Pomp and pudding supper

Dick Gaughan: Timewaves - Lovesong to a People's Music ***


DICK Gaughan promised us "music as Scottish as a pudding supper" for the grand finale of Celtic Connections 2004. After eight months sweating over his first orchestral score, Gaughan joined the serried ranks of the Scottish Opera Orchestra, along with ten traditional musicians, to deliver an amalgam of musical styles.

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Judging by the forest of bows, there must have been almost 40 violinists on stage. Gaughan, like a boy with a new toy, made the most of this opportunity for high drama with bombastic endings for most of the 12 sub-sections of his concerto, leading up to a tongue-in-cheek "longest finish in musical history". The suite started with promise, as Karine Polwart strode on stage to deliver Gaughan’s earthy lyrics, the orchestra taking up the simple refrain.

After an ambitious instrumental narrative, in homage to ecclesiastical composer Robert Carver, came the high point of the concert. Seven singers appeared out of nowhere and belted out H Mandu, while the orchestra unleashed its powers on the age-old tune. This must be the first time a Gaelic waulking song has ever been given the full orchestral treatment, and it was spine-tingling.

It was a peculiar Gaughan concert, though. For the most part, the Leither sat hugging his guitar, while the conductor’s wiggling behind took centre stage. When it was beginning to look alarmingly unlikely that he would open his mouth, he finally gave the audience a blast of vintage Gaughan. From start to finish he aimed high, at times achieving elegant simplicity, as with his buttermilk smooth air, A Lovesong to Scotland. Quite why he combined his tribute to the music of the people with orchestral pomp, it’s hard to say. The result was like a pudding supper with sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese, but the audience did like it, and even demanded seconds.