Gig review: Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, Glasgow

Is the common denominator of Scottish, Scandinavian and Cajun music that all three cultures are at their happiest when miserable?

Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham have teamed up for 30 years. Picture: Contributed
Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham have teamed up for 30 years. Picture: Contributed

Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham: Le Grand Anniversaire | City Halls, Glasgow | Rating ****

The question was raised by Phil Cunningham, in response to a lissom Cajun waltz-song evoking a candlelit coffin.

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So far as their audience was concerned, happiness was fiddle and accordion-shaped, as Bain and Cunningham celebrated not only 30 years of musical partnership but the latter’s 40th year as a professional musician and Bain’s 70th birthday. Also partying were old musical friends – fiddler Per Gudmundson and accordionist Bengan Janson from Sweden and, from Louisiana, the guitar-accordion duo of Ann and Marc Savoy and fiddler Michael Doucet.

Alternating with much ribaldry were some rich permutations of fiddle strings and accordion reeds, including distinctively ringing Swedish polskas and even the chirping tones of the lately revived Swedish bagpipe. Despite claiming climate shock, Doucet sang in his impassioned Francophone holler, fiddle zinging over the Savoys’ guitar and accordion, or in lithe duet with Bain.

Other guests included legendary Highland accordionist Fergie MacDonald, Bain’s former Boys of the Lough colleague Cathal McConnell with an Irish song of leave-taking, while Shetland pianist Violet Tulloch and, representing a younger generation of island fiddlers, Bryan Gear, joined in a brisk Scott Skinner set. The Cunningham accordion, meanwhile, went all continental to accompany Eddi Reader in giving Mona Lisa the proverbial laldy. It was an evening of good friends and music, but also of great heart.