Celtic Connections reviews: Archieology (Archie Fisher 80th) | Miller, MacDonald & Cormier

Fiona Shepherd and Jim Gilchrist report from Celtic Connections 2020

Archie Fisher
Archie Fisher

Archieology (Archie Fisher 80th), Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow ****

Celtic Connections gives good tribute but it is all the more satisfying when the subject is alive and well and able to conduct a celebration of their own musical life.

In the playfully titled Archieology, Scottish folk legend Archie Fisher marked his 80th birthday by excavating such back catalogue gems as The Shipyard Apprentice, his gorgeous evocation of early years in the shadow of the Glasgow docks.

Most Popular

With a winning mix of gentle humour and astute observation, he made judicious song selections illustrating his island heritage and the influence of US folk giants Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, while his time as promoter at the late, lamented Crown Bar in Edinburgh was illustrated with a cover of the Incredible String Band’s October Song.

Fisher was hailed as the first wave of the Scottish folk revival but hot on his heels were second wavers and special guests, Barbara Dickson and Rab Noakes, who supplied the harmonic magic of old compadres on a country cover of Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.

There were nods to their own heritage – Noakes’s Gently Does It was a warmly soulful rootsy tribute to the giants on whose shoulders they stand, with Fisher receiving due credit and they invoked the richly melodic spirit of their old friend Gerry Rafferty with a rendition of Wise As a Serpent before forming a charming harmony trio with Fisher in fine bass form for the gentle melancholy of James Taylor’s Something’s Wrong, Noakes’s contented and catchy Together Foreverand Fisher’s The Final Trawl. Fiona Shepherd

Miller, MacDonald & Cormier, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

Spirited piping, fiddling and the propulsive rattle of feet heralded the Celtic Connections debut of Miller MacDonald Cormier, who combine Nova Scotia’s Gaelic diaspora and francophone Acadian presence.

With fiddler, singer and step-dancer Anita MacDonald from Cape Breton Island, American piper Ben Miller and guitarist and foot percussionist Zakk Cormier from Prince Edward Island, Gaelic music and song came full circle, losing nothing of its infectious energy in the process.

The trio opened with a briskly marching quickstep but soon broke into the snappy jigs, reels and strathspeys that characterised much of their performance, with MacDonald’s fiddle tightly aligned with Miller’s Lowland pipe which, when not cracking out dance tunes, provided a simple but effective drone under MacDonald’s Gaelic song.

While guitarist Cormier’s distinctive foot percussion helped rattle the show along, and joined MacDonald’s step-dancing in a percussive merging of Maritime island cultures, it would have been nice to hear a bit more of PEI’s residual francophone traditions. As it was, the highlight was a lengthy closing medley, opening with the old song Thug Mi Pòg – I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand, that developed into a piobaireachd-like calling on pipes and fiddle before breaking into the mandatory strathspey and reels.

In support, another trio, Samaluc – piper Malin Lewis, guitarist Luc McNally and Sam Mabbet on button accordion – delivered a persuasive combination of earthy box ‘n’ pipe reediness with nimble fluency, from birling jigs to bewildering Bulgarian time signatures.  Jim Gilchrist