Tradfest review: Valtos, Assynt & Josie Duncan, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Valtos raised the Queen’s Hall roof at this Tradfest opener, writes Jim Gilchrist

Valtos, Assynt & Josie Duncan, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

This Tradfest opening concert featured an intriguing variety of contemporary approaches to Highland music, headlined by Gaelic-electronica fusion heroes Valtos (***). They may be named after a village on Skye, but their sound couldn’t be more boomingly cosmopolitan as, following an inauspicious false start, the band’s core duo of Daniel Docherty and Martyn MacDonald unleashed their hallmark maelstrom of swirling synths, loops and cellar-juddering bass.

Accompanied by fiddler Euan McLaughlin, piper Finn Macpherson and enthusiastically gyrating singers Eilidh Cormack and Lana Pheutan (joined at times by concert opener, Josie Duncan), they included their recent release A’ Chuthag (minus the single’s Julie Fowlis) as well as Ceòl Dannsa, with its whistle-synth riff and sampled speech from Donnie Munro, and the old Capercaillie hit Coisich A Rùin. Their popularity was clear from the crowd who crammed the Queen’s Hall stalls area, cleared of seating. One couldn’t help feeling, however, that against these pummelling dance floor beats and engulfing soundscapes, the singing came over as something of an afterthought. As spotlights swept over a sea of ecstatically waving arms, however, the audience would clearly disagree.

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Valtos PIC: Martyn DanielValtos PIC: Martyn Daniel
Valtos PIC: Martyn Daniel

There was more clarity in the concert’s first half, with Highland trio Assynt (****) whose punchy jig and reel sets such as John Morrison of Assynt House saw David Shedden’s Highland pipes and whistles tightly locked with Graham Mackenzie’s fiddle and complementary guitar lines from Innes White. Gentler interludes included the stately, piobaireachd-inspired Where From Here.

The aforementioned Josie Duncan (****) brought mellifluous tones to an engagingly idiosyncratic repertoire. Accompanied by guitarist Owen Sinclair and percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir, she mixed Gaelic material such as the springy lilt of Calum Ban with the bittersweet folk-pop of her own Natural Disaster – and what else but a sassy cover of Blondie’s Heart of Glass?