Tuesday 31 January 2017

LIV ON with Olivia Newton-John Celtic Connections 2017

A hopeful and life-embracing evening of song, togetherness and support to lift the spirits and also to heal. 
Australian, American and Canadian, singer songwriters Olivia Newton-John, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky shared their grief journey songs on their collaborative LIV On: ‘A New Album to aid & Comfort Those Experiencing Grief & Loss while using the power of music to heal’.
The set moved seamlessly even though this was only their second gig together and was led by Nielsen Chapman as musical director. She sang her well loved songs – ‘Sand and Water’, ‘You Don’t Know what to Say’, ‘This Kiss’ and ‘Christmas Song’.

Canadian Amy Sky played piano on several songs including her moving song ‘Forever Blue. She also performed a dramatic ‘Phenomenal Women’, which had words by the poet Maya Angelou.
Meanwhile Olivia sang some of her best loved songs – ‘Love will See Us Through’, ‘Grace and Gratitude’, ‘I Will Always Love You’. She also performed the signature song ‘LIV ON.’  We all remembered Newton-John from the famous Grease movie. She looked well and had great rapport with the concert hall audience. She also performed her songs perfectly, expressing exactly the right mood and feel for the concert and songs.

Olivia Newton-John
They sang of their love and strength, of redemption songs. They sang with gentle, poignant harmonies and piano of how love will see us through. They also opened up to the audience for their own stories of grief.

This concert was about the journey of grief we must all travel to release the pain, but more than this, it was about the destination of acceptance. For their finale they clapped and smiled and sang the hit song ‘Happy’. Phil Cunningham joined them on stage and they also sang a restoring ‘Do not stand at my Grave.’

While of course Olivia was very much the star!

They were very well supported by the talented fiddler John McCusker and his band with wondrous reels and slower tunes, when they were joined on stage by the singers Heidi Talbot and Adam Holmes.

Review and Photos Pauline Keightley  - http://pkimage.co.uk
John McCusker band

Thursday 26 January 2017

Robert BURNS speaks to America!

Lincoln carried a book of Robert Burns poems and during the civil war he read Burns aloud. He was a great fan of ‘Scots Wa Hae’ and had one of his sons named William Wallace. There are more statues, fifteen in all, to the great poet Robert Burns in America than to any other writer or musician! In the 19th century he was as big as Elvis. Many of America's greatest poets and writers were greatly influence by Burns - Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Steinbeck (Of Miss and Men), JD Salinger (Catcher in the Rye). 

Burns was too afraid to publish his poem, A Mans a Man for A That, in his name at this time – the punishment then for speaking up against the union was hanging or deportation to Australia. It was only two years after his death this was acknowledged as his song.

Enjoying Burns is NOT parochial – Burns wrote of everyman and not about local issues. He was the first great romantic poet and influenced others. More than ever his words on equality, protecting nature, our being at one with nature and against greed, oppression and ignorance matter.
The Brig O Doon near Alloway Ayrshire
A few months back I wrote a blog on the statues in Scotland. I was reading Burns Wikipedia page when I realised the statue I passed at the bottom of Leith walk near the River Forth each day on my way to school, was actually the ignored poet (then anyway) Robert Burns. I studied both English (note not Scots) and history to higher level and each subject focused on English history and culture. Any Scottish culture was not only a side show, but ignored. Yet every day I passed the cobble streets of Edinburgh’s royal mile and wondered about all the stories and history here that I was not being told. Why was I being taught about far away kings in far away places and not my own history? There is no statue to Scotland's greatest poet in the centre of Edinburgh, oddly. 

This was of course a deliberate suppression last century of Scottish history ad culture by Anglicised Scots – just as Anglicised Irish tried to do the same in Ireland. 

‘Lay the proud Usurpers low! Tyrants fall in every foe! Liberty ’s in every blow! Let us Do—or Die!!!’

