Celtic Connections review: Capercaillie, Glasgow

In 30 years Capercaillie have helped fortify traditional music. Picture: Donald MacLeod
In 30 years Capercaillie have helped fortify traditional music. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Back in 1983, the fledgling band Capercaillie chose their name to represent something beautiful, emblematic of the Highlands and under threat of extinction. Just over three decades on, the bird remains a severely endangered species, but the Gaelic culture which the musical Capercaillie set out to fortify has rarely been healthier.

Capercaillie - City Halls, Glasgow

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This sold-out Celtic Connections show, the band’s first in several years – with co-founder Donald Shaw’s festival directorship making it somewhat awkward to book them, until a suitably fitting occasion arose – was a joyous culmination of their 30th anniversary festivities, back at the heart of a flagship Scottish event for which they did so much to lay the groundwork, in terms of revitalising traditional music and inspiring peers and successors.

Both their own and subsequent generations were represented in a liberal array of special guests, with lead singer Karen Matheson joined by fellow Gaelic singers Kathleen MacInnes, Julie Fowlis, Sineag MacIntyre and Darren MacLean – a glorious chorus which, in those first three names, incidentally included the voices of three major Hollywood films: Rob Roy, Robin Hood and Brave. Among others joining the party were former member Marc Duff, Lau bandmates Kris Drever and Aidan O’Rourke, pipers Finlay MacDonald, Steven Blake and Jarlath Henderson, percussionist James Mackintosh and Fraser Fifield on sax.

Capercaillie themselves were on resplendent form, displaying to full advantage the synthesis of rhythmic sophistication, skilfully integrated pop elements, fundamental fealty to tradition and all-round superb musicianship that have always underpinned their trailblazing evolution.