Celtic Connections

Celtic Connections – A Taster, Glasgow 13th -30th January


So we have survived the darkest days of winter; the post Christmas Blues and any symptons of Seasonal Affective Disorder have just about played out by now and for the sake of dropping a Nirvana lyric we can almost declare that ‘Spring is here again,’ and things are soon to be in Bloom.

Up here in the North, we have no excuse to be pitiful during winter. For generations, driving wind, frozen roads, burst pipes and blocked drains have helped to install a heady, trusty and resilient method for seeing out these times, and with that there is nothing better than zipping up your anorak or preferred winter garment and heading out for some quality entertainment.

So, on several occasions throughout January that is what I did and it was clear that the Celtic Connections festival had the most to offer in Glasgow. With 300 shows lined up over 20 venues across the city the Festival uses the term ‘Celtic’ in its broadest sense – highlighting regional identities and exploring music from cultures across the globe. Taking folk and traditional roots music as a starting point – the line up encompassed electronica, indie and world music.

Full credit to the organisers of such a diverse and successful line up that was celebrating a bumber 18th year with ticket sales reaching over 100,000!

Here at the Northernline, the shows we caught were all much enjoyed and have drafted a few words to give you a taster of what was on offer. Thanks to my friend Graham McCormick for his fine review of New York Indie outfit, The Walkmen who got things started.

THE WALKMEN / ( Support : LAKI MERA / MONA ) Oran Mor 19th Jan – Reviewed by MR GRAHAM McCORMICK

Mona are from Nashville, Tennessee (as vocalist / guitarist Nick Brown enjoyed telling us twice, once from behind his bottle of Jack Daniels to exclamate the point).  Mona could be described as classic American Indie Rock: big guitar sound. Big rock drum sound in a Foo Fighters sort of way. There were hints of influence from bands like My Bloody Valentine and maybe even the Drop Nineteens. Scrawling guitar with high pitched/big fuzz lead and great bass runs from Zach Lindsay who was particularly energetic. It was a very self assured performance.

Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone” from The Walkmen’s 2002 debut was the perfect way to kick off the show. I had convinced myself that it would be “Angela Surf City” from the new album (it was 3rd). The organ draws you in, then the energetic drums kick in and you’re hooked. 30 seconds in, they’ve won me; job done.

This was a sell out show. The Walkmen seem to have been getting a lot more exposure with the release of “Lisbon”, which can often spell disaster for fans who want to hear tracks from previous albums as well as the new material. The Walkmen pitched their set perfectly with tracks from all albums.  Their performance was amazing; professional and tight without feeling clinical. It seemed as if Hamilton Leithauser was singing the lyrics with as much intent as the day he wrote them. During “Canadian Girl” the bloke beside me turned to his mate and said “F**k me, he can sing”.  Indeed he can. The Walkmen are all masters of their chosen instruments and their use of dynamics is unparalleled.  I can’t think of any rock drummer who uses the kit as well as Matt Barrick but they are definitely a sum of the parts and not individual showmen.  “The Rat” was the opening encore song, sending the crowd into a final frenzy.

The only thing I’m not sure of is: What is the Celtic Connection?

ANI DI FRANCO ( Support : JIM MORAY ) ABC 25th Jan

This fine venue was packed with exactly the type of audience that have helped make Celtic Connections what it is. Firstly, everyone seemed up for a good time and there was a real feeling of excitement in the venue – symbolic perhaps of the revival of the UK folk scene. Support came from Jim Moray, featured in the Northenline last year and who these days is at the forefront of modern folk. Tonight armed with just an acoustic guitar it is clear how his talents came to be noticed by Mojo Magazine, in awarding him with 2008 folk album of the year.

Ani Di Franco offers a more edgy side of folk. I was really struck by her performance and not familiar with her music, I was impressed by the raw and slightly punk ethic she brings to the stage. As a pioneer of steering clear of mainstream labels, her DIY approach has an activist element to it, that is truly admirable and more can be seen at righteous babe records. The immediacy of this music translates well live and playing both old and new songs, it is clear that she has not tired of just ‘trying to say some shit’ and getting her message across. Her lyrics sweetly stumble and fall around the folksy and at times dirty guitar riffs, sung from the heart and with a bittersweet attitude. A Highlight for me had to be her twist on Bill Withers – ‘ Who is she and what is she to you’ with the crunchy and overdriven guitar making it her own.

SETH LAKEMAN ( Support: SHIFTING SANDS / THE FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS ) Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 25th Jan

Further afield from the Northernline’s usual suspects; the support for fiddle maestro Seth Lakeman came from 2 fine acts. Larger than life 10 very vocal fishermen from Cornwall’s own Port Isaac, and an outfit called Shifting Sands, that managed to fuse Arabic influences with traditional celtic music from Scotland and England. The Fisherman’s Friends, (all the better for sounding slightly throaty!)  have been enjoying the limelight since signing to Universal Last year – look out for these shanty singing legends at places like Glastonbury or on Young’s Seafood ads on telly with capella styled vocals that were equally impressive on tunes such as ‘Hooray and Up She rises’ and their touching eulogy ‘I am the last of the Great Whales’.


It seems fitting to end this rather lengthy piece with The Waterboys. Definitely a highlight of Celtic Connections for me, and as the only band I know to mention Scotland’s iconic tenements in their lyrics, helps put a place for them in my heart. ‘The Whole of the Moon’ with all its big sounding emotional and striding choruses, is a classic that I am thankful to have seen live. Besides the great songs like ‘Don’t Bang the Drum’, the set was focused around the poetry of Robert Yeats, (an obsession which singer and songwriter Mike Scott has had for over 20 years), drawing on the poets themes of mysticism, Love, Heartbreak and the general chaotic human condition – the poetry was brought back to life through these fine musicians with stunning vocal parts added by the delicate and beautiful voice of Kate Kim.

People who came to watch acts across the city in this eclectic and hugely successful festival, were it has to be said spoiled for choice … If they came just for the celtic connection, fair enough… But there were great gigs to be found here for everyone… Be them Traditional and Folk fans, or just those with an ear for good music…  it bodes very well for next year!!


CELTIC CONNECTIONS  http://www.celticconnections.com

THE WALKMEN http://www.myspace.com/thewalkmen

RIGHTEOUS BABE RECORDS http://www.righteousbabe.com/ani/

THE FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS http://www.fishermansfriendsportisaac.co.uk/

THE WATERBOYS http://www.mikescottwaterboys.com/

Thanks to Celtic Connections for photograoh of The Walkmen
Tom’s Flickr

By Tom Manley on February 20, 2011

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