For all this I don’t believe Scotland will ever be only a region and north Britain as some might wish. If we follow this path – we ignore our history at our peril I fear. We will end up as a forgotten and ignored retirement and tourist place on the fringes of Europe. Not a great future for our young people!? 

For all this, the time is not right for Indyref2 - people are tired of these ridiculous referendum displays. I know we have to choose, but its best to wait for the foolish Brexit to fail, as fail it surely must. In fact I have grave doubts about these Referendums at all and how democratic they really are - without a free press or media. In our age of Fake News, Post Truth and online Echo Chambers are we loosing the art of Great Debate and real argument?

Burns grew up on the Ayrshire coast, where he looked out to sea and saw all the ships in the large busy ports of Irvine and Ayr. He used to dream of travelling to distant shores. He never did, but his words and poems did.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Laura Marling Opening Concert CELTIC CONNECTIONS 2017

So I arrived early as people are setting up their stalls – of accordions, pipes and folk CDs. Roddy Hart and a camera crew were in the concert hall foyer and the Press office has wine and nibbles set out. Someone was playing piano and they were setting out equipment for the open mic. And so #ccfest begins for another year to celebrate live music, special collaborations, brilliant musicianship and perfect singers who perform quality songs. On the stage the orchestra limbers up tuning their instruments.

Sometimes Celtic Connections offers some gems and there were several tonight. The first set for this evening’s celebration of women and song, included six talented artists backed by the Scottish national orchestra (RSNO).

Scottish songwriter Karine Polwart performed songs from her Wind Resistance. She read a poem of new president Trump. ‘’I am worn but I am not consumed,’ a message from the rocks of Lewis to the son of Mary MacLeod. She also sang ‘Cover Your Eyes’ and ‘Half A Mile’. Karine wrote a performance piece, Wind Resistance, for the Lyceum Edinburgh which will be performed at the Tron theatre during Celtic Connections. While the orchestra added rich depth and resonance.

Adam Holmes and Rachel Sermanni sang with lilting country harmonies. There was a moving and colourful performance from Aziza Bahim from the Sahara and her quality band. Her joy of music has brightened her life in an Algerian refugee camp. An important part of Celtic Connections is to bring different cultures together and to look at the plight of those suffering great hardship.

Cara Dillon has recorded with an orchestra, so this was a familiar setting and she sang the traditional song ‘She Moves Through the Fair.’  Lindsay Lou and the flatbellys  entertained with their fun rhythmic American tunes. While Declan O’Rourke was another hit with his large voice he sang ‘Who puts the rainbow sin the sky’ with the song Slieve Bloom and Galileo.

**For the second half of this quality concert Laura Marling gave a still, introspective, both fragile and strong performance. She stood centre stage with the orchestra behind her and sang her journey in song, with words such as ‘I will not be a victim of romance.’ On one song she tells herself to ‘Breathe!” She shuns celebrity trappings, a child of nature with no make-up. She sang ‘I love England in snow… I ’m on my own and I feel like running.’ Her songs of winter, romance and memories. There was also a nod to Leonard Cohan with the song Avalanche.

She is an accomplished, moving artist. She performed a stunning suite of her songs ‘Take The Night Off’, ‘I was and Eagle’, ‘You know’ and ‘Breathe’, composed by Kate St John. She also sang – ‘What He Wrote’, ‘Sophia’, ‘Hope in the Air’, ‘Goodbye England’.

Her voice is both gentle, doubting and questioning with the nuanced voice of Joni or the hard edge of Dylan. Marling has spent time in LA – has she had time to live though? Laura began her career at the young age of 17. She is an award-winning English folk singer songwriter and at 26 she has been prolific with the release of five studio albums.
This concert offered tasters of some of the outstanding artists who will perform at Celtic Connections this year.

II   On the Radio on the way home I heard the young band Rura (who perform at the Barrowlands at Celtic Connections) who talked of their fun on the road touring. Is that really why Dylan got a band and went rockier In my view some of the greatest art is about collaboration with other artists, both past and present.

