Gig review: Rachel Newton, Glasgow

THE third New Voices premiere in Celtic Connections’ 2014 series of commissions, Changeling, by the young Edinburgh singer, harpist and fiddler Rachel Newton, made a lovely virtue of simplicity.

Rachel Newton. Picture: Contributed
Rachel Newton. Picture: Contributed
Rachel Newton. Picture: Contributed

New Voices: Rachel Newton

Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow

* * * *

While vividly evoking and emotively amplifying the darkly complex human truths encapsulated in its subject, Newton’s traditionally-based vocal/instrumental collage wisely allowed their intrinsic, age-old potency to work on her audience without over-elaboration.

Her line-up displayed a similar canny economy of approach: besides her own threefold contribution – here including viola rather than fiddle – it featured Corrina Hewat on electroharp and vocals, Su-a Lee on cello and musical saw, fiddler Lauren MacColl and percussionist Mattie Foulds.

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Another fast-rising Edinburgh talent, Adam Holmes, also stepped up to deliver a softly resonant rendition of Sidney Goodsir Smith’s The Fairy Man, set to Newton’s new original melody, spookily adorned with swooping strokes of that aforementioned saw and eldritch backing harmonies. Powerfully conveying the seductive allure of the supernatural, this item lent broader reinforcement to the specifics of Newton’s other material, among which were hauntingly poignant adaptations of Gaelic, Scots and American changeling ballads – stories of babies or new mothers abducted to another world, replaced with non-human substitutes – which historically codified inexplicable or insupportable realities like congenital disabilities and post-natal depression.

A deftly impressionistic strings composition vibrantly conjured the female customs which sought to protect newborns and their mothers, while two livelier instrumentals drew sparkling inspiration from the more comically outlandish aspects of changeling lore.

(Seen on 2.2.14)