession of single-song performers, young and old, preclude comprehensive name-checking here, but some things were all but mandatory – a winsome air from Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, veteran political singer Arthur Johnstone leading the Freedom Come-All-Ye and Sheena Wellington giving a superb reprise of her Scottish Parliamentary broadside, A Man’s A Man.
As Miller and Malinky’s Fiona Hunter led a heartfelt massed encore of Here’s a Health to the Company, one wondered, naturally, what folk will be singing in another 50 years’ time.