Gig review: The Chieftains and Ry Cooder


BEING sociable sorts, The Chieftains invited a bunch of chums to pop along and join in their Celtic Connections hoolie. Being The Chieftains, their chums were of a particular calibre – walking through their guest door were esteemed American guitarist Ry Cooder, colourful Mexican-American troubadours Los Cenzontles with their songs about iguanas and goats, Galician piper and fellow Celtic Connections headliner Carlos Nunez, Hebridean singer Alyth McCormack, the ScottishPower Pipe Band, bluegrass singer/songwriter Tim O'Brien, harmony trio the Friel Sisters and the suited and booted Canadian stepdancers Jon and Nathan Pilatzke who, along with Irish dancing world champion Cara Butler, performed some dazzling athletic routines.

With so many comings and goings, and a laudable desire to balance the old with the new, the concert was more of a piecemeal fiesta than a cohesive declaration. The business of previewing The Chieftains' ambitious new album, San Patricio – a musical tribute to the Irish immigrant soldiers who deserted the US army during the Civil War to fight with the Mexicans – which they have recorded with Cooder, was somewhat lost in the mix.

But the maximalist approach yielded a dizzying celebration of collective talent, with the generous hosts acting as creative anchor – especially during a lively extended finale with almost as many featured spots as there were performers. The audience provided the final guest appearance, with a singalong to drunken lament Goodnight Irene and a sideways conga.

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