Celtic Connections review: Hamish Napier, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Hamish Napier’s 2018 album The Railway was commissioned to memorialise the long-gone Speyside Line on behalf of Grantown East Heritage and Cultural Centre, a converted train station outside Grantown-on-Spey, and for multi-instrumentalist Napier, who plays keyboards in his own band, the project is replete with a sense of nostalgia and of common feeling, dealing with the heritage of the part of Speyside where he grew up and recently returned to after nearly two decades in Glasgow.

Hamish Napier

Hamish Napier, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

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With support from the tender, travel-focused songs of Claire Hastings and her band, Napier appeared with his own six-piece, whose number includes a couple of members of Breabach; his brother Findlay also appeared for a couple of vocal, song-based tunes, their banter causing the latter to remark “It’s like a rubbish version of the Bros documentary.” With Finlay MacDonald’s whistle to the fore in many of the tunes, playing the part of the old steam trains, the opening The Speyside Line rocked along like a comfortable train ride.

Alongside Napier’s introductions and his tales of research interviews with former train drivers, a sense of the world in which they lived built around the music; from the details of the machines used, including the hill-ready Hiker engine and the Aberdeen-bound Gordon Highlander, to the eager authenticity of drummer Fraser Stone shovelling a box of coal on The Fire Box; and from The Old Ways’ sense of admiration for the ways things used to be done to Helen’s Song – a tender ballad about returning home to wife and family, played by Napier and fiddle player Patsy Reid. An energetic tune about the coming of diesel dragged us towards an epic finale, and in the boos that murmured around following the mention of Dr Beeching’s name, it was clear this music had taken the audience back to the past it celebrates and warmly recreates. - Dave Pollock