SUITE of Take the Night Off/ I was an Eagle/ You know
What He Wrote/ Sophia/ Hope in the Air/ Avalanche/ Goodbye England.

Celtic Connections is a major folk and roots festival running over 19 days and 19 Glasgow venues (begun in 1994) celebrates its 23rd year.  

Sunday 15 January 2017

CELTIC Connections Glasgow 2017!

I’m excited as this will be my tenth year anniversary covering Celtic Connections.! Hard to believe. Here are some of my strongest memories and personal favourites over my time at the festival.

One of my most memorable experiences at Celtic Connections festival is hearing the Gaelic songs – sung by the incomparable beauty of the voices of both Julie Fowlis or Karen Matheson. Also newcomer Mischa MacPherson. I don’t understand each word – but I understand the feelings and there is something expressive in Gaelic that comes over in a way that’s not possible in English. I remember taking to press director Hannah about newcomer singer songwriter Rachel Sermanni. She commented how important it was too to have the Gaelic singers as they were so popular.

Another top memory at Celtic is at the Old worldly atmospheric Old Fruitmarket venue, with its coloured fairy lights is the perfect setting for some of Scotland’s top ceillidh bands - Ceilidh Bands this year include – The Unusual Suspects, Manran, Session A9 and Shooglenity.
Celtic provides a platform for hearing quality indie artists and attracts a wide variety of talent and a music lover audience. I heard the top guitarist RM Hubbert and the very loud prog rock band Mogwai at the concert hall.

Naturally the festival hosts some of the best traditional Scottish singers and musicians - Dick Gaughan, Rod Paterson, Karen Matheson, Siobhan Miller. 

Every day at Celtic its enriching to visit the open mic at 5, which attracts top folk musicians world wide. I’ve heard many top musicians here and sometimes those artists who have gone on to win such as Karine Polwart, Rachel Sermanni, Manran, Genesee. 

Tricky one and its hard to choose. I have to mention the stand out GRIT opening concert 2015 of Martin Bennett’s class album with the full orchestra. A highly unforgettable experience! Martha Wainwright, who held the Fruitmarket audience with only her guitar, voice and songs. The Tribute concerts led by Rab Noakes for the great Scottish singer songwriters – Gerry Rafferty and Michael Marra. And of course the outstanding Transatlantic Sessions - for the musicianship of the band and the quality singers.
Karine Polwart
At Celtic Connections 2016, I enjoyed the concerts of The Chieftains, Lucinda Williams, Rachel Sermanni, Siobhan Wilson and especially the fun ceilidh bands of Rura and Blazin Fiddles. As usual the highlight was the classy accomplished musicianship of the Transatlantic band with the wonderful singers Rhiannon Giddens and Cara Dillon. 
Adam Holmes
**At Celtic 2017, they will focus on the half of the population often ignored – the women’s voices with the singers and musicians. The women care about home, children and mother earth. There is a story of a south American tribe where the women said, Stop, stop! – there is enough food and shelter and telling the men to stop hunting and killing. Some of the many outstanding women this year include - Laura Marling, Eddi Reader, Mary Chapman Carpenter, Alice Marra, Karine Polwart, Beth Neilson Chapman, Shirley Collins, Olivia Newton john, Roberta Sa 

This year I look forward the wonderful and often unexpected collaborations; Showcase Scotland; Celtic’s Educational Program. Celtic is one of the leading annual festivals of folk, world, and roots music – 18 days of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, workshops, free events, late sessions and a host of one-off musical collaborations. To the opening concert with Laura Marling and the RSNO.
Eddi Reader
Martha Wainwright
And not forgetting the men – Rab Noakes, Adam Holmes, King Creoste, Billy Bragg, Jerry Douglas and more.
I look forward to the Buzz of the festival – the gathering of like minded music fans and artists!

The festival will also celebrate the anniversary of the independence of Canada and India.  The festivals partner for this year is Brazil.
**This year also holds several major anniversaries.

Blazin Fiddles
Rab Noakes and Alice Marra