Celtic Connections review: Kathleen MacInnes and amiina, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Kathleen MacInnes with amiina at Celtic COnnections PIC: Gaelle Beri
Kathleen MacInnes with amiina at Celtic COnnections PIC: Gaelle Beri
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The light in Iceland, Kathleen MacInnes told us, “is exactly like Benbecula”. The celebrated South Uist singer was saluting her collaborators in this concert, the strings and electronica quartet amiina, but if they frequently generated spatial shimmers and sighs that one could regard as an aural equivalent of the Aurora Borealis, MacInnes’s huskily mellifluous tones generated a Gaelic light and shade of their own, curling darkly around lyrics or injecting subversive glee into the sly satire of Oran na Cloiche – “the song of the stone”, celebrating the audacious removal of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster in 1950.

Kathleen MacInnes and amiina, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

They followed an impressive opening set from the Irish female a cappella quartet Landless, whose keen, intertwining harmonies embraced a broad repertoire, from Robert Burns’ Lassie Lie Near Me, through Lúireach Bhríde – their celebration of Irish women based on a poem by Annemarie Ní Churreáin, concluding with a muscularly open-throated Slovakian number.

MacInnes was sensitively accompanied by pianist James Ross and Mike Vass on fiddle and guitar and was joined intermittently by Irish singer Michelle Burke – a splendid singer in her own right – for support vocals in material such as a gospel hall-tinged Gaelic version of the hymn How Great Thou Art.

Singing solo, she elicited enthusiastic chorusing for a DA Campbell composition from the audience’s strong Gaelic contingent. She also delivered a gently hypnotic spinning song from the Margaret Fay Shaw South Uist collections, although The Waves that Bear the Saints, from a project Ross and Burke are working on with Alexander McCall Smith, sounded somewhat misplaced from context.

Wielding electric violin and cello, laptop, ukulele, drums and assorted chimes, the Reykjavik-based quartet have worked with such notable Nordic bands as Sigur Rós and Efterklang, but here they generated suitably spooky harmonics, eldritch slides and muted drumbeats behind MacInnes’s singing, including a version of Colin’s Cattle, with its theme of fairy abduction.

Left to perform a set by themselves, the Icelanders further expanded their immersive soundworld, adding the ringing of xylophone and zither to their plangent strings for what sounded like an ancient circle dance, while they concluded powerfully with the hitherto restrained drummer Magnus Trygvason Eliassen letting rip as siren strings soared into a banshee howl – a long way from the Uist machair but with an elemental voice of their own. - Jim Gilchrist