Music review: Celtic Connections Opening Concert, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Syne of the Times, the opening concert of Celtic Connections 2019, at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall PIC: Gaelle Beri
Syne of the Times, the opening concert of Celtic Connections 2019, at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall PIC: Gaelle Beri
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If this year’s Celtic Connections theme celebrates the continuance of traditions between generations, the festival’s opening concert, Syne of the Times, certainly suggested a vigorous ongoing flow, as expressed by the burgeoning talents of the Gaelic Fèisan movement, Orkney’s similarly fertile Hadhirgaan and, from Spain’s Celtic enclave of Galicia, the folk orchestra SonDeSeu.

Celtic Connections: Syne of the Times, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

An eloquent short film, Kin and the Community, made by Uist accordionist, composer and researcher Pàdruig Morrison about his tradition-bearing grandfather, gave way to the unbridled exuberance of SonDeSeu, some four dozen of them, who are clearly revivifying their culture with a vengeance. One of them demonstrated her impressive grasp of local vernacular by declaring, “It’s pure Baltic out there,” but their sound was pure dead Galician, replete with shrill gaita bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies, fiddles, harps and much deployment of tambourines and boisterous vocalising.

Guided by Douglas Montgomery of Saltfishforty fame, the young fiddlers of the Orcadian youth project Hadhirgaan demonstrated that it’s not just music that can inform a communities cultural DNA, with a lament for the eight crew who perished in the Longhope lifeboat disaster, 50 years ago, a tragedy which had directly touched the families of several players.

A cornerstone of the concert was to revisit Connections creative producer Donald Shaw’s Harvest project of 15 years ago, with some of its then youthful participants returning as seasoned artists, notably fiddler Lauren MacColl, excerpts from whose suite The Seer provided dramatic interludes as she led it accompanied by massed Fèis youngsters.

Other luminaries included Julie Fowlis, with fiddler Duncan Chisholm, joining with emerging young singers, while Manchester-Irish flautist Mike McGoldrick played a nimble set with his two nieces. Shaw himself, on accordion, led reprises of a couple of his Harvest tunes and there was a brief set – nicely measured yet full of bubbling life – from young piper Brighde Chaimbeul and Lau fiddler Aidan O’Rourke. There was a short interlude, too, from the powerful Highland band Daimh, whose singer, Ellen MacDonald, also joined with upcoming vocal talent.

I gave up counting but by the finale there must have well over 100 performers on stage in riotous pan-Celtic assembly, Gaelic puirt à beul alternating with Galician holler and gleefully jangling tambourines. And when a young Gael led Beò an Dòchas – “living in hope,” Robbie MacLeod’s song for the Fèisean movement, it appeared that nurtured seed corn was indeed yielding a rich harvest. - Jim Gilchrist