Celtic Connections 2

Celtic Connections – Glasgow – Appetite For More! Glasgow 19th January – 5th February


It’s that time again. Celtic Connections now in its 19th year, yet again delivers a medley of events that span across the skyline of a cold Glasgow January. An array of talent, both of the moment and traditional; local and exotic, can be witnessed performing to ever appreciative audiences. This insanely well put together festival is quickly becoming one of the hottest and most diverse events in the musical calendar.

To give credit to the organisers it can at times be hard to see these events and concerts as part of a larger festival; performances are remembered as gems in their own right, often in intimate settings allowing real connections to be formed between musicians and punters. The Glasgow Concert Hall, lies at the heart of this programme, and the building takes on a magical atmosphere for the duration of the festival, welcoming visitors and entertainers to the city. I love popping in here during the festival as it becomes a hotbed for the excitement and anticipation of events, hosting late night, after concert sessions, that run into the small hours of the morning.

The festival celebrates diversity, strengthening the city’s rich musical landscape with acts from across the globe in addition to local talent ranging from Scottish harp pioneer Savourna Stevenson to evenings curated by iconic Glasgow label Chemikal Underground. I’ve picked a few highlights from what are definitely more contemporary and home-grown influences on the line up and ones that personally I would have been sad to miss… But clearly there is so much more on offer in over 300 performances over the 18 days of the festival!

CORNERSHOP / (support: 1990′s) 20th January – Platform.

Blending ‘indie’ with Eastern influences, Cornershop were a great inclusion in the line up. Support came from Glasgow’s own 1990’s, who powered through a set of songs that really brought it home to me how much this band deserve more attention. The songs are delivered with sharp lyrical verses and wit from Jackie McKeown, that conjure up notions of LCD Soundsystem, Lou Reed and Bowie combined into a fresh, tight indie pop outfit. Amused at the lack of local support, the band looked at home and happy to be playing to such an intimate and friendly crowd. With songs like ‘Vondelpark’ and ‘You made me like it’ one can easily see how this band having signed to Rough Trade after only a handful of gigs have arrived at a place where their solid, pop driven guitar songs, stand up to bands at the top of their game… I sense their experience of partying has informed their uplifting sensibilities.

Cornershop burst straight into ‘Heavy Soup’ from their ‘Hand Cream For A Generation Album’ setting up the pace for an effortless and well-travelled groove that maintained its way throughout the set, peppered with songs from across their back catalogue. Remembering them most for their nineties hey day, progression was evident in songs from last year’s acclaimed ‘Cornershop and the Double ’O’ Groove Of’. Featuring collaboration with the beautiful sounding ‘Bubbley Kaur’, a Punjabi vocalist, her voice played out on a backing track, and shined through on songs such as ‘Top Knot’.

KING CREOSOTE / (support: WITHERED HAND)  26th January – ABC

This gig was one of the best performances of Celtic Connections for me. I really enjoyed both acts. Withered Hand – the alias of songwriter Dan Wilson as featured here before was a new one on me and I was intrigued by a recent description in The Scotsman:“If you didn’t know that Withered Hand was an Edinburgh-based troubadour, you might fancy that Dan Willson hails from the Catskill Mountains or Laurel Canyon, so exquisitely mournful is his take on country music”
His music is personal, melancholy, yet at times humorous; Curiously fragile, but with great song writing ability he seems strangely placed somewhere between the sound of Neil Young and a talented, less gratuitous, and meaningful version of Tenacious D. ( ok ignore that perhaps! ) Gracing the stage as a solo act armed only with an acoustic guitar, songs like ‘It’s A Wonderful Lie’ earnt the audiences respect as they awaited the headlining performance.

