Celtic Connections Opening Concert: ‘Neath the Gloamin’ Star, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****
A certain aura of the seasonal and celestial informed this Celtic Connections opening, celebrating a younger generation of singers before an eerily depopulated auditorium, thanks to Covid-related audience limitations.
Firstly came the migratory yearning of The Greylag Geese, based on a poem by Violet Jacob, delivered in Paul McKenna’s distinctively vibratoed tenor, then Jenny Sturgeon’s poised evocation of a “star-strewn sky” from another Jacob poem.
They were accompanied by the Alligin String Octet who, along with a house band including such stalwarts as guitarist Anna Massie, pianist John Lowrie, bassist Euan Burton and guitarist and co-director Innes White, provided considerate and generally unobtrusive settings throughout the show.
Other performances ranged from Gaelic singer Kim Carnie’s sanguinary account of the infamous Keppoch Murder to the irreverent Doric jigtime of Sleepytoon from bothy balladeers Ellie Beaton and Cameron Nixon. The Scots-Manx-Irish quintet Ímar, meanwhile, leavened their full-tilt instrumentals with the mellower White Strand before accelerating off again, strings in valiant pursuit.
The second half opened with Ireland’s The Jeremiahs, whose singer, Joe Gibney sports the clear, sturdy vocals of a Dublin balladeer, accompanied by tight flute, fiddle and guitar, and whose Reluctant Farmer was a darkly witty tale of a man who refuses to die.
Further starlight was dispensed by the show’s musical co-director, Hannah Rarity, who sang that eponymous ‘Neath the Gloamin’ Star, associated with the fondly remembered Tony Cuffe, over restrained syncopation, while her voice soared beyond the strings in Shades of Gloria.
Another fine vocalist was Fiona Hunter in the pawky Bonnie Birdie, although her heartfelt Lizzie Higgins tribute, What a Voice, could have done without strings and it was notable that an encore highlight materialised when she led off a stirring Bonny Glenshee – a cappella and clarion clear.
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