ABC Glasgow ****
Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow ****
There were traditional mariachi flourishes on trumpet, accordion and guitarra de golpa throughout their set but, beyond the Zapata moustaches, Mexrrissey are a modern Mexican rock band, with electronic beats supplied by their witty MC Carmilo Lura, who knew all the right tribal buttons to push to galvanise the crowd.
Their renditions were respectful but not overly so. Johnny Marr’s signature sliding guitar riff on The Smiths’ classic How Soon Is Now? was inventively rendered on trumpet, Entre Más Me Ignore, Más Cerca Estaré (The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get) became a Latino ballad, and their pumping take on Bigmouth Strikes Again was disco in any culture.
Support came from Los Palominos, a cheery London pub band whose chief distinguishing feature is the presence of 80s pop star Paul Young in the line-up. Mexrrissey, meanwhile, may not be your typical Celtic Connections outfit, attracting an atypical festival audience, but the speed with which their initial novelty was embraced speaks to a soulful spirit that traverses cultures.
The next evening, cross-border spirit was very much on the minds of Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, as much as the cross-country journey they undertook in Henry’s native US last spring when the old friends rode the country’s neglected railroad from Chicago to LA via San Antonio, Texas to commune with the spirit of Robert Johnson.
As they travelled, they hopped off in grand old city stations to record their favourite folk songs in celebration of this mighty, if underused network, dipping lovingly into the American songbook to render the resonant words, themes and emotions in the music of their chosen patron saint Lead Belly, Hank Williams and, of course, Woody Guthrie.
Here were the lonesome laments of cut-off communities and wistful yet practical tributes to what we would now call economic migration but which was then simply the hobo lifestyle – one regarded in some quarters with as much prejudice as today’s migrant.
Henry’s plaintive harmonies and Bragg’s gruff baritone fitted together like comfortable fellow travellers should and there was droll but heartfelt commentary throughout from these two very eloquent souls, greeted as safe pairs of hands in such troubled times.
There was almost a spiritual element to Henry’s solo mini-set, as he called on the hopeful aura of his mentor Allen Toussaint, while Bragg favourites Accident Waiting to Happen and Between the Wars resonated afresh. Ever the modern chronicler, he also repurposed Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing to declare that “the climate is obviously changing”.