People came to witness King Creosote’s finely crafted collaboration with ambient electronic producer, Jon Hopkins. Still coming to terms with the acclaim from last year’s Mercury nominated ‘Diamond Mine’ album, King Creosote’s songs inspired by the Scottish Fife landscape, have been reshaped and beautifully tweaked making for a delicate and atmospheric soundscape that the Celtic Connections press office describe as “a near-classical suite of emotion ranging from cracked despair to patched-up euphoria.” The quality of song writing here, is right up there. With the current wave of emerging Scottish bands breaking, to audiences from further afield it would seem that aspiring to create songs of such integrity would be appropriate. With many years of carefully crafting these precious tunes, a sense of gratitude and enjoyment is shared throughout the venue. At times KC’s vocals through songs that have been enhanced by Hopkins’ rearrangement such as ‘John Taylor’s Month Away’ edge towards the fragility and emphatic serenity of Thom Yorke, in their heart wrenching impact.

ADMIRAL FALLOW / (support: CHASING OWLS and FOUND) 27th January – ABC

Supp0rt for the much-anticipated Admiral Fallow, came from Chasing Owls and Found,  experimental purveyors of sound and recently signed to Chemikal Underground.  Arriving after most of the support sets had finished meant I missed most of their sets but enjoyed what little I heard. Admiral Fallow have been making their presence known in Scotland and beyond with festival appearances and a performance on BBCs Hogmanay Live garnering promising reviews. Breakthrough potential for mass appeal for this year looms with the release of a second album to follow 2010’s ‘Boots Met My Face’ much acclaimed album produced by Paul Savage. If new single ‘Beetle in the Box’ is anything to go by then the new album could be worth investigating! Following in the mould of Frightened Rabbit, the opener at this sold out show ‘Old Balloons’ rises to a stomping throng, and captures a mindset, familiar in many Scottish bands. Louis Abbot’s tales of growing up, life, angst and all are delivered with emblazoned energy tonight, that suggest more than the ‘alt folk’ label that is touted around. Lyrics ‘Sometimes it’s like …Trying to dance on the tightrope in the pouring rain’ hint at the stories that inform these songs, and live the songs pack a punch that is met with much love by their growing legions of fans here tonight.

CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND PRESENTS:  Acoustic Evening 31st January – Bar Brel,

And so it is, this is a tip of the ice berg for Celtic Connections: A mere mini round up of the little I saw and photographed that can fit in this space. I managed to squeeze in one more gig last night in the comforting surroundings of Bar Brel in Glasgow’s Ashton lane. A real treat; an acoustic night hosted by Chemikal Underground. Featuring founding member of the label and the Delgados, Emma Pollock. Her sweet dulcet voice exposed, and captivating. This was an important gig for her following taking part in the Celtic Connections evening remembering Gerry Rafferty in the Glasgow Concert Hall. There is nothing I can really write that does her lovelorn voice justice, it just requires listening to, and your batteries will feel recharged.

Last to the stage were Zoey Van Goey … who in fine form entertained there way through an unplugged set, with crisp and glistening numbers that everyone watching enjoyed. Favourites such as ‘You told the Drunks I Knew Karate’ were played to perfection and an interesting finale version of pop classic ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ ( Tiffany’s version got to number one but originally a 1967 hit by Tommy James & the Shondells ) also went down well and helps me describe them as seriously stylish pop music – from Glasgow of course! A kind of hybrid sound between Glasgow rockers Son’s and Daughters and the likes of Vampire Weekend’s more delicate sounds. New material will come, and watch out for them touring around Easter.

So all in all, Celtic Connections continues to do the business. Presenting new music from around the world, celebrating music that lives on, and making connections between musicans and audiences. With a new playlist of bands to see me through the year, I encourage people to visit next year. It will be the 20th year after all so is bound to be something special.

CORNERSHOP       http://store.cornershop.com/

KING CREOSOTE      http://www.fencerecords.com/artists/king-creosote/

ADMIRAL FALLOW      http://admiralfallow.com/

CELTIC CONNECTIONS     http://www.celticconnections.com/

CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND http://www.chemikal.co.uk/

TOM’s FLICKR &WEBSITE       http://www.flickr/tom_manley http://www.tommanleyphotography.com

By Tom Manley on February 1, 2012

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