Celtic Connections review: International Burns Concert, Glasgow

Celebrating 30 years of Capercaillie, the band were in fine form. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Celebrating 30 years of Capercaillie, the band were in fine form. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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What an almighty double it’s been for Celtic Connections at the Hydro this weekend, as the festival made its debut in Scotland’s newest and biggest music venue, firstly with Del Amitri’s triumphant return on Friday, then with this lavish multicultural celebration of Robert Burns’s birthday.

International Burns Concert - Hydro, Glasgow

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It wasn’t so much a musical Burns supper as a tasting menu, in which the haggis, neeps and tatties of Scottish tradition blended with the diverse flavours of 2014’s Commonwealth festivities and other international seasonings.

The 3,000-strong crowd was a more than respectable turnout, given the jaw-dropping tally of 11 other Celtic Connections shows happening simultaneously, while BBC2’s Burns Night broadcast of edited highlights immediately after the concert will have spread the festival’s good news a good deal wider. It certainly wasn’t your average Saturday night, too, for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, who were cast in the unaccustomed role of a 54-piece “house band” for the show’s myriad headline acts, with some truly lovely and strikingly imaginative arrangements, variously created by the late Kevin McCrae, Paul Bateman and our conductor here, John Logan.

In musical terms the highlights came thick and fast. They ranged from 30-year veterans Capercaillie, whose contributions included Karen Matheson’s gorgeously inconsolable version of Ae Fond Kiss and an exhilarating mini-suite of material from Donald Shaw’s award-winning Hebrides: Life on the Edge soundtrack, to the budding stars of Fèis Rois getting the thrill of their young lives, singing and playing their hearts out on the huge Hydro stage with the RSNO behind them.

Most performers’ slots included a Burns or Burns-themed number alongside their own material, but none embraced the night’s theme of international commonality more boldly or bewitchingly than Karine Polwart, interweaving a fiercely poignant Slave’s Lament with a mournful Cypriot ballad sung by her most recent collaborator Alkinoos Ioannidis. Salsa Celtica served up some tastily Latin-ised puirt-a-beul with Gaelic singers Julie Fowlis and Megan Henderson; Rachel Sermanni enthralled the entire hall with a gossamer-fine My Love is Like A Red, Red Rose, and young Australians The Mae Trio bravely achieved the same with their spine-tingling harmonies on John Anderson My Jo.

South Africa’s inspirational Mahotella Queens sang and danced with exultant gusto, in tribute to both Burns and Nelson Mandela, who was remembered in a Glasgow context, having been, in 1981, the first place in the world to grant him the freedom of the city.

Seen on 25.01.14