Celtic Connections reviews: Peat & Diesel |  Les Amazones d’Afrique | Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band & Tryst

Jim Gilchrist, Fiona Shepherd and David Pollock report from this year’s Celtic Connections festival
Peat & DieselPeat & Diesel
Peat & Diesel

Peat & Diesel, Barrowlands, Glasgow ****

“The songs won’t make much sense to the average person,” reads breakthrough Hebridean sensation Peat & Diesel’s own biography, “but the person behind the lyrics isn’t your average man, so if … you can relate to (them) you are a special breed.” The trio from the Isle of Lewis appear to have underestimated just how relatable they are, however, for what was originally billed as a modest Celtic Connections show at the Oran Mor was rapidly upgraded to the near 2000-capacity Barrowlands, and still managed to sell out in less than a day.

There are many hot tickets on the Celtic Connections bill, but few come packaged with quite the same level of viral appeal as Peat & Diesel, who are essentially a first rate ceilidh-style trio with a Celtic rock edge to their compositions, but possessed of a vibrantly tongue-in-cheek edge to their lyrics which is perfectly in tune with a Scottish crowd.

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Salt and Pepper is a song (kind of) about Justin Bieber; Plate Full of Sgadan is an adapted cover of Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha, on the subject of dinner made by granny; Stornoway and Western Isles both eulogise the band’s home with a kind of impudent beauty. Their self-proclaimed non-average lyricist is Calum ‘Boydie’ Macleod, singer, banjo-player and full-time fisherman, who made his entrance through the crowd held aloft on security guards’ shoulders, wearing the trademark high-vis jacket which he uses in his other job.

Eighteen months ago he, accordionist Innes Scott (his instrument reveals a printed Saltire when opened up) and robust drummer Uilly Macleod were messing around with songs in Boydie’s living room of a Saturday night, and now they’re covering Dirty Old Town and The Lion Sleeps Tonight at the country’s most iconic venue. They know exactly what their crowd wants, even if the hundreds cheering and singing along to every lyric didn’t until they’d heard them. David Pollock

Les Amazones d’Afrique, Tramway, Glasgow ****

The Celtic Connections philosophy was writ large across this alternative Burns Night celebration as Glasgow’s diverse communities converged for a showcase finale of the festival strand run by ethnic minority support organisation BEMIS.

The Glasgow African Balafon Orchestra – comprising members from Ghana, Liberia and Possilpark – paved the way most effectively for the West African headliners, with bongos, drums and rhythmic guitar backing up a trio of resonant balafon xylophonesto create a loose-limbed polyrhythmical sound.

The Ando Glaso Collective, a ten-piece Roma party band from Govanhill, hiked up the momentum with their lightning fiddles, effortless soulful vocals and almost certainly the youngest musician to appear at Celtic Connections, the unflappable Leonardo on fiddle.

Flautist Tom Oakes with Sodi Singh on tabla crammed an English folk tune, Moroccan blues and Finnish polka into one set, while the Joyous Choir from the Maryhill Integration Network sang a spirited if un-nuanced trio of Scots songs and the current crop of Comhaltas’s Irish Minstrels rounded off this wide-ranging warm-up under the curatorship of Inverness fiddler Graham Mackenzie.

Diva supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique stand for female empowerment and this particular incarnation of their fluid line-up, including founder Mamani Keita, dominated the stage like a 21st century Labelle with visceral soul vocals, powerful unison singing and some impressive backdrops from Keita. Meanwhile, their band supplied an increasingly heady concoction of desert rock, airy electronica and outright dancefloor frenzy which elicited a stage invasion of talented dancers and ended with the Amazones taking the party out into the crowd. Fiona Shepherd

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Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band & Tryst, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

A Grade 1 competing pipe band is a different beast in concert, compared to the white heat of the competition arena. They’re on stage to entertain and perhaps flex repertoire, as did Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band, augmented with whistle, bouzouki and drum kit and opening with a nod to Burns Day with the plaintive air of Westlin’ Winds before erupting into two Irish jigs which they propelled to a powerful conclusion.

Their spectacular drum fanfare suddenly and improbably morphed into a percussive rendition of the Mission Impossible theme. Outwith Tom Cruise territory, there was an engaging competition style medley, with hornpipes, strathspeys and reels cusping  the poignant retreat march Dark Lowers the Night with its tidal drum roll, although a jig-time arrangement of The Little Cascade seemed to lose definition somewhat over churning drums, possibly due to the hall acoustic.

The concert opened with the eight pipers of Tryst, a grouping of well-known pipers, whose made an impressive entrance on to a darkened stage, with two pipes calling out a stately air, In Praise of Pioneers, above a booming synthesiser drone, before the others joined in. Their adventurous approach had familiar tunes emerging potently out of shapeshifting harmonies and discords. There was a brief piobaireach setting, and while singalongs are not generally a feature of piping events, Tryst cajoled a receptive audience into giving a wordless chorus as the pipes sang over it, to oddly plangent effect. Jim Gilchrist