Celtic Connections review: Ross Ainslie’s Sanctuary Band, Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow

Ross Ainslie
Ross Ainslie
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He may have snatched a couple of pauses for re-tuning – breaking, he conceded, his insistence that the music he and his Sanctuary Band were premiering be performed – and listened to – in one continuous flow, but Ross Ainslie had much to be pleased with in his skilfully realised composition, Sanctuary.

Ross Ainslie’s Sanctuary Band, Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow ****

With Ainslie on whistles and – kept for a dramatic finale – small and Highland pipes, and leading a beefy septet including guitarist Steven Byrnes, violinist Greg Lawson and Ali Hutton on additional whistles, Sanctuary opened with whistles and Lawson’s eastern-inflected violin intertwining beguilingly.

As artist Somhairle MacDonald’s cosmic psychedelia swirled in the background, the sequence progressed through increasingly muscular and drum-driven sections, from chirpy hornpipe and homely Scots air, through a dramatic, klezmer-ish outburst from Lawson, to the climactic Let the Wild Ones Roam, with Highland pipes crackling fiercely, before subsiding under poet Jock Urquhart’s on-screen declamatory closure.

The bar had already been set high by an opening performance on small pipes by Brighde Chaimbeul, a 2016 BBC Young Folk Award-winner, intuitively accompanied by guitarist Innes White. When she joined Ainslie and guitarist Byrnes for a closing set, the twin small pipes united in an energetic Bulgarian stomp over thrumming bouzouki, as well as a plangently harmonised slow air that boded well indeed for the album the two pipers are planning.