Celtic Connections review: Transatlantic Sessions, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

This informal showcase for the “special relationship” between Scottish, Irish, English and American roots musicians originated as a television series in 1995. It has since branched out into various collaborative albums and live performances, the latter being a staple of Celtic Connections.

Gretchen Peters PIC: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Transatlantic Sessions, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

The latest gathering was helmed, as always, by musical directors, avuncular MCs and all-round virtuosos Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas. Joining them on a stage adorned with couches, a coffee table and old-fashioned standard lamps – that living-room vibe is an essential facet of the TS ethos – were folk, bluegrass and country musicians Cara Dillon, Gretchen Peters, Tim O’Brien, John Doyle, Molly Tuttle and Glasgow’s very own Paul McKenna (not that one), plus a peerless house band including accordion maestro Phil Cunningham.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

O’Brien, an unassuming West Virginian, somehow managed to segue smoothly between an earnest tribute to his Irish ancestry, a tear-jerking song about his sister, who died at the age of six, and a suitably intoxicating and exotic instrumental inspired by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards falling out of a palm tree in Fiji.

Other highlights were Douglas’ frantic bluegrass version of Hey Joe, Doyle’s darkly amusing murder ballad about Burke and Hare, a succession of vigorous reels by fiddle monarch Bain and co, and Dillon’s spellbinding rendition of the beautiful Irish ballad On the Banks of the Foyle.

The calibre of musicianship was something to behold but no one attempted to steal the show. On the contrary, they warmly united in hands-across-the-ocean harmony. - Paul Whitelaw