Celtic Connections review: Northern Lights/Shine, Glasgow

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

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Not only did the names of these two acts dovetail felicitously, but so did their music, thanks to the festival’s characteristic finesse in billing.

CC: Northern Lights/ Shine - Mitchell Library, Glasgow

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Instigated by harpist Ailie Robertson, Northern Lights brought musicians from Scotland (Robertson and fiddler Donald Grant), Denmark (pianist/accordionist Nikolaj Busk), Sweden (Ale Carr on cittern) and Ireland (concertina legend Niall Vallely and flute/whistle/bodhran player Kieran Munnelly, the latter standing in for the unfortunately ailing Brian Finnegan).

Their programme comprised a new composition from each, ten-15 minutes long, written specifically for the project and occupying that interesting cross-genre territory of folk-based contemporary chamber music, a rapidly-evolving hybrid which Celtic Connections has done much to nurture and the material sounded well gelled and thoroughly played in.

Particular highlights included Robertson’s composition, The Game, full of compelling contrasts between flamboyantly squally swagger and rarefied lyricism, and Carr’s Fragments of the Sun Village, a richly impressionistic panoply inspired by thoughts of home and family.

There was a justly warm welcome back for the newly reunited Shine, the vocals/harps triumvirate of Mary Macmaster, Corrina Hewat and Alyth McCormack, who’ve been on hiatus for over a decade, but rekindled all their former magic – and then some – with their bewitchingly arrayed harmonies, in a mix of traditional Gaelic songs, contemporary covers and original material, alternating otherworldly spookiness with sparkling lighter interludes.

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