Celtic Connections review: BBC Scotland Young Trad Musician of The Year, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

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BY THE time the sixth and last finalist finished their 15-minute set, the judges of this year’s 13th competition must have had their heads in their hands.

BBC Scotland Young Trad Musician of The Year

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Star rating: * * * *

Not in despair at the music’s quality – quite the contrary – but at the prospect of choosing one victor. At least four of the contestants gave an arguably winning performance, in a show that once again demonstrated the outstanding calibre of young traditional talent in Scotland today, while also highlighting the breadth and diversity of the field even at the level of individual instrumentalists – there being, unusually, no singers in the 2013 final.

From Graham Mackenzie’s authoritative, Highland-based fiddle tunes and Scott Wood’s alternately fiery/lyrical piping to pianist Andrew Dunlop’s jazz- and classical-tinged virtuosity, the programme paraded a striking array of contrasting approaches. Dunlop’s inclusion in the line-up also raised other interesting issues for the contest – not just the piano’s status as a traditional instrument, but the fact that he performed both as soloist and accompanist, joined in the latter capacity by house-band members Catriona Watt on vocals and Rua MacMillan on fiddle. Small wonder that the judges’ chairman Jim Sutherland likened the decision-making process to “comparing Braeburns with King Edwards”.

Even the two accordionists among the six, Grant MacFarlane and Paddy Callaghan, could hardly have been more different, with their respective backgrounds in the Scottish dance-band scene and Irish button-box tradition – but in the end it was Callaghan’s combination of brilliantly supple, sparkling dance tunes and a beautifully pensive slow air that saw him crowned as a popular local